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Mr. Owen’s Big Idea

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Parent at the Helm’s newest guest commentator sailed to this site all the way from southwest Australia where her second shot at motherhood has her examining assumptions, thinking outside the box and, as a result, enjoying homeschooling with her son as she ponders “the psychological structure of western consumer society and the templates that have been imposed to guide us in our daily lives.” Please welcome aboard Barb Kelly; I think you’ll be wanting to hear more from her in the future. “Mr. Owen’s Big Idea” begins below.

And do we not see in this description a mirror of modern society's institution of daycare?

And do we not see in this description a mirror of modern society's institution of daycare?

Modern western industrialized societies – which are all fairly generic in their attitudes to family – decree that infants, young children – all children, in fact – should be deposited for their benefit in various institutions during daylight hours to be cared for, “educated” or otherwise – in other words, to be removed from the inexpert influence of their parents.
This achieved, the parents are then released in their hordes to thunder into the workplace outside the home to enhance their own prosperity and that of the country in which they reside.
The notion that parents are incapable of transmitting valuable knowledge to their offspring was an insidious offshoot of the Industrial Revolution. Having lured a hefty dollup of the peasant population to the towns to toil in intolerable conditions, and faced with the hell of child labour in their odious factories, well-meaning industrialists, turned social-reformers, searched for a solution which would indoctrinate young minds – and yet was not quite so capricious and cruel as that which was already being practised.
These problems arose in response to the greed of early industrial entrepreneurs through the overcrowded and unhealthy environments of urban factory towns which led to a breakdown in the moral fabric of society. Hence, the very people who manufactured these conditions now desperately sought a solution to the “intolerable society of immorality.”
One such industrialist was Robert Owen, a mill owner in Scotland. He was more sympathetic to the plight of his labourers than most. He sought to ease the burden of child labour on those who were forced through economic necessity to undertake it. In his report on the state off affairs in Lanark, he came up with a plan to attempt to reinstitute some form of moral turpitude for the benefit of the laboring classes and society as a whole. He wrote:
“These plans must be devised to train children from their earliest infancy in good habits of every description (which will of course prevent them from acquiring those of falsehood and deception). They must afterwards be rationally educated and their labour usefully directed…”
This seems perfectly reasonable. However, further to this, Mr. Owen perceived a complete remodeling which excised to the core the relationship between children and their parents. He wrote:
“The child will be removed, so far as is at present practicable, from the erroneous treatment of the yet untrained and untaught parents.
“The parents will be relieved from the loss of time, and from the care and anxiety which are now occasioned by attendance on their children from the period when they go alone to that at which they enter school.
“The child will be placed in a situation of safety, where with its future schoolfellows and companions, it will acquire the best habits and principles, while at mealtimes and at night it will return to the caresses of its parents, and the affections of each one are likely to be increased by the separation.”
One assumes that Owen’s term “go alone” is a reference to the cessation of breastfeeding. Here, we should at least be thankful that he refrained from calling for infants to be pried from their mother’s breast.
Robert Owen’s ideas eventually became the template for the new industrial society. And do we not see in this description a mirror of modern society’s institution of “daycare?”
Having traveled so far from these ominous beginnings, it is difficult – sometimes impossible – for parents in the modern world to envisage a society where their responsibilities toward their children are not usurped at the earliest opportunity. In fact, most parents these days expect that they will be relieved of the daytime care of their offspring at a very early juncture. It is inconceivable to the great majority of parents that they would have any right to provide education for their children. However, if those that are troubled by a feeling of unease about the current western system of childcare, stopped and examined the totality of the apparatus that overarches their daily lives, they may begin, at least, to surface from the fog of western consumer society.

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