Special Issue - June 21, 2009
This is a Special Issue of Childhoods Today, comprised of papers written by postgraduate students at the Institute of Education, University of London. The guest editor for this Special Issue is Pat Gordon-Smith.
Research by psychologists Kohlberg and Piaget characterised young children’s moral actions as parroted from adults and carried out only to attract praise instead of blame. Their ideas derived from a view that moral agency is impossible without access to mature reasoning, and have influenced ideas that children need adult guidance to behave charitably. This article rejects that view, seeing young children as competent moral agents whose impulsive actions are evidence of a morality based on the experience of caring relationships. It draws on a study that sought to discover the nature of this morality in the context of a nursery school. The research found rich evidence of moral interaction among the children that was enabled by their freedom to interact with each other within the confines of a well-resourced environment. It also found that adults had a dichotomous attitude towards the children’s morality. They recognised and supported the children’s moral decision-making during free play but sought to control behaviour during adult-led activities. The article concludes that participatory techniques informed by knowledge about and respect for individual children would enable practitioners to perceive the children’s positive moral agency in all circumstances.
Despite rising numbers of displaced children globally, relatively little is known about their experiences from their own points of view. This paper describes 'displaced' children's everyday lives, by reporting on a small-scale scoping study that explores children's lived experiences of prolonged displacement in Serbia from a sociology and anthropology of childhood perspective. The paper draws upon data gathered using a number of creative methods with 16 children aged between 7 and 16 living in two settlements in Serbia for people who have been forced to leave Kosovo. The research findings show how displaced children can offer valid insights into their lives, including the social injustices they experience, as well as solutions to their problems. It also brings to the fore the diversity and complexity of displaced children's lives and experiences.
The design and structure of school buildings have a substantial effect on the lives of the children who spend a significant part of their waking hours within the school environment. Children experience school and its buildings on both a collective and an individual level, through physical interaction and the development of emplaced knowledge, and school is a context for the achievement of social competence by children. The dominance of curriculum, the nature of power relations between adults and children and the impact of government policy initiatives influence opportunities for the development and achievement of social competence. This study compared and contrasted two different styles of London primary school building, working with 22 children (aged 6-8 years) and 6 adults within ethical principles of social research, using open-ended and child-centred methods. The findings explored various aspects of children’s experiences and perceptions of the school environment. In conclusion, this study reflects upon the ways in which two differing school buildings, alongside the whole school environment, affected the achievement of social competence and the nature of child–adult relations. It raises questions concerning internal and external environments and social competence, and issues concerning children’s experiences and the whole school environment in relation to social and emotional aspects of learning.
School councils are promoted throughout England as the key tool for facilitating children's participation in schools by offering students real power and responsibility. Set primarily within the citizenship education framework, councils are presented as democracy in action, with numerous benefits for schools and children. But children's participation is rarely defined within the English education sector. Far greater analysis has been made of the concept of participation in the field of international development through a discourse redefining the term. This article draws on that discussion to analyse research undertaken with a primary school council and to consider the extent to which the council is an effective participatory tool. Using participatory methods and analysing the concept of participation at every level, the research found that the school council was a place where children 'voice their views' rather than where they take decisions. Consequently, it was not a participatory space. This highlighted the need for a redefinition of participation in the school context that makes children's empowerment the key purpose of school councils and recognises the tension between agency and structure that is inherent in all participatory spaces such as school councils.