Shaw conference abstract
June 10, 2006
BERNARD SHAW’S CHILD
POLITICAL CONCEPTIONS OF EDUCATION AND PARENTING
IN “A TREATISE ON PARENTS AND CHILDREN,” THEN AND NOW
Shaw, as a voice ahead of his time, spoke directly to children’s culture of Great Britain in the early 20th century. Shaw’s 1910 preface to Misalliance: A Debate in One Sitting, “A Treatise on Parents and Children,” is a testament to his advocacy for children’s rights, educational reform, and a call for respect of children as individuals. Through his writings and anecdotal evidence, we know Shaw had a vested interest in children and children seemed to like Shaw. The majority of Shavian scholarship on Shaw and children examines Shaw’s contributions to the debate regarding child-rearing and educational reform in the early twentieth century. Shaw’s premise rests on the idea that English society and the British Empire ought to be fundamentally remodeled in the form of economic and social democracy which necessitated that young people should be educated for the future and not the present. Ironically, one could argue 96 years after Shaw wrote “A Treatise on Parents and Children” that the No Child Left Behind Act of the current administration equally resists educating young people for the future.
Unlike more modern politicians, Shaw vehemently believed children must be given the freedom to live as they desire. However, just like current politicians, Shaw uses children and childhood as a symbol in order to fix the societal ills for the emblematic future of society. Just as Shaw wanted to give voice to the seemingly voiceless underclass populations through his advocacy of socialism, Shaw wanted to speak for children in the early twentieth century without exactly knowing how due to the constraints of his day. Although Shaw was progressive on his views of childhood for the early twentieth century, as well as progressive for the present day, this presentation will also argue that Shaw cannot escape being a product of his time. Shaw, like many political leaders still do to this day, manipulates childhood for personal and political ends, just like the same people Shaw critiques in “A Treatise on Parents and Children.”