SUTHERLAND, Neil. Children in English-Canadian Society: Reframing the Twentieth-Century Consensus. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2000. 355p. Resenha de: MANDZUK, David. Canadian Social Studies, v.36, n.1, 2002.
Neil Sutherland’s Children in English-Canadian Society, originally published in 1976 and now reissued, is a book that every teacher and parent in English-speaking Canada should read for a number of reasons. First, it traces how peoples’ attitudes towards children have changed dramatically over the last one hundred years. Second, it provides a very detailed account of reform efforts that have affected families, schools, and health and welfare agencies. Third, it reminds us of the people who had the most significant influence on these reform efforts, both at the international and the national levels.
In the early chapters, Sutherland describes how peoples’ attitudes towards children have changed over time. For instance, he describes how, in the 1870s, children were seen as sources of wealth for their families who often needed children to contribute to family economies; in short, children were valued for the work they could do, not for who they were as individuals. In Sutherland’s words, English Canadians of the time saw a child as a partially formed and potential adult [they] would have been baffled by the 20th century concerns for the emotional life of their own and of immigrant children (p.11). Soon, people become more concerned about the conditions of children working in factories, fearing that they were placed in unsafe and unhealthy conditions and did not have opportunities to become properly educated. Sutherland explains that, by the 1890s, parents came to see a child as a seed of divine life for them to nurture and tend (p.17). Therefore, in a matter of decades, children come to be valued for their own worth; moreover, parents become much more aware of the effect of the home environment on their children’s overall growth and development.
Another strength of Sutherland’s book is how he so meticulously details the types of reform efforts that shaped English-Canadians’ attitudes towards children. Some of these reform efforts such as reducing infant mortality, dealing with juvenile delinquency, and advocating for educational reform had a tremendous impact on how Canadian society was shaped for future generations. In particular, we learn about such significant changes as inoculating children at an earlier age, moving delinquent children from institutions to homes, and debating whether schooling was to become more child-centered or more practical in order to properly prepare children for the world of work.
A third and final strength of the book is that is familiarizes the reader with people who led many of these reform efforts and who ultimately had a significant impact on how English-Canadians treated their young. We learn of such international figures as Pestalozzi and his emphasis on activity-based, sensory learning that began to shape education in the elementary grades and Frederich Froebel who was among the first to recognize the importance of a child’s environment in his/her mental, moral, and physical development. We also learn of such Canadian figures as Adelaide Hoodless who argued that, in order to change social conditions, Canadian schools needed to become agents that would shape Canadian homes for future generations and James W. Robertson who reminded Canadians that the whole child goes to school body, mind, and spirit and the training of the hand, head, and heart should go on harmoniously (p. 181).
All in all, Children in English-Canadian Society is a tremendously comprehensive account of the forces and the people who influenced how Canadians viewed and treated their youngest citizens at a time in history when both the nation and the world were changing dramatically.
David Mandzuk – University of Manitoba.