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When it took a village to raise a child, we didn’t need institutions 02/18/2011

Posted by ALT in Alternative Lifestyles, Children's Mental Health, Historical Context.
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“It takes a village to raise a child” seems to be the official slogan of social workers and children’s mental health professionals everywhere.  They chant it from the podium at their national conferences and write it in bold, ALL CAPS on the tops of position papers and task force reports.

It’s an old African proverb, though it seems to apply to traditional cultures worldwide.  The idea was – and in a few places, still is – that the village is a combination playground/one-room schoolhouse, and each villager a potential mentor, teacher, or caregiver.  Everybody has a stake in providing support, love, and kindness to children, because, as the old cliché goes, the children are our future. 

[I always say that a cliché is someone else’s epiphany that you just haven’t had yet…]

But, again, we see that the language has been changed to suit the purposes of an industrialized society.  What the proverb seems to mean today is that it takes a cadre of certified professionals and a good amount of restrictive, institutionalized settings to get the job of raising children up to be “productive members of society” done.

A great way to insure job security – but is it a great way to raise a child?  I’ve seen the children with said “village” watching their every move… they don’t seem too happy about it. 

There was a time in this country when it did take a village to raise a child, in the traditional sense.  Back then, they didn’t have compulsory schooling, Child Protective Services, hospitalized birthing, child psychiatrists.  Below is a slideshow of some images from those days.  For me, these photographs evoke a wistfulness, a curious longing…

They make me wonder:  What have we done?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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