Pedagogy, Printing, and Protestantism: The Discourse on Childhood

Carmen Luke

In the Introduction to Pedagogy, Printing, and Protestantism Carmen Luke warns the reader that "Those looking for new historical data will not find it here; rather, traditional sources have been recast and juxtaposed in a discursive framework that situates the child in history in a context previously not considered by childhood historians" (p. xi). This is, in fact, exactly what the author does. By gathering together recent scholarship on the history of childhood, the impact of printing, and the development of Protestant doctrine and by subjecting it to an analysis inspired by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, Luke arrives at an essentially new discussion of some old problems. In the process, we are provided with a clear and readable case-study that shows just how interrelated the forces of historical change can be, while at the same time indicating something of the rewards of accepting complexity as a hallmark of historical explanation.

Luke is not presenting us with yet another study of the history of childhood but rather concentrates on identifying when a discourse of childhood emerged. It was, the author argues, at that point in the sixteenth century when Protestant reformers began to develop a set of pedagogical principles to govern a state-controlled and compulsory educational system and then disseminated those principles by means of the technology of the printing press. Hence the intersection of pedagogy, printing, and Protestantism resulted in the child becoming an object of study from which developed a discourse of childhood.

Luke acknowledges the limitations of such a discourse: it is the discourse of an adult, male, educated elite. Yet this narrowness does not detract from its importance. Ultimately, the values of this elite were to influence all of Protestant Germany as a system of public schools were developed, subject to a single curriculum and supervised by a central administration. Compulsory education became the Reformers' means to overcome the perceived inadequacy of parents to raise their children properly. By assuming responsibility for education, the state could ensure a disciplined, obedient, and orthodox citizenry. Standardized texts, available thanks to the printing press, led to standardized education.

The Protestant imperative that each individual read Scripture as part of the road to salvation, was made possible only by the technology of print and required a literate population, leading to universal, compulsory education. The link between the true believer and the good citizen, the relationship between Church and State was clear in the Reformers' minds. Education became both a means of social control and an aid to personal salvation. But in the process, argues Luke, the very notion of childhood was modified. Childhood was extended into adolescence and children were segregated from family and friends, removed from the educational influence of the home and the street. Says Luke: "their status was subtly redefined from association with the private domain of the family to the public domain of the state" (p. 122) and with this we move from a pre-modern to a modern notion of childhood.

The thesis is a well-presented and well-argued one, presented so clearly that the reader can almost follow the skeleton outline that must surely underlie the prose. While humanists may yearn for a rhetorical flourish, generally readers will be grateful for Luke's clarity of thought and expression, rare characteristics in works produced under the influence of postmodernism. There is some irony, however, that a volume devoted to the analysis of the impact of print technology should contain enough typographical errors, inconsistencies, and spelling mistakes to disturb and perturb the reader. The surname of the noted medieval social historian, Barbara Hanawalt, is consistently misspelled, an indication that perhaps the author should have taken her work into greater consideration when describing the structure of the pre-modern family. The use of accents is eccentric. Why omit the accent in the name Philippe Ariès but include the accent in parlèment and in all German names? Finally, what end is served by referring to the early printer as Johannes Gensfleisch zum Gutenberg?

Pedagogy, Printing, and Protestantism is an important work because it reminds us of the complexities of historical change and provides us with a clearly written and compelling example of how the work of philosophers such as Michel Foucault and approaches such as discourse analysis can be used in the service of history. Some readers may come away with reservations but nevertheless they should take seriously the promise that such approaches hold out for a better understanding of past and present alike.



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