On the Concept of Childhood
The concept of childhood and universal education, as we know it now, hasn’t always existed. Although Plato, a famous philosopher who lived several hundred years BCE, wrote that the needs of children were distinct from adults; and Jesus, in early CE, spoke of “letting the little children come unto me”. Following Plato and Jesus; we hardly find any historical references that suggest special considerations for children, even in so-called enlightened monarchies in Europe during the Middle Ages, and beyond. Mostly, we read of children working in the labor force alongside of adults from young ages and fully participating in adult life, or of wealthy children being raised by governesses and educated by clergy in what, today, we would call home schooling. We even find that the idea that children needed to attend school was not common until modern times. Against this backdrop of history, in what appears to us now as an utter misunderstanding of the needs and value of children, we find that the once “little adults” have now officially become “children”. Let me explain how this came about.
Three revolutionary and seminal ideas converged about the same time to forever shift our ideas about children. These ideas were championed, beginning in the late Middle Ages and up to the 20th Century, by educators from different European countries, who felt they were inspired by God to serve and protect children. Because of their dedicated efforts to the specific needs of children, this new stage of life– called childhood– gradually emerged and became officially recognized for the first time in history.
These three revolutionary and seminal life-altering ideas were:
(1)The concept of a child as being something distinct and different from being just a short adult. This marked the birth of a new age of enlightenment in social history and new types of educational practices. Robust public debate finally became centered on the responsibility of government, churches, and organizations for the welfare of children.
(2)Secondly, the idea that the mother played a significant role in the upbringing of children and needed support and education in that role, took hold.
(3)The need to provide education to all children was the third significant idea to become universal. Thus, the education of the young became a mandate for modern societies to embrace.
Today, in most industrialized nations, we take these three concepts about children as givens, but the impetus for the origin of these three mandates can be traced back to the influence of specific historical individuals and those who rallied to their causes.
As we look back in history, we can understand the development of educational theory as a progression of inspired revelations about the nature of children and how they learn, each revelation building on the previous ones like a child’s tower of blocks. This succession of inspired educators, beginning in roughly 1600, brought forth understandings of the truer developmental needs of the bodies and souls of children, which resulted in the three significant conceptual changes in the ideas about children mentioned above. Theorists like Comenius (1600’s Czechoslovakia), Pestalozzi (1700’s, Switzerland), Froebel (1800’s, Germany) and Montessori (1900’s, Italy) were courageous spokespersons for what was, up till then, the mysterious and unrecognized nature of childhood. Thus, with their incarnations, a 400 year enlightened spiral of education began which put an end to the planetary momentum of thousands of years of child abuse and ignorant neglect which is still in its denouement phase today.
These early revolutionary educators aren’t particularly household names any more. Yet, the combined influence of their ideas and advocacy for children has completely change peoples’ understanding about children and how they should be educated. All of us who work with children are indebted to them whether we know it or not. We are the inheritors of their insights, vital links in the continuing story of the education of the soul spoken of so long ago by Plato in ancient Greece. Pioneers, all, they awakened people to the truth of how to care for children and nurture their souls, because in their day, the purpose of education was soul development.
 Wolfe, J. (2000). Learning from the past: historical voices in early childhood education. Canada, Alberta: Piney Branch Press.
 Luke 18:16
Excerpted from Educating the Reincarnated Child
Dr. Celeste A. Miller