Back To The Future II

Today I continue to talk about the past with Philip Cook! Come hear more from him at his show ‘Abolish Childhood’ on the 3rd of August and again on the 25th. 

Which era would you travel back to for music? 

I love 20th Century classical music, especially work by Britten, Walton, Shostakovich. It would have been amazing to be at the premier of Walton’s 1st Symphony at the Queen’s Hall in December 1934, one of my favourite pieces.

Which era would you travel back to for fashion? 

I’m always amazed at the flamboyance and intricacy of men and women’s clothes in the 17th Century, so it would be fun to see lengths to which they went to keep up appearances.

Which past era would you travel back to for children’s place in society? 

When I was researching into child labour recently, I found it fascinating to read about the early industrial revolution in the UK. There are rich records of earnings, family history, and children’s place in society.


I think the industrial revolution had a profound effect on childhood. It is well-known for introducing some terrible labour conditions for children, which rightly led to public outcry. But if you dig a little deeper you can see that children often sought work that was, for the time, reasonably well paid and safe to do. This period led to a great change in how society treated children, and it would be fascinating to observe some of these changes, for better and worse. In particular, we see the emergence of the kind of childhood we recognise today: full-time schooling, children financially dependent on their parents and families, children increasingly demarcated from adults through laws establishing minimum ages for various social activities.

Do you really believe it was the perfect era or children? Is there anything you’d change in their treatment during this era? 

It certainly was not the perfect era for children. In many ways it was far worse time for children than today. Children lacked many of the protections of things like child rights, or social care for orphans or neglected children. It is important to protect children in their vulnerability. However, the period of early industrialisation reveals very clearly that the way we treat children is influenced by our social, economic, and political practices. Childhood changes, and we should be more conscious of the decisions we make about how childhood is practiced. This earlier period at least reveals there are many different ways of being a child in society. This is an important starting point for thinking about how we can make children’s lives better in the future.

What are your hopes for the future of attitudes towards children? 

I think we are entering an exciting time for children’s place in society. There are increasingly loud voices, including those of children themselves, for reforms such as lowering the voting age. Brexit and IndyRef have highlighted important generational aspects to our politics. While I support these campaigns I think we need to go much further. We need to stop thinking of childhood as radically different from adulthood: we should simply regard each other as equals: equal votes, equal rights to work, equal rights to a basic income. This may sound radical and wrong-headed to many, but I hope to give some new ideas and overturn some traditional ways of thinking in my upcoming shows on ‘Abolish Childhood!’