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Boundaries of the State In Us History$
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James T. Sparrow, William J. Novak, and Stephen W. Sawyer

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226277646

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226277813.001.0001

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Governing the Child: The State, the Family, and the Compulsory School in the Early Twentieth Century

Governing the Child: The State, the Family, and the Compulsory School in the Early Twentieth Century

(p.157) Six Governing the Child: The State, the Family, and the Compulsory School in the Early Twentieth Century
Boundaries of the State In Us History

Tracy Steffes

University of Chicago Press

This article explores how the development of compulsory attendance policies in the early twentieth century—state laws mandating attendance and local district enforcement practices to give effect to them—expanded the reach and power of the state over children. It argues that compulsory attendance polices increased the state's access to children and invested school officials acting on its behalf with the means and rationales to extend public oversight and regulation of children's education, health, labor, and welfare in new ways. Enacted from the top down and bottom up and shaped by popular participation and consent, attendance policies also disciplined and regularized school attendance for all children over time and helped to institutionalize new norms of full time, regular attendance at school. Consequently this article argues that the chief significance of compulsion was not the policing of particular households or the children it brought into school by force, but the broader ways in which it served as a site for expanding public governance and claims over all children. If we take schools seriously as sites of government and social policy, we must reframe questions about the underdevelopment of American social policy and ask why Americans made they choices they did to generously subsidize opportunity for children rather than socialize risk for workers. Public schooling was not a peculiar aside to the era's weak social policy, but a major public investment that should be integrated into the story and used to rethink it.

Keywords:   schools, education, compulsory attendance, progressive, social policy, governmentality

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