Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Children and Their Educators: Changing Relations in a Meritocratizing World

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

Children and Their Educators: Changing Relations in a Meritocratizing World

Article excerpt

Children growing up today in meritocratic post-industrial societies encounter a variety of socialization regimes--some introduced recently. Parents continue to be the most important adults in children's lives, but over the past century a host of caretakers, counselors, teachers and educators has emerged on the pedagogical stage, all eager to give advice. Large and complex educational systems, a variety of media included, (1) now surround children as they grow up; within these systems siblings and peers have a special place as relevant others.

The socializing tasks previously undertaken, chiefly by parents, and neighboring adults have been differentiated and re-allotted: now many people perform them. Initially, this change took place among the elite. In the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, for instance, well-to-do families of merchants and regents fine-tuned the supervision of child-rearing among various educators. A host of adults, often including domestic servants, household staff, tutors and teachers, was involved in the care and education of the children of the elite. (2) Meanwhile, children from the lower social classes were growing up within simpler socialization networks; their preparation for adulthood was therefore less complex. Insofar as they attended school, their education primarily consisted of learning the Christian virtues. To master skills required for a craft or job, they had to be apprenticed and learn through on-hands practice.

From the second half of the nineteenth century through the first decades of the twentieth century, many European and North American countries passed laws requiring universal education. In the Netherlands this happened in 1901, within the framework of the emerging welfare state. Wide-ranging schooling regimes were introduced for children from all social classes and religious denominations, and for both town and country children. More recently, as mothers entered the labor market, specialized collective caring regimes came into being. The appearance of each new specialized regime coincided with a transformation of the existing ones, resulting in a concomitant shift in the division of tasks and the hierarchical position of each participant. The more educators, the less room for maneuver each of them had, and the more limited their influence on the socialization regime as a whole. (3) This process changed the balance of power between children and adults, reducing the inequality between them. And, the position of children was even strengthened by the increasing influence of their peers, which went in tandem with shifts in the boundaries of childhood. (4)

In sociology and in history, socialization at home and education at school tend to be studied separately. These specialized sub-disciplines--family history and the history of education--leave little room for an encompassing view of child-rearing. In contrast, the present article aims to view these early twentieth-century socialization regimes as a whole: an entangled, many-sided system whose diverse participants, in their well-defined hierarchical context, divide the tasks of raising and educating children. My article focuses on the Netherlands in the first half of the twentieth century, during the early stages of the expansion of the schooling regime. In it, I also describe and analyze the changing relations between home and school, and attempt to unravel the complex, multifaceted relations between children and the people around them. Special attention will be given to the effects of these new socialization regimes on the children's daily life, as well as on their ideas and feelings regarding their mothers, fathers, teachers and other children.

First 1 shall address some methodological considerations and then sketch the Dutch middle-class ideal of family life, together with a vision of the enlightened modern school that held sway in the first decades of the twentieth century. Starting with this material, I shall consider the division of labor between mothers and teachers, and their relative autonomy in their own domains. …

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