In his controversial work, The disappearance of childhood, Neil Postman (1982) proposed that childhood was an invention of the late middle ages. Rather than a natural, universal or biological state, he argues that childhood is, in fact, due to the invention of the printing press (Postman, 1982). Prior to the printing press, both children and adults “lived in the same social and intellectual world” (Postman, 1982, p. 36) however, after the printing press and the widespread requirement for literacy, childhood became a necessity. The necessity to learn to read, in order to exist in the modern world, he argues, also led to the invention of schooling (Postman, 1982).
Because school was designed for the preparation of a literate adult, the young became to be perceived not as miniature adults, but as … unformed adults [which gave adults] … unprecedented control over the symbolic environment of the young
(Postman, 1982, pp. 41-45)
Thus, without schools we have no childhood. Prior to the invention of childhood, children were said to live “in the same social and intellectual world” (Postman, 1982, p. 36) as their parents. However, with literacy came “secrets” for which children needed to be prepared.
Postman (1982) states that the century between 1850 and 1950 marked a high-water mark for childhood as they succumbed less to disease, celebrated birthdays and their welfare became important. However, childhood is disappearing, as the title of his book suggests, principally due to technology, such as television the internet and, to a lesser extent, radio. These technologies were killing childhood because, through them, the secrets of the adult world were “diluted and demystified” (Postman, 1982, p. 85). They are egalitarian dispensers of information, requiring no certificates or notes granting access. Rather, they encourage no specialised learning in order to access them. He also saw social issues such as divorce, an awareness of economic realities and the two-income family as responsible, because they reduce the nurturance of children (Postman, 1982).
What does this mean if, as some scholars (paywall) have suggested, homeschooling is increasingly popular? What does this mean for the further refinement of the discourse of childhood?