Ideal child in the ideal nation : gender, class and work in a school lesson
(Tata Institute of Social Science. Centre for Studies in Sociology of Education)
||The influence of schooling on shaping childhood identity is a relatively under-researched area, especially within the Indian context. Although it is acknowledged that schools form significant sites of secondary socialisation, they tended to be treated as ‘black boxes’, leaving little scope for ethnographic and other inquiry into school processes which form a critical part of the lifeworld of the school child. These processes are distinguished by social markers like gender, class, caste, religion and location, which make the study of identity formation in childhood through schooling complex and challenging. Textbooks play a crucial role in school socialisation. Embodying a selection of knowledge deemed to be worthy of teaching and learning, or what some refer to as ‘official’ knowledge, textbooks frame and normativise notions of childhood, citizenship and nation within the institutional space of the school. Socialisation into citizenship through textbook knowledge involves explicit and implicit references to the duties and responsibilities of the child as citizen to the modern nation state. This paper attempts to ethnographically capture the process of socialisation of children into the ideal of labour in the modern nation, through examination of one lesson in a textbook for Grade 4, and its transaction in a classroom in an urban government primary school in a city in Gujarat, India. Textual analysis, classroom observations and interviews with children and teachers were used in a larger study of which this paper is a part. The text and classroom discussion discursively produce the nation and the importance of ‘kadi mehnat’ to its progress, through the elaboration of different areas of work and labour and their significance to the project of the modernising nation-state. The manner in which textbooks function to socialise children into normative notions of work in the nation are highly gendered and distinctly marked by class, as well as caste and urban/rural location. The ideal child of the ideal nation is discursively produced through narratives of valour, discipline and dedication. Gender pervades the discourse of the ideal nation, with women represented as key agents in its moral reproduction. Children from poor communities take part in the ritual performance of classroom participation, in which subjectivity and the real conditions of their lives find no place, and knowing that structural realities will not allow for the realisation of these ideals. This paper problematises the assumptions underlying the pedagogical aims of official school knowledge and shows how these are profoundly gendered. It argues for incorporation of insights from school ethnographies that examine constructions of the normative learnersubject from a gender perspective into the sociology of contemporary Indian childhood.
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||EMIGRA working papers, Núm. 62 (2007) , p. 1-11, ISSN 2013-3804
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