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A beautiful story from the year 1093 that likens the child to a plant requiring nurture for its growth

A story from ‘The Invention of Childhood’ a BBC Audio Series, by Cunnigham & Morpurgo, counteracts the widely held view that the Medieval and Victorian people viewed childhood as having ‘little significance’ and children as ‘little adults,’ and actually bears a resemblance to the attitudes of the later pioneers of early childhood education - Rousseau and Froebel.

An abbot who was having trouble with some boys in his care, went to Saint Anselm (the Archbishop of Caterbury, 1093) for advice.

Anselm asked him:  “Now...if you plant a tree shoot in your garden and straight way shut it in on every side, so that it has no space to put out it’s branches, what kind of tree will you have in a few years when you let it out of its confinement?”

The abbot replied: “A useless one, certainly. With its branches all twisted and knotted.”

Anselm: “And whose fault would this be except your own for shutting it in so unnaturally. Without doubt this is what you do with your boys, at their ablation, they are planted in the garden of the church to grow and bring forth fruit for God. But you so terrify them and hem them in on all sides with threats and blows, that they are utterly deprived of their liberty, and being thus in judicially oppressed, they harbour and welcome within themselves wicked thoughts, like thorns....Are they not human, are they not flesh and blood like you? Would you like to have been treated as you threat them, and to have become what they now are?...If you want your boys to be adorned with good habits, you too besides the pressure of blows must apply the encouragement and help of fatherly sympathy and gentleness.”

This story, with its metaphor of the child like a plant, requiring love, nurture, and “gentle encouragement,” is a fore bearer of the later early childhood education and care humanistic pedagogical ideal - set out first by Rousseau and later Froebel.

From: ‘The Invention of Childhood,’ BBC Audio Series, Cunnigham & Morpurgo, 2006. The audio series is the first chronological history of British childhood, which looks at the experiences and views of childhood through found records. It’s written by Professor Hugh Cunningham and the children’s writer Michael Morpurgo.


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