Government intervention in child rearing: Governing infancy

Educational Theory 60 (3):285-298 (2010)
Abstract
In this essay, Robert Davis argues that much of the moral anxiety currently surrounding children in Europe and North America emerges at ages and stages curiously familiar from traditional Western constructions of childhood. The symbolism of infancy has proven enduringly effective over the last two centuries in associating the earliest years of children's lives with a peculiar prestige and aura. Infancy is then vouchsafed within this symbolism as a state in which all of society's hopes and ideals for the young might somehow be enthusiastically invested, regardless of the complications that can be anticipated in the later, more ambivalent years of childhood and adolescence. According to Davis, the understanding of the concept of infancy associated with the rise of popular education can trace its pedigree to a genuine shift in sensibility that occurred in the middle of the eighteenth century. After exploring the essentially Romantic positions of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Fröbel and their relevance to the pattern of reform of early childhood education in the United Kingdom and the United States, Davis also assesses the influence of figures such as Stanley Hall and John Dewey in determining the rationale for modern early childhood education. A central contention of Davis's essay is that the assumptions evident in the theory and practice of Pestalozzi and his followers crystallize a series of tensions in the understanding of infancy and infant education that have haunted early childhood education from the origins of popular schooling in the late eighteenth century down to the policy dilemmas of the present day
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DOI 10.1111/j.1741-5446.2010.00359.x
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