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The invention of childhood in the late Middle Ages was a discovery,

of sorts, that children were not simply miniature adults but were in a

distinct stage of life with its own needs and developmental pattern

(Aries 1962). This was more than a useful discovery; it was a fundamental

acknowledgment that a decent culture needed to make a

greater effort to shelter, nourish, and establish individual personhood

than had previously been the case.We have good evidence from many

sources that childhood as a distinct and protected phase of life is disappearing,

and we have every reason to fear that loss. The primary

cause is an errant system of political economy loosed on the world. It

is failing children now and will in time fail catastrophically. Children

will bear the brunt of that failure as well. Far from having settled all of

the big political and economic issues, we have yet to create a political

economy that protects the biosphere and the physical, mental, emotional,

and spiritual well being of children and through them the

future of our species. I hope we are at the beginning of what Thomas

Berry calls the Ecozoic era, “when humans will be present to the

Earth in a mutually enhancing manner” (2000, 55). For that hope to

become manifest, we must first organize our political and economic

affairs in a way that honors the rights of all children. The irony of our

situation is that what appears from our present vantage point to be altruism

will, in time, come to be seen as merely practical, farsighted


This chapter also appears in Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural,

and Evolutionary Investigations, ed. Peter H. Kahn Jr. and Stephen R. Kellert

(Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002). Copyright © 2002 by the Massachusetts Institute

of Technology. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.