If you were to ask a group of grade schoolers their opinions on grown-ups, what would they say? In our age of participation awards and "good job," would the descriptives be more positive than negative? In a 1931 issue of Harper's Magazine, a schoolteacher asked her students, ages 7 to 11, that very question. And, for the most part, what they said wasn't too positive. They resented all the discipline, all the rules, and being bossed around. (The term "boss" comes up frequently.)
According to Agnes, grown-ups "think we are cold when we arn't and make us put on coats and hats when we don't want to. They make me very mad at times and other times make me very happy but never mediom [so much mind control!]. They are either very quite or very noisy. They don't have as much fun as we do. Their hair is always fixt and hands washed. It has always been a mistory to me how they do it."
An 11-year-old notices that we "get cross quite a lot. They are always talking grown-up things, stock market and such [understandable since the crash happened only two years earlier]. They are everlastingly going to meetings and luncheons and stuff. They'll have parties and play contract bridge, what fun do you get out of it?" Apparently a lot: This variation on bridge had become a sensation following the publication of the new rules developed by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt. As per Wikipedia: "Vanderbilt set out his rules in 1925, and within a few years contract bridge had so supplanted other forms of the game that 'bridge' became synonymous with 'contract bridge.'"
The reasons to be a grown-up, as cited by Constance, still hold true for children 84 years later: "I could go to bed when I felt like it and in the summertime I could go swimming when I felt like it so no one could say 'You can't go swimming today because its too damp and you have a cold.'" (I am reminded of my wife telling our kids that "there are reasons" for all these dos and don'ts, not that they care to hear them.)
And then there is Arthur, who says, "Grown-ups give me a pain in the neck. I don't like them because they try to boss you around a lot and say you must go up and brush your hair or mustn't have to much candy.... I would like to take them over my knee and give them a good spanking and make them yell once." Funny, there's no mention of time-outs.
"Out of the Mouths of Babes" can be accessed online next month at harpers.org/fromthearchive.