…Without a well-developed idea of shame, childhood cannot exist.
-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, p. 9
I bought this book used. The person who owned it before me made a comment in the margin that the sentence I have quoted above is ‘disturbing.’ I don’t think they understood the point.
Throughout the book, Postman is making the argument that the concept of childhood is a relatively young one that began to develop in the 16th Century after the invention of the printing press. With mass amounts of printed material becoming available, Westerners decided that children needed boundaries to protect them from the flood. Before that time, he argues, children essentially lived in an adult world. They did not go to specialized schools; they didn’t live lives essentially distinct from their parents. By the age of seven, they were a part of the work-force – whatever that looked like at the time.
The sense of shame he writes of is the sense that some things are shameful, or inappropriate, for certain groups of people – children in this case. Over the centuries, it became agreed that some things simply weren’t suitable for children, and parents were entrusted with being gatekeepers of such things.
Now, especially with the internet, but even with television before it, this task is all the more difficult; and even beyond the difficulty, Postman is asserting, we are losing the sense that many things are inappropriate for children to begin with. We are losing that sense of shame – the sense that there are boundaries, the sense that parents are to discern the acceptability of content introduced to their children. That is what is disturbing.
-Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood (1982, 1994)
The publisher’s description:
From the vogue for nubile models to the explosion in the juvenile crime rate, this modern classic of social history and media traces the precipitous decline of childhood in America today and the corresponding threat to the notion of adulthood.
Deftly marshaling a vast array of historical and demographic research, Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, suggests that childhood is a relatively recent invention, which came into being as the new medium of print imposed divisions between children and adults. But now these divisions are eroding under the barrage of television, which turns the adult secrets of sex and violence into popular entertainment and pitches both news and advertising at the intellectual level of ten-year-olds.
Informative, alarming, and aphorisitc, The Disappearance of Childhood is a triumph of history and prophecy.
I’ll be sharing quotes and thoughts for the next few weeks. Join me, won’t you?
I recently discovered an old book by Isaac Watts (who incidentally was the inspiration for this blog) entitled Divine and Moral Songs for Children. There are some interesting poems that you might find helpful for children (or just helpful in general). A couple that I really like have to do with loving God and loving neighbor:
With all thy soul love God above.
And, as thyself thy neighbour love.
Love God with all your soul and strength,
With all your heart and mind:
And love your neighbour as yourself;
Be faithful, just, and kind.
Deal with another as you’d have
Another deal with you;
What you’re unwilling to receive,
Be sure you never do.
You can browse all the poems HERE.
Chesterton is dropping bombs.
1) Modern humanity shows itself less human than its pagan ancestors by exalting lust while disparaging fertility:
It has been left to the last Christians, or rather to the first Christians fully committed to blaspheming and denying Christianity, to invent a new kind of worship of Sex, which is not even a worship of Life. It has been left to the very latest Modernists to proclaim an erotic religion which at once exalts lust and forbids fertility. The new Paganism literally merits the reproach of Swinburne, when mourning for the old Paganism: “and rears not the bountiful token and spreads not the fatherly feast.” The new priests abolish the fatherhood and keep the feast-to themselves. They are worse than Swinburne’s Pagans. The priests of Priapus and Cotytto go into the kingdom of heaven before them.
2) Our hatred of fertility comes from a failed notion of freedom, which is actually a form of bondage:
Perhaps the nearest to a description of it is to say this: that my contempt boils over into bad behaviour when I hear the common suggestion that a birth is avoided because people want to be “free” to go to the cinema or buy a gramophone or a loud-speaker. What makes me want to walk over such people like doormats is that they use the word “free.” By every act of that sort they chain themselves to the most servile and mechanical system yet tolerated by men. The cinema is a machine for unrolling certain regular patterns called pictures; expressing the most vulgar millionaires’ notion of the taste of the most vulgar millions. The gramophone is a machine for recording such tunes as certain shops and other organisations choose to sell. The wireless is better; but even that is marked by the modern mark of all three; the impotence of the receptive party. The amateur cannot challenge the actor; the householder will find it vain to go and shout into the gramophone; the mob cannot pelt the modern speaker, especially when he is a loud-speaker. It is all a central mechanism giving out to men exactly what their masters think they should have. Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them, and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life. They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation. It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.
-G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows
So then, we have progressed, right? We know what people once worshiped Ishtar, the goddess of fertility. How laughable. We’ll cut down the idol of fertility. Pay no attention to the fact that we will exalt Lust to that primary position.
Give us freedom. Babies are like so many balls and chains. Forget the fact that it is a ball and chain that makes us not want children to begin with. We’ll replace the living and breathing kind with the shiny pixelated kind; with the career ladder kind; with the go on extra vacations kind – with the kind that doesn’t breathe. Maybe we can buy a new Prius. Freedom!
1. Scripture Songs: There are all sorts of varieties out there. Our family enjoys Kids Scene Scripture Songs. You can check out a sample HERE.
2. Cedarmont Kids: The Cedarmont Kids produced all kinds of videos and albums back in the day. Some of it is pure fluff (kids need some fluff!), but it is enjoyable. You can view an example HERE. Google and YouTube yield all sorts of results for those videos.
3. Good old hymns: We made it a goal in our house to make hymn lessons a part of our routine. So, for example, we would actually work on one song, as if it were a lesson, until the kids were comfortable singing it. I’ve talked to other parents that started with the same hymn as us: Holy, Holy, Holy. It’s a beautiful hymn that isn’t too difficult to pick up. Here’s a VIDEO with lyrics. Another one that kids seem to pick up fairly quickly is Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. You can see that HERE. Our kids were also able to pick up Trust and Obey fairly early on. You can see that HERE. And, last but not least, my personal favorite to sing with the kids is I Must Tell Jesus. You can see that HERE. I like to play this song on the guitar and my kids would willingly repeat the chorus a hundred times if I let them keep going.
4. Psalms: This is tough because Psalm singing has become so rare in American Evangelicalism. There are, however, some that are still sung fairly widely, such as Psalm 23. My own solution to this has been this: I have used The Book of Psalms for Singing and simply created my own tunes using the guitar to sing along with my family. We have learned several whole psalms in this way. The website linked above allows you to listen to the tunes listed for each Psalm in various Psalters.