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Translated from Latin, tabula rasa means a “clean slate”—a blank wax tablet that ancient Romans used for writing on. Accruing meaning over many centuries, this term has become a metaphor defining a certain perspective on childhood. This entry explores the history of the term’s use within the discipline of childhood studies, summarizes its meaning and representation in relation to children, and explores how it continues to inform understandings of children in the 21st century.

Origins

Interpretation of tabula rasa in relation to human cognition and experience is most famously attributed to the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) and his work on the nature of human understanding. However, a more thorough attempt to trace this term to its origins leads to Aristotle and his peers, who believed that, ...

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