Theses Doctoral

Reading For Childhood in Philosophy and Literature: An Ethical Practice for Educators

Burdick-Shepherd, Stephanie

Despite the ubiquitous presence of children in society, the dominant discourse of childhood does not admit room for much of the complexity that the condition of children presents. This project shows that reading for childhood in philosophy and literature makes space for re-imagining childhood as a complex and valuable concept that impacts both the experience of children and their relationships with others and the world. This project situates childhood as a magnified time of growth and development, a unique aspect of human life. At the same time childhood cultivates an interest in and with others, it is also a constructed concept.
This inquiry engages this complexity by a reading of rich descriptions and inquiries of childhood in texts of philosophy and literature. These foundational texts are: Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile, John Dewey's Democracy and Education, Simone De Beauvoir's Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Virginia Woolf's The Waves, Vivian Paley's The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Helicopter, and Harriet Cuffaro's Experimenting with the World. Childhood in the texts functions to complicate and reframe conventional and historical interpretations of childhood.
The readings in the project challenge a conventional rendering of childhood that serves to distance childhood from its wider community. Childhood is reframed as a concept of inclusion of the other, particularly the adult educator. The project expands scholarship examining how adult interactions with childhood manifest changes in conceptual understandings or practices. The project concludes that cultivating habits of reading for the concept of childhood assists educators in engaging their teaching practice meaningfully.
Uncovering the complexity of the concept of childhood invites educators to uncover such ethical aspects of the educational relationship as responsibility, recognition, acceptance of difference, acknowledgement of power dynamics, freedom, and growth. In this context childhood functions as an ethical construct - a guiding value - in education. Multiple ways of viewing and reflecting on the concept of childhood illuminate possibilities for renewing and reengaging these ethical aspects within an educational context.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Philosophy and Education
Thesis Advisors
Laverty, Megan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014