In last Sunday's New York Times there was a recipe for homemade birthday cake accompanied by a refreshing call to de-industrialize childhood. The author wrote:
home-baked cakes strike a blow against the modern industrialization of children's birthday parties, in which 20 6-year-olds are dragooned to a gym, led around tumbling mats by grim-faced instructors for $45 a head, then sent home with goody bags filled with embarrassingly expensive electronic doodads.
Homemade cakes say, "It is perfectly fine to stuff into my smallish home, play pin the tail on the donkey and leave with a loot bag holding edible bracelets and a plastic puzzle that will break in a week."
Take back childhood, people!
Since becoming a parent, one of the more curious sociological changes that I've seen when comparing my own upbringing to my children's upringing is the standardization and rationalization of childhood. Children are increasingly subject to powerful rational and technical forces--mostly through parents--that segments their lives into a series of continual interractions with formal organizations. This includes a number of activities-- from the organized soccer of Newton Girls Soccer to the formal organization of playdates to the institutionalization of standardized testing that now begins in elementary school. Parents are increasingly subject to a littany of "best practices" that emerges from magazines and so-called child experts. Terms like information, skills, complexity--which were often associated with rational production systems--are increasingly used to describe the interactions between parents and children in parenting books. One unintended consequence of this rationalization process, I fear, is the disenchantment of childhood.