In a certain sense, childhood is most acutely experienced in retrospect. As a child, it’s simply life as you know it. But, as an adult, childhood (both one’s own and the developmental category in general) takes on a kind of mythic significance and, perhaps, nostalgic appeal. In this episode of Off Topic we look at the ways in which adults and their adult notions, fantasies, and theories about childhood shape what it means to be a child, and we ask if there is anything essential about childhood apart from what parents, teachers, movie producers, and authors say about it.

We speak with:

  • Stephen Mintz, History professor at UT-Austin and author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, about changes in the perceptions of childhood and children in America from the colonial era to the present day. 
  • C.J. Pascoe, Professor of Sociology and author of Dude, You’re a Fag, about teenagers, high school, and the ways in which children reproduce the rigid gender distinctions and power dynamics of the adult world through bullying and the casual use of homophobic slurs.
  • Members of the Mile High SpeedCubing Society, about what the obscure subculture of competitive rubik’s cubing can teach us about healthy competition and the bright side of social media.
  • Nick Santilli, developmental psychologist at Notre Dame College, about the new developmental category of emerging adulthood.
  • George Butte, English Professor at Colorado College, about the strange case of Peter Pan, and about the impossibility of children’s literature.


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