Childhood is a branch of cartography.
The "Gospel Temperance Railroad Map" is an example of an allegorical map.
Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents. For the past 30 years at least, we have been lavishing vast expense and anxiety on our children in ways that are unprecedented in American and in perhaps any other national life. Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own.
If the children are being instructed in the pink plane, can we teach them to think in the blue plane and live in a pink-plane society?
The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past.
I've gotten old enough that I now understand why adults seek to escape reality. Paradoxically, I think I was better at escaping reality when I was younger.
From the archive:
Rewilding: the process of creating a lifestyle that is independent of the domestication of civilization.
Once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.
Jeff Goldblum, in Jurassic Park:
You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you want to sell it!
There used to be a time if you didn't have money to buy something, you just didn't buy it.
One of the hottest things at the shopping mall right now is a store called Build-a-Bear, where children are said to make their own teddy bears. I went into one of these stores, and it turns out that what the kid actually does is select the features and clothes for the bear on a computer screen, then the bear is made for him. Some entity has leaped in ahead of us and taken care of things already, with a kind of solicitude. The effect is to preempt cultivation of embodied agency, the sort that is natural to us.
Tried solving a problem in square root recently? We all once could. We just forget. But, as the late social critic Ivan Illich pointed out long ago, we never forget the lessons we learned from the form of education. We learned to raise our hands, obey adult authority, stand in line, take turns, not talk about certain subjects, and many other lessons now indelibly ingrained. Those lessons are not in the curriculum. The form, the ritual, the social design of the classroom, teaches them.
Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted--not taught--to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?
To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.
The Wilderness of Childhood