Online Education

Childhood nostalgia overshadows the experiences of today’s children

Nostalgia has returned in force after the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the imposed bonds have spurred an increase in nostalgic activities such as watching classic movies, baking, and reminiscing with family and friends.

Nostalgia can be defined as a feeling of regret for a happier time that no longer exists and may never have existed.

If nostalgia is not overdone, it can be a productive feeling because it gives a sense of continuity, purpose, and optimism in difficult times.

As author Danielle Campoamor explains, “Nostalgia is a kind of transitory object that helps us get used to a new disturbing, stressful, or traumatic reality. »

But nostalgia can create an oversimplified picture of the past that distracts from the present and limits the ability to imagine a different future.

What is nostalgia for?

Because nostalgia typically draws on memories of social and fraternal bonds, it can help people cope with feelings of loneliness.

Cultural theorist Svetlana Boym adds that nostalgia disrupts the “irreversibility of time that overwhelms the human condition” and makes it possible to use the past to rethink the present and the future.

For these reasons, nostalgia can be particularly important for people who are vulnerable due to displacement, bereavement or mental health problems.

Some people may even feel nostalgic for the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, when incarceration was experienced as a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, nostalgia reflects an overly positive view of that time and emphasizes the experiences of those who are privileged or more protected in society.

As the pandemic unfolds, the desire to return to “normal” life can also lead to unrealistic expectations and feelings of impatience, frustration and fear.

Nostalgia for pre-pandemic life can be a way to cope with the many deaths related to Covid-19 and the unequal effects of the disease, online education and access to resources for children, young people and adults.

Childhood innocence and games

Nostalgia is traditionally associated with childhood and the desire to return to a fantasized state of innocence.

Even today, in the dominant Western popular imagination, childhood is seen as a period that precedes responsibilities, problems and violence, and the awareness of grief and death.

Playful objects intended for children are also full of nostalgia. Archaeologist Jane Eva Baxter notes that toys can say as much about adults’ childhood nostalgia as they do about the children for whom they are intended.

Adults’ nostalgia for childhood is also evidenced by toys created for children.

Childhood memories of teachers

Our work examines how childhood memories of future teachers and educators shape their perception of their role.

As part of our research, we asked undergraduate students enrolled in teacher education and child studies programs to choose an object—a token, toy, or tool—that they thought represented childhood.

Participants were invited to talk about the selected object in a discussion group. A variety of objects were explored: stuffed animals, bicycles, binoculars, games, puzzles, drawings and books.

At first glance, these elections are not surprising. One could even say that they represent normative ideas about child development and a tendency to see childhood as an antechamber to a productive adult life.

However, the participants were not satisfied with reaffirming the norms represented by their object. They used it to describe a variety of difficult childhood experiences, such as the loss of a loved one, gender and sexuality issues, periods of worry, bullying or failure, and how they acted to meet rigorous educational goals.

Childhood before the pandemic and toys without technology

While respondents in our study described difficult childhood experiences, they reverted to a nostalgic view of childhood when the topic of COVID-19 was raised.

Technology was at the center of these discussions. Specifically, participants noted that their subject’s lack of technology was more natural, innocent, and joyful than the gadgets they believe dominate childhood experiences today.

On the one hand, there are important reasons to be concerned about technology designed for children, especially when it comes to privacy, security and consent. Many young people themselves have expressed their concerns about the impact of technology on their lives.

In the case of emergency online education, teacher education specialist Sarah Barrett points to the role of technology in deepening social inequality and fracturing school communities.

On the other hand, the creative use of technology by children may not be so different from the use of material objects and toys. Although they raise questions, high-tech toys can be a source of imagination, curiosity and emotional attachment.

A pair of green children's binoculars
Nostalgia can mask the complexity of contemporary reality and historical experience.

What nostalgia forgets

The problem is that nostalgia overshadows any such debate. The desire to recapture a past pre-pandemic childhood may reinforce normative notions of what constitutes a “real” or “natural” childhood, even if these notions never encompassed all children.

Thus, nostalgia can lead to ignoring the experiences of children themselves, experiences that have always been influenced by historical transitions, social inequalities and emotional conflicts, as evidenced by the discussion of the participants in our study.

Nostalgia for pre-pandemic childhood can also forget that schools have never been a safe space for everyone, especially not for racial minorities and queer and trans children.

Given these disparities, it is telling that many minority children and youth have described the technological shift to online education during the pandemic as a relief from the racist, homophobic, and transphobic violence that occurred in person at school.

Because nostalgia creates an overly positive view of the past, it can also distract from the need for structural change in post-Covid-19 recovery plans for the education sector.

Good news

Nostalgia is a strong emotion that can be felt as a certain proof of an idealized time to which we can long to return.

However, educational theorist Janet Miller points out that it is important to “take responsibility for any nostalgic story that is repeated simply out of a desire to return to a time or place that is often idealized that does not exist. more and which very probably never existed”.

It may be strangely good news to acknowledge that nostalgia does not prove past realities. If we can keep in mind the impossibility of the idealized promises of nostalgia, and if we can take responsibility for the nostalgic stories we tell, then perhaps we can imagine a new and inclusive view of childhood and education.

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