Mickybo and Me, Wendy and Dorothy, Rousseau and Wesley
a slightly re-written version of a response I wrote this week to a series of readings regarding how we understand childhood.
In the 2004 film Mickybo and Me1 two children, trapped by the violence and corruption of the adult world beyond them, flee mid-1970s
As in J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan), the return to the adult world proves to be a negative experience. In this case, disastrous for the “Peter” character (Mickybo), while for the “Wendy” character (JonJo, the “me”) it is, as expected, simply sad and disappointing.
These visions of childhood are, obviously, deeply at odds with the more familiar vision, represented by everything from The Wizard of Oz, to television programs like Rugrats, to Home Alone. Though all of these also present children out on their own having unforgettable adventures, there is no doubt that safety and happiness lie in the return of the children to their families.
Do adults train/save/create children or do adults corrupt children?
When I began my graduate program in education I firmly believed that, for most children in the
Reading the "histories of childhood," and I suppose viewing them as I probably view everything, through lenses which analyze power relationships, I find myself struck by the formalization of an adult structure which, at least over the past 400 years, has been committed to “saying anything” that will ensure both the powerlessness of all children and strict definition of children not comfortably willing to accept complete social reproduction as “evil.”
This is even true when society deals with the counter-archetype. Peter Pan Syndrome suggests social immaturity and dependence, despite
I am forced to ask, are children powerful? They must be, if, for example, they require the levels of discipline and punishment that are part of family life, school life, and religious life in so much of American society. Without strength and power the molding process would be easy, and seemingly far more universally successful.
But if children are powerful, why do they need such elaborate protections? Especially from their own actions? In Mickybo and Me, in Peter Pan, though the children put themselves into stunningly risky situations, they survive every one. They do not need magic (The Wizard of Oz), or accident (Rugrats), or the police (Home Alone) to provide the critical rescue. But a parent or a school embracing the Peter Pan myth would likely be accused of child neglect, at the least.
Are children born evil? The thrust of Oz and Home Alone is that children get into trouble, head off into these adventures, because they are problematic children in the first place. Misunderstood, yes, but problematic at the core. Dorothy is unable to reasonably control her dog (or her ambitions), then runs away from home. Kevin is a terror. Both are subjected to trials which teach them the error of their ways. These tales seem driven by the Christian orthodoxy of original sin, and are very different from both Peter Pan and Mickybo, where parental actions push the children to discover paths outside the prescribed norms. (The problem begins for Mickybo in the sectarian hatred of
But if children are not born evil, why is school seen as a conversion process? Why do children need so many rules, schedules, controls?
On the other side, if Peter Pan and Mickybo are right, if the adult world corrupts a somewhat perfect natural state, what does that imply for society, for us as parents, for us as educators?
Because if we argue that children are innocent and vulnerable, then would not schools look radically different? Would discipline and coercion really be the dominant themes? And if we argue that children are both powerful and evil, then we surely need to re-imagine our roles as liberal parents. But if we argue, as we often seem to, that children are innocent (please protect them from sexualized thoughts), vulnerable (do not let them out of our sight), evil (they will get away with anything if you allow it), and powerful (you have no idea how much trouble they can create), we are simply mimicking the absurd arguments of colonialists – which, of course, may have been spun from early concepts of childhood itself. That is, you make whatever argument you must, at this moment, to defend your control over another human.
That seems wrong to me, though I wouldn't suggest that I know of any obvious solution to all this.
- Ira Socol
1 which is based on Owen McCafferty’s play Mojo Mickybo http://www.backstage.com/bso/news_reviews/nyc/review_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003850925
2 Hendrick, Harry. (1997) Constructions and Reconstructions of British Childhood: An Interpretative Survey, 1800 to the Present. In James and Prout (eds), Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood. Falmer, New York and London. p. 36