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La transformation de l’enfant en écolier (du 19e au milieu du 20e siècle): les “eurêkas” des sciences de l’homme naissantes, entre scientisme et romantisme: un “naturalisme” de l’enfance

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Published in Paedagogica Historica. 2012, vol. 48, no. 1, p. 31-50
Abstract Consciousness of the specificities of childhood, as we know, has lasted for centuries. However, the history of childhood – in other words, the representation of it – should not be confounded with the history of the children in their everyday reality, although both influence each other. The history of the “discoveries” of childhood can, in fact, be interpreted as historically situated social constructions. And the myriad of “eurekas” that have punctuated the long history of childhood can be considered as a kaleidoscope that has reflected contrasted images of the projections by those who considered themselves as inventors of different faces of childhood. Occidental societies that have generalised education since the nineteenth century have largely disseminated the idea that childhood can be defined as a period specially dedicated to education and learning. In the first part of this paper, the huge phenomenon, with manifold consequences, of the transformation of the children into pupils – girls and boys – not, however, without discrimination, is analysed and contextualised. This phenomenon was accompanied by the appearance of a multitude of new specialists in childhood who scrutinised – as naturalists, experimentalists, social entrepreneurs, internationalist reformers – the conditions of children’s development, of their learning and education. The kaleidoscope of images emanating from their observations and discourses is the object of the analysis presented in the second part of this paper. Three “paradigmatic turning points” or “eurekas” that materialise in a particularly significant way the theories, figures and places of such images have been chosen: (1) the spreading of evolutionist theory that invested the child as origin and future of humankind; (2) the pedological blaze that installed the science of the child as queen of the sciences; (3) the so-called “Copernican revolution”, as described by Claparède, that positioned the child – and not the pupil – as the centre around which pedagogy had to turn; consequently, with Piaget, the School of Geneva became a global reference of new theories of development. The analysis presented, based on a wide range of literature and on copious research in archives, led to putting forward the following thesis. Although many emblematic representatives of this new science of the child studied the development of and were interested in childhood because of its evolutionary potentials and capacities for learning, they inclined in their theories to leave aside the questions of teaching and education. The social reality of the learning pupil was hidden in favour of a point of view heavily influenced by a sort of “naturalism” of the child, which postulated and stipulated that nature and its laws were inviolable and prominent. This naturalism was nourished both by a certain form of scientism based on the credo of the experimental approach and on a form of romanticism that regard as sacred “this piece of nature supposedly intact” that should be the prime state of childhood.
Keywords Transformation of child into pupilNaturalism of childhoodScientism and romanticismNineteenth to mid-twentieth centuryPedology
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Research group Equipe de recherche en histoire des sciences de l'éducation (ERHISE)
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HOFSTETTER, Rita. La transformation de l’enfant en écolier (du 19e au milieu du 20e siècle): les “eurêkas” des sciences de l’homme naissantes, entre scientisme et romantisme: un “naturalisme” de l’enfance. In: Paedagogica Historica, 2012, vol. 48, n° 1, p. 31-50. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:30733

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Deposited on : 2013-10-28

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