Yesterday I sent a message to Pat Farenga at HoltGWS LLC, telling him that I’d just read “Escape From Childhood” (EFC), was planning to write a series of blog posts around it and asked if he had any particular requests in that regard. He answered and told me (which, had I been paying attention to his blog I’d already have known; sorry Pat!) that he was within 2 weeks of releasing EFC as a Kindle ebook.
This is fantastic news! The book has not been in print since the mid-90’s and is truly one of the most challenging and – as someone mentioned to me yesterday – prophetic books about children’s rights and learning that you will ever read. I’ll keep you posted as the release date nears, and you can also get the news from Pat himself at his blog (which I linked to above).
One of the fundamental aspects of the book is Holt’s distinction between the fact of childhood and the institution of childhood. The former is a natural state of being, the latter something imposed on us by law and hovering parents. As Holt says:
“We might think of human life as a sort of curve, starting at birth, rising to various peaks of physical, mental, and social power, continuing for some time on a kind of plateau, and then slowly declining to old age and death. This curve of life is different for all human beings…But for every human being that curve is a single curve, a wholeness…There are no breaks or gaps in it. We do not, like some insects, suddenly turn from one kind of creature into another that is very different.
Here the fact of childhood ends and the institution of childhood begins. Childhood as we now know it has divided that curve of life, that wholeness, into two parts — one called Childhood, the other called Adulthood, or Maturity. It has made…us think that the people on opposite sides of this divide, the Children and the Adults, are very different. Thus we act as if the differences between any sixteen year old and any twenty-two year old were far greater and more important than the differences between someone aged two and someone aged sixteen…”
Holt goes on to say that as far as the laws are now concerned, a sixteen year old is in fact closer to a two year old; they both have little or no control over their own lives.
This is a point we might all do well to spend a more than a little time thinking about. Many parents treat their children like infants – helpless, totally dependent, unable to make good judgements or deal with ‘adult’ subjects – well into their teens. The law supports them in this behavior. It is part of the Institution of Childhood. The problem, of course, is that when the child becomes a legal adult on the occasion of their 18th birthday, there is no magic moment where suddenly all the knowledge and (hopefully) good judgment of Adulthood flood into their being allowing them from that moment on to behave differently. To borrow from Holt’s metaphor, at 18 we do not instantly turn from caterpillar to butterfly.
As Holt says, life is a process; a curve. A curve cannot begin with a long flat stretch where nothing happens, or it is no longer a curve. The natural arc is broken. Our treatment of children needs to support and encourage the curve, perhaps more so now than when Escape from Childhood was written.
Quotes from Escape From Childhood copyright 2013 by HoltGWS LLC are used with permission.