A public discussion event hosted by I4P on 28th August 2018 which asked, ‘What makes a Good Childhood?

This event was a continuation of the ‘What Makes A Good Society’ series which began in June 2017 when we invited participants to discuss how to influence policy-makers and decision-makers, and to consider what the necessary ingredients for a ‘good society’ are. Since then we have held a follow-up session on the ‘Good Society’ and a subsequent one on ‘What Makes A Good University?’ All the events to date have been attended by a lively mix of local people, professionals and academics.

‘What Makes a Good Childhood?’ was facilitated by Dr Gideon Calder (Swansea University) who is a member of I4P’s External Advisory Group. He began the session by posing a challenge. The group was given the following list of features which might be regarded as being crucial to a ‘good childhood’:

  • A good family life
  • Good mental health
  • A good education
  • Good physical health
  • A good environment

Gideon asked whether we could rank them in order of importance. This provoked an interesting debate as we considered the difficulty of the task. One participant questioned the concept of ‘good’ and what that actually means and how it can be measured. This led us to talking about the different lenses that varying professionals view childhood through. Another participant pointed out that the features listed are not mutually exclusive and it is not uncommon for one to feed into another.

Another thought-provoking philosophical exercise involved us considering whether (as inspired by Patrick Tomlin’s 2016 paper) we take a ‘sapling view’ or a ‘caterpillar view’ of childhood. The first understands children to be a smaller (weedier!) version of adults and adulthood is a necessary stage to go through on the way to becoming a complete person. The caterpillar view, however, sees children as being qualitatively different from adults in the same way that a caterpillar is a quite different creature from a butterfly. This distinction has profound implications for how we might treat children. For instance, what is fair for ‘butterfly’ children could look very different from what is fair for adults. Gideon (playfully) suggested that from the butterfly perspective, a childhood filled with fun and junk food might be much more preferable to one filled with intensive schooling and formative extra-curricular activities which are designed to ‘pay off’ in later life.

A number of the participants in the session felt that they would like more time to reflect upon and discuss these ideas. All are invited to Tom Cockburn’s Book Launch event (more info soon) and we will have some time after that to continue the debate. Do contact us if you would like to join in.

Reference: Tomlin Patrick (2018) Saplings or Caterpillars? Trying to Understand Children’s Wellbeing. Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 35, No. S1

Dr Victoria Foster
Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Sciences
I4P Associate Director (External Networking)
Edge Hill University
June 2018

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