This interdisciplinary seminar explores children and childhood in the United States from two vantage points—those of public policy makers and of parents. In what ways does public policy shape children’s lives? What historical trends influence the ways that people parent? What happens when parents disagree with laws or conventions regarding how to parent? The first half of the course examines common conceptualizations of the child figure historically and today. While all children possess some universal characteristics that transcend time, place and personal circumstance, we can also understand the contemporary child figure to be a social construction, with “childhood” as we know it emerging as a coherent life stage only in the past few centuries. Public policy—laws about healthcare, education and labor, in particular—have both shaped and responded to these conceptualizations of childhood. The second half of the course examines children as members of families. Just as we can understand the symbolic child figure as a social construction, so we will see that race, class, gender and sexual orientation are key factors influencing the lived experiences of actual children and their parents. Additionally, we will examine how the proscribed “best methods” of child-rearing seem to change continuously—parents who consult various “experts” often receive contradictory advice. Works we may engage include Guggenheim's What's Wrong with Children's Rights? , Lareau's Unequal Childhoods , Postman’s Disappearance of Childhood , and the photography of Sally Mann. By the end of the course, we should have deeper understandings of childhood as a social construction, of the debates surrounding some of the issues that society currently deems relevant to children, and of differing child-rearing practices that parents employ.
Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)