The Child Learns: Academic, Religious, and Moral Training

The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood
An exhibition at the University Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley
August 23 - November 19, 1995

Beginning with John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), the Georgian period engaged in a profound debate over education. Locke had suggested that the goal of education was to prepare the child to achieve future independence in the world. Even so, this meant controlling the child's true, perhaps unruly, nature. Boys were to be educated outside the home, safely removed from the "pernicious" domestic sphere of women and servants.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau revolutionized advanced English thinking on education in the 1760s by arguing that "experience," that is to say education, was a mixed blessing. According to Rousseau, the child should be allowed to run about "idly at hazard" until age twelve, protected from harmful experience of the world by a tutor or guide. While such ideas literally took root among only the wealthiest classes, his respect for childhood influenced educational theory on all levels. Indeed, more and more children received at least a rudimentary education, and artists recorded such instructional settings in picturesque fashion.

Books written expressly for children, including chapbooks (story books or nursery rhymes), alphabets, and readers, first flourished in the eighteenth century. Most of these books intended to awaken adult modes of perception in children. They promoted improvement, not pleasure. Many even sought to teach children, through word and image, about the likelihood of an early death. By contrast, William Blake hoped the ways of children would inspire adults to rekindle the visionary flame of childhood.

Richard Wilson
Prince George and Prince Edward Augustus with their Tutor
about 1748-49
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 1/8 in. (63.5 x 76.5 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

William Mulready
Mother Teaching her Child
Oil on canvas
17 3/8 x 13 3/8 in. (44.1 x 34 cm)
The Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Ward, after George Morland
A Visit to the Boarding School
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art

Thomas Barker of Bath
Seated Boy with Book
early 19th century
Ink and wash
10 x 7 1/4 in. (25.4 x 18.4 cm)
Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, UCLA

John Augustus Atkinson
Going to School
about 1801-10
Pen, black ink, and watercolor
7 1/2 x 6 1/8 in. (19.1 x 15.6 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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