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The Crucible of Consent: American Child Rearing and the Forging of Liberal Society

The Crucible of Consent: American Child Rearing and the Forging of Liberal Society

by James E. BlockJames E. Block


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A democratic government requires the consent of its citizens. But how is that consent formed? Why should free people submit to any rule? Pursuing this question to its source for the first time, The Crucible of Consent argues that the explanation is to be found in the nursery and the schoolroom. Only in the receptive and less visible realms of childhood and youth could the necessary synthesis of self-direction and integrative social conduct--so contradictory in logic yet so functional in practice--be established without provoking reservation or resistance.

From the early postrevolutionary republic, two liberal child-rearing institutions--the family and schooling--took on a responsibility crucial to the growing nation: to produce the willing and seemingly self-initiated conformability on which the society's claim of freedom and demand for order depended. Developing the institutional mechanisms for generating early consent required the constant transformation of child-rearing theory and practice over the course of the nineteenth century. By exploring the systematic reframing of relations between generations that resulted, this book offers new insight into the consenting citizenry at the foundation of liberal society, the novel domestic and educational structures that made it possible, and the unprecedented role created for the young in the modern world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674051942
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/15/2012
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 1.40(w) x 1.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

James E. Block is Associate Professor of Political Science at DePaul University.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction: Is Consent Credible? 1

1 The Hidden Dynamic of Childhood Consent 9

I The Dream of Revolutionary Erasure

2 The Revolution against Patriarchy and the Crisis of Founding 41

3 Unencumbered Youth and the Postrevolutionary Vacuum of Authority 66

4 Divergent Childhoods, Different Republics: The Initial Turn to Socialization 91

II Framing Liberal Child Rearing in the Early Republic

5 The Emerging Consensus on Agency Socialization 119

6 Toward a Child-Centered Family 153

7 Winning the Child's Will 174

8 Socializing Society: Popular Education and the Diffusion of Agency 194

9 Educating the Agent as Liberal Citizen 216

III Consolidating the Postwar Agency Republic

10 The "Self-Made" Citizen and the Erasure of Socialization 241

11 A Superfluous Socialization? Shaping the Self-Realizing Child 272

12 Educating the Voluntary Citizen in an Organizational Age 289

Coda: From Deweyan consensus to the Crisis of Consent 323

Notes 355

Acknowledgments 421

Index 423

What People are Saying About This

John Rury

A major reinterpretation of the history of American childhood and child rearing, with a powerful and persuasive central thesis. The sweep of the narrative is breathtaking and the degree of erudition remarkable.
John Rury, University of Kansas

Michael Zuckerman

A fresh and richly illuminating work, based on profound scholarship and written with verve, passion, and occasional eloquence. The Crucible of Consent is an agenda-setting work that we will be reckoning with for a long time.
Michael Zuckerman, University of Pennsylvania

Stephen Skowronek

No one understands the struggle with authority at the heart of American liberalism better than James Block, and no one conveys more vividly its vitality and inner tension. Following up his arresting depiction of America as A Nation of Agents, Block now considers the cultivation of liberal citizens, of men and women who would internalize cultural expectations and obligations without losing their innate spontaneity, creativity, and love of freedom. Recovering a preoccupation with this problem in the nineteenth-century literature on child rearing, The Crucible of Consent reminds us of the best in our national character and of the complications that have come to impede its latter-day expression.
Stephen Skowronek, Yale University

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