Before Head Start: The Iowa Station & America's Children

Before Head Start: The Iowa Station & America's Children

Before Head Start: The Iowa Station & America's Children

Before Head Start: The Iowa Station & America's Children

Synopsis

Between the 1920s and the 1950s, the child welfare movement that had originated as a moral reform effort in the Progressive era evolved into the science of child development. In Before Head Start, Hamilton Cravens chronicles this transformation, both on the national level and from the perspective of the field's best-known research center, the University of Iowa's Child Welfare Research Station. Addressing the changing role played by women and the importance of Rockefeller philanthropy, he shows how a women's reform movement became a male-dominated, conservative profession and demonstrates how lay pressure groups can influence the structures and processes of science. Animated by the reformist goals of the child welfare movement, scientists at the Iowa Station challenged the pervasive idea that an individual's development was determined by such group traits as race, class, and gender. Instead, their research suggested that early social intervention could rescue a child from a grim future. Cravens argues that this individualistic perspective, rejected in the 1940s by a scientific community that mirrored society's deterministic notions, anticipated the national social reforms of the post-1950s era, including Head Start.

Excerpt

The child is father to the man; we become as adults what is established in us as children. Whatever its contemporary scientific validity or political acceptability, that old saw has fueled discussion and controversy in public life concerning the views that Americans have held of one another in society, economy, polity, and culture. Notions of childhood and child nurture have been directly linked to social action and thought in important ways. Thus childhood nurture as an intellectual and cultural construct occupies a central place in modern American history and plays a crucial role in social thought and public policy. Its ramifications have been large and extensive.

Historian Bernard Wishy has ably examined the American discussion of childhood nurture from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, when, as he put it, scientific and educational experts took over the culture's public discussions of child nurture and nature. the eighteenth-century Enlightenment made discussions of the nature of children and child development recognizably modern. Wishy saw the modern posture as assuming the innocence or moral flexibility of children and discussing their specific responses and experiences as they grew up. Gone were the ancient emphasis on moral depravity and the traditional abstractions on child behavior. in the nineteenth century Americans applied these modern perspectives to the problem of child nurture by attempting to find a reasonable balance between freedom and authority.

In this book I discuss crucial aspects of the modern debates and discussions among twentieth-century scientific experts of child nature and nurture -- of child development. My focus has been those actions and discussions that have . . .

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