Child-rearing: On government intervention and the discourse of experts

Educational Philosophy and Theory 40 (6):719-738 (2008)
Abstract
For Kant, education was understood as the 'means' to become human—and that is to say, rational. For Rousseau by contrast, and the many child-centred educators that followed him, the adult world, far from representing reason, is essentially corrupt and given over to the superficialities of worldly vanity. On this view, the child, as a product of nature, is essentially good and will learn all she needs to know from experience. Both positions have their own problems, but beyond this 'internal debate', the change in the content of education (i.e. child-rearing and schooling) is now furthermore due to a radical pluralism that has swept the world. Moreover, there may be differences in value between individual parents and between values held within the family and those held in society at large. Among other reasons this has put more generally children's (and parents') 'rights' on the agenda, which differs from thinking of education in terms of a 'practice'. The paper develops this latter concept and the criticisms to which it has been subject and argues that there is no necessary incompatibility between initiation into an existing practice and transforming that practice in some way, if it is emphasized how practices are learned and enacted. It then turns to the tendency in education and child-rearing, as in other spheres of human interaction, for more laws and codes of conduct and to call upon experts for all kind of matters. It argues that performativity rules on the level of the practitioner, of the experts, and even on the level of educational research. It argues that many governments have adopted in matters of schooling the language of output and school effectiveness and that something similar is now bound to happen in the sphere of child-rearing (with talk of parenting skills and courses). This is made credible due to a particular model of educational research, i.e. an empiricist quasi-causal model of explaining human behaviour. The paper then discusses the problems with this stance and argues that we should part company from the entrepreneurial manipulative educator to open up a sphere of responsiveness for the child and that for these reasons, the concept of the 'practice of child-rearing' should be revisited. Insisting on the complexities that have to be taken into account and thus surpassing a discourse of effectiveness and output as well as of codes of conduct and rulings of courts of law, may help us to focus on what is really at stake: to lead a meaningful life, to be initiated into what is 'real for us' and what we value. It concludes that thus restoring a place for child-rearing as a practice will do justice to the responsiveness to which each child is entitled.
Keywords government intervention  educational research  practice  discourse of experts  child‐rearing
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