Annette Richardson (Ed.), Canadian Childhood in 1997.
 Edmonton, Alberta, The Kanata Learning Company Ltd., 1997) x+395p. ISBN)-9682961-0-6

How have Canadian children fared during the twentieth century? In order to address this question, Annette Richardson has assembled an unusual and intriguing collection of papers reflecting the insights of wide variety of authors. Richardson began with papers originally developed in in both undergraduate and graduate courses in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta, and the organized a major conference in 1997. The result is a substantial volume with 56 chapters grouped thematically into 10 sections: history, family, intergenerational, community, education,  health, law, indigenous, sociology and media. The book offers two concluding chapters a well as Richardson’s own Foreword.
As would be expected, one of the delights of the book is its exceedingly uneven and eclectic character. By bringing together undergraduate and essay with chapters by internationally-recognized scholars, the volume offers a refreshing immediacy to both questions of research and policy. Moreover, Canadian Childhood in 1997 is not only multi-disciplinary but it also included both researchers and practitioners. The result is an often passionate discussion that is chock full of recommendations for the twenty-first century. Overall the authors are cautiously optimistic but also highly critical of current trends especially as the more collectivist policies of the welfare state are undermined by the individualistic tendencies of those calling for tax cuts and a smaller pubic sector.
Historian Neil Sutherland frames his overview in terms of the Swedish social activist Ellen Key’s hope that the twentieth century would be the “century of the child.” Sutherland suggests that this hope has indeed been realized at least in part but that there is still a long way to go before all children grow up “in an atmosphere of affection and moral and material security, ” the cornerstone of the 1959 United Nations Declaration of the right of the child. Sutherland’s assessment is generally supported by the other authors who attend to the considerable diversity of Canadian children and of the diverse constructions of childhood in light of gender, class and ethnicity.
The longest section of the volume focuses on education and includes  discussion of both the formal and informal experience of schooling. specific attention is paid to how different children interact with the educational  structures as well as with other children. Taken together, the chapters on education emphasize the challenge of reconciling individual and family diversity with a standardized institution that is designed to deal with only a certain degree of difference. Similarly, the volume’s substantial section on health stresses the contradiction between the homogenous image of children and the reality of their complex lives. By examining topics such as obesity, abuse, and disease, the authors show the inappropriateness of thinking about the child as opposed to “children.”
In addition to chapters on familiar issues, Canadian Childhood in 1997 also offers discussion of newer topics including considerable attention to the question of computerization. For the most part, the authors point to problems (such as excessive computer usage and hate websites), and they attach the notion that technology will necessarily enhance the experience of growing up. Other innovative chapters focus on topics such as masculinity, and the specific situation of aboriginal children. These chapters do not present the findings of major research projects but rather they raise questions and point to the need for concerted study in future work. 
Overall, Annette Richardson’s volume achieves her goal of promoting “a more proactive approach to the plight of children”(p.ix). By bringing together the contribution of established scholars, students, and practitioners, Richardson show the value on interconnecting history, policy, and the complex lives of children. while agreeing the most children are better off at the end of the twentieth century than their counterparts were a hundred years ago,  the authors of Canadian Childhood in 1997 also make clear that the experience of growing up remains difficult and problematic, and the new challenges continue to undermine the stated right of all children to mature in a materially and morally secure environment.

Institute of Canadian Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada
Paedagogica Historica.: International Journal of the History of Education XXXV.1999.2

Reprinted by Permission of Paedagogica Historica.

Membership Application
Call for Papers
- Florida 2005
Official e-mail address: