The Disappearance of Childhood

The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman

In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman has two goals. 1) To give a history of childhood 2) to argue that childhood as we have known it is disappearing. Instead, children are increasingly just little adults.

While this book is pretty dated 18 years-out, it features some valuable information about the history of childhood as well as some searing commentary on the diminishing line between childhood and adulthood. I’m not sure I totally buy Postman’s argument. As of 2012, childhood is still a “protected” time and the industry of marketing to children still has a huge demand. I think he’s right-on though when he discusses the decline of children’s games for the sake of fun. Now everything seems to be about fame or celebrity.

Surprisingly, Postman’s argument also intersects with No Future in that he asserts that to have an idea of childhood as separate from adulthood, a culture must have an idea of shame (9). Further, “Children…are immersed in a world of secrets, surrounded by mystery and awe; a world that will be made intelligible to them by adults who will teach them, in stages, how shame is transformed into a set of moral directives. From the child’s point of view, shame gives power and authority to adulthood. For adults know, whereas children do not, what words are shameful to use, what subjects are shameful to discuss, what acts are deemed necessary to privatize” (86). This may be a stretch, but to me this notion was reminiscent of Edelman’s argument that adults use reproduction and thus the child to redeem their own sexual urges. Postman also attributes to the Moral Majority/Religious Right the push to preserve childhood as part of their political agendas.

Postman, Neil. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.

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