- Contemporary Children:Questions of Learning and Labor
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The two essays in this section engage with the tensions between child labor and education, but from significantly different disciplinary perspectives and based upon quite different but not fully oppositional premises. The research undertaken by the Understanding Children's Work project recognizes that a nuanced account of why children work and the varied nature and conditions of their labor is essential to the achievement of universal education. Lorenzo Guarcello, Scott Lyon, and Furio C. Rosati's issue paper "Child Labor and Education For All" surveys the enormous range of factors including gender, work intensity, school quality, and ease of access that have an impact on not only whether children attend school, but also whether they thrive there. This large scale demographic and economic research reflects an understanding of the wide array of possible childhoods, and offers detailed insight into the mesh of relationships among the many forces that inform family decisions about work and school. Sarada Balagopalan's fieldwork with children in Bangladesh and India provides a far more intimate portrait of the life choices made by individual children and their families. Her account reveals both the long-term value of the skills that can be gained through child labor and the caste prejudices often implicit in schooling. Her analysis in "Memories of Tomorrow: Children, Labor, and the Panacea of Formal Schooling" interrogates the general endorsement of universal education, using perspectives offered by these children and their families to complicate the views of childhood, school, and work that tend to inform the goal of education for all. In putting two such different pieces of scholarship in conversation with each other JHCY hopes to highlight the value of interdisciplinary perspectives in understanding and addressing the many complex and sometimes contradictory forces that influence children's well-being.—K.S.E. [End Page 253]
Karen Sánchez-Eppler is Professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College. The author of Dependent States: The Child's Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (University of Chicago, 2006) and of Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body (University of California, 1993), she is currently working on a book tentatively titled The Unpublished Republic: Manuscript Cultures of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century U.S., of which this essay will form a part. She is one of the founding editors of the new Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth.