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date: 21 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Child labor and compulsory education were entwined in the context of conflicting social constructions of childhood. As public schools spread in the nineteenth-century United States, a modern construction of childhood as a time to go to school evolved for protected middle-class children. At the same time, with industrialization, migration, emancipation, and population growth, increasing numbers of poor and working-class children were constructed as child laborers. Anti–child labor campaigns proceeded piecemeal, not always in concert with compulsory education laws. With the transition from agricultural to industrial societies, constructions of childhood varied internationally, by culture, region, race, gender, class, caste, and politics. Worldwide, children from low-income families were less protected and less able to attend school. Driven in part by global economic competition, income disparities, testing, and other variables, a postmodern reconstruction of childhood has been emerging, in which pressured children work hard at school and emotionally at home. Yet with persistent child labor in many parts of the world, other children experience different kinds of pressure and difficulties becoming and performing as students.

Keywords: constructing childhood, child labor, compulsory education, protected child, student, age-grading, developmental stages, testing, global competition, income disparities

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