The development of political concepts in children between the ages of seven and eleven years
The aim of the study is to explore the hypothesis that children, between the ages of seven and eleven, not only have concepts of politics, but that these develop, following a basic Piagetian model, through consecutive, cumulative stages. Investigation of this idea is carried out by examining childrens’ responses, both verbal and written, to particular questions, and subsequently relating these responses to a body of theory, which draws together some important contributions to present knowledge of childrens’ cognitive and social development. This provides both a point of reference and a disciplined structure for examining the significance of the collected data, as it enables an analytic approach to be made to studying the ways in which children perceive and enact political ideas, and gradually acquire the ability to use political concepts. The first section of the study is concerned with establishing this theoretical basis. The second part of the study presents approximately eight hundred childrens’ responses to questions which were intended to elicit their perceptions of the content of political activity, concepts of the processes and roles of government and attitudes to authority, freedom and the rule of law. These are accompanied by commentary, and followed by further discussion in terms of the nature of the development observed at different stages, and what appear to be the formative influences upon it. These include the influence of social class on political understanding, and raise questions concerning the role of the family group's language in political concept-formation, the political function of early schooling, sex-linked differences in political understanding and the influence of television on that understanding. The study has therefore both a practical and theoretical content. It is a study of children in action cognitively, and of the structures and directions of their developing thought on politics, from its earliest identifiable appearance, in ways which have not emerged, or been taken into account, in existing literature.