Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mark Jones' "Children as Treasures"

Mark A. Jones is Associate Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Children as Treasures: Childhood and the Middle Class in Early Twentieth Century Japan, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the tale of a group of high-minded scientific professionals—child psychologists, pediatricians, normal school professors—who were eager to become socially influential figures in early 20th century Japan. They, like their counterparts in America, Britain, and Germany, worked to popularize a new science of childhood to the wider public; in particular, they sought every opportunity to teach a new stratum of highly educated mothers how to employ science in the home in order to raise (and love) their children in a child-centered way. Page 99 captures one part of this story—how these scientific professionals engaged in a self-promoting yet uneasy relationship with Japan’s most famous department store, Mitsukoshi, in order to stage wildly popular children’s exhibitions and to vault their ideas and themselves into public prominence.

Page 99 reflects the book’s larger purpose—to analyze the numerous groups who worked to reshape the idea of childhood and the daily life of children in Japan from 1900 through 1930. These people, whom I call Japan’s architects of childhood, incarnated three influential visions of the child—as little citizen, superior student, and childlike child—during the prewar era. Although no vision of the child “won out” by 1930, the vision of the child as superior student was beginning to carry the day, as aspirational mothers, profiteering publishers, and influence-seeking teachers cooperated to spread a widely appealing belief—as they put it, “Any child can become a superior student.” These groups propagated the notion that early 20th century Japan was leaving behind a feudal past to become a modern meritocracy; as part of that process, they promoted a vision of the child as a striving student able to achieve educational success and social mobility. The result was the birth of the educationally obsessed family, headed by the (in)famous “education mother” and dedicated to helping the child navigate the new meritocratic world of the modern school system. This type of family became the norm in 20th century Japan and, interestingly, is also becoming commonplace today in other regions of the world, such as South Korea, China, the United States, and elsewhere.
Learn more about Children as Treasures at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue