In this essay, I will explore the different discourses that have presented themselves through time, and how they affect modern day Britain. A discourse is a set of ideas that give us an insight into how people view the world. In terms of this essay, the discourses give us a representation of how we see childhood. There are three main discourses that I will be looking into and evaluating which one is most dominant in the UK today. These consist of Romanticism, Puritan and Tabula Rasa.
The ideal of Romanticism first came about in the 18th Century where set ideas within society were beginning to change, people were adapting to the growing world and opinions that were popular in the past were starting to lose their hold on people’s beliefs, these included, wealth, love, nature and childhood. One key thinker who heavily influenced this discourse is Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who was originally from Geneva, but travelled to France and inspired the leaders of the French Revolution. He published a book, called Emile, which began to change society’s perspectives on childhood. “In Emile Rousseau captured the imagination of Europe with his validation of Nature, which espoused the natural goodness of children and the corrupting effects of certain types of education.” (Hendrick, 2015, p. 31) Rousseau put forth an attack on the way that adults treated children and put an emphasis on the purity and innocence of childhood. He placed importance on the freedom and creativity that children have outside of their parents’ discipline. Before this time, children were viewed as having no innate goodness, they were born with ‘original sin’ and had to be baptised to become pure. This is seen in the puritan discourse.
The Puritan discourse is based quite closely to Christianity. Puritans are in the belief that we are all born with original sin, this baseline comes from the biblical text in Genesis, also known as The Fall. Since Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God had betrayed them to eat, he cursed all future generations to be born with, and live with, sin. From this, the holy sacrament of baptism was formed to remove the original sin from our lives and give us a clean state. Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) put forth that, because of such original sin, that adults should have full control of their children, and that discipline should be used, regardless of whether it causes the child pain or trauma, they must be punished for the mistakes they make. Children are seen as wicked and have no control, and therefore need to be controlled by adults, as stated by Heather et al(2003, p.22) “It assumes that children are inherently lacking in morality and hence children need to be civilized -need to be taught right from wrong and how to overcome their base, animal nature through adult intervention.” This shows that through this discourse, the importance of adult intervention to help the children steer away from their original sin is key in a child’s future development.
The final discourse is known as Tabula Rasa, which translates to blank slate. This discourse is in the belief that we are all born with a blank slate, children aren’t born inherently good or have original sin, they come into this world with no knowledge and only learn through what they are taught and what they experience. Through this, it means that the experiences that children go through influences their future life and affects how they will be as adults. This theory was heavily influenced by John Locke (1632-1704). Locke, who was an empiricist, went against the norm that we are all born with some basic understanding and believed that we are not born with any human nature and that we decide, based on our life experiences, our own path.
In the UK today each discourse has some significance on how we see childhood. As individual families, everyone has a different view of how to bring up children and has different reasons behind this. The discourse that I believe holds the most influence in the UK is Tabula Rasa. With the basis of this discourse being that everyone is born with a blank slate seems to resonate well with families in the UK today as there are no pre-assumptions as to what the child should be, and who they become is solely based on how they are brought up. While this discourse brings up pressures for adults, as if a child does wrong followers would believe it is the parent’s fault, it can also be pressure from their peers and influences from social media and television that can affect the way they behave. There a lot more ways today that children can be influenced into making the wrong decisions currently than in the past and they have access to a wider range of sources than previously. To summarise I believe that Tabula Rasa is the most dominant discourse in the UK today as it is the discourse that is most modern and adaptable in our lives. It allows us to punish children for wrongdoings but also reward them for the things they do right as how they are is based on the experiences they have been through and the things that they have witnessed.
In my own personal childhood, the discourse that resonates most with me is the Puritan discourse. Being brought up within the Catholic church and witnessing many preachers speak about why we are born with original sin has made me relate most to the Puritan Belief, through following the bible and why we need to be purified with the sacrament of baptism. I am in the belief that once a baptism has been performed that the child is then made pure and no longer has the sin that they are born with. I am not necessarily in the belief that we are all born evil and wicked, as some puritans suggest, I believe that we are all in need of baptism to be purified from the original sin we are born with.