The article discusses the role that conceptualisations of child ‘imperfection’ played in the rise and fall of Russian ‘child study’ between the 1900s and the 1930s. Drawing on Georges Canguilhem’s ideas on ‘the normal’ and ‘the pathological’, the article analyses practices centred on diagnosing subnormality and pathology in the Russian child population in the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. It first examines mutually competing normative regimes that framed categorisations of ‘imperfection’ among Russia’s children in the context of the empire’s accelerated, yet ambivalent modernisation during the 1900s–1910s. It then charts the expansion of this diagnostics in the first decade or so of the Soviet regime, following its shift in focus from the early-1920s’ ‘delinquent child’ to the late-1920s’ ‘mass child’. The article concludes with a discussion of the emergence, over this same period, of the Russian field of medicalised special education known as ‘defectology’. It argues that defectology’s disciplinary specificity crystallised in 1936 around a purposely restrictive concept of ‘imperfection’, understood as individualised and clinically established pathological ‘impairment’. The latter conceptualisation became fixed at the height of Stalinism as a strategic counter to the expansive flux in which the diagnostics and conceptualisation of child ‘imperfection’ had otherwise been over the first three decades of the twentieth century in the context of the remarkable rise of child study during this period.
Early on, Bruner explored the ways that experience affects perception. His paper “Value and Need as Organizing Factors in Perception” (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1947) reported the finding that children were more likely to overestimate the size of coins than cardboard discs — and the greater the value of the coin, the more likely the children were to overestimate its diameter. What’s more, poor children were significantly more likely than rich children to overestimate the size of coins. In other words, both value and need influenced the way the children perceived the world around them.
Through research and observation, Bruner understood that human behavior is always influenced by the world and culture in which we live. His work helped move the field of psychology away from strict behaviorism and contributed to the emergence of cognitive psychology.
The first issue of the 18th volume of History of Psychology is now available (here). Contents include a digital networking of early articles in the journal Psychological Review, an account of Alfred Binet’s subject Jacques Inaudi, the relation between experimental psychology and educational training in early 20th century Brazil, and more. Article titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“The ‘textbook Gibson’: The assimilation of dissidence,” by Alan Costall and Paul Morris. The abstract reads:
We examine how the textbooks have dealt with one of psychology’s most eminent dissidents, James Gibson (1904–1979). Our review of more than a hundred textbooks, dating from the 1950s to the present, reveals fundamental and systematic misrepresentations of Gibson. Although Gibson continues to figure in most of the textbooks, his work is routinely assimilated to theoretical positions he emphatically rejected: cue theory, stimulus-response psychology, and nativism. As Gibson’s one-time colleague, Ulric Neisser, pointed out, psychologists are especially prone to trying to understand new proposals “by mapping it on to some existing scheme,” and warned that when “an idea is really new, that strategy fails” (Neisser, 1990, p. 749). The “Textbook Gibson” is an example of such a failure, and perhaps also of the more general importance of assimilation—“shadow history”—within the actual history of psychology.
In a recently released, open access article in IntelligenceSerge Nicolas, Bernard Andrieu, Jean-Claude Croizet, Rasyid B. Sanitioso, and Jeremy Trevelyan Burman discuss the early history of intelligence testing as it developed in France. In “Sick? Or slow? On the Origins of Intelligence as a Psychological Object” Nicolas and colleagues describe how psychologist Alfred Binet (left) fought to establish authority in the realm of children’s educational assessment. Binet challenged psychiatrists, including rival Désiré-Magloire Bourneville (top), for primacy in this field, arguing that children who fell behind in school should be kept within the school rather than removed to “asylums.” For Binet, such children were slow, but not sick. To identify these children, Binet and his collaborators developed the Binet-Simon test, the direct precursor of the extremely successful American Stanford-Binet test. The article’s abstract reads,
This paper examines the first moments of the emergence of “psychometrics” as a discipline, using a history of the Binet–Simon test (precursor to the Stanford–Binet) to engage the question of how intelligence became a “psychological object.” To begin to answer this, we used a previously-unexamined set of French texts to highlight the negotiations and collaborations that led Alfred Binet (1857–1911) to identify “mental testing” as a research area worth pursuing. This included a long-standing rivalry with Désiré-Magloire Bourneville (1840–1909), who argued for decades that psychiatrists ought to be the professional arbiters of which children would be removed from the standard curriculum and referred to special education classes in asylums. In contrast, Binet sought to keep children in schools and conceived of a way for psychologists to do this. Supported by the Société libre de l’étude psychologique de l’enfant [Free society for the psychological study of the child], and by a number of collaborators and friends, he thus undertook to create a “metric” scale of intelligence—and the associated testing apparatus—to legitimize the role of psychologists in a to-that-point psychiatric domain: identifying and treating “the abnormal”. The result was a change in the earlier law requiring all healthy French children to attend school, between the ages of 6 and 13, to recognize instead that otherwise normal children sometimes need special help: they are “slow” (arriéré), but not “sick.” This conceptualization of intelligence was then carried forward, through the test’s influence on Lewis Terman (1877–1956) and Lightner Witmer (1867–1956), to shape virtually all subsequent thinking about intelligence testing and its role in society.
The full article is currently open access and can be downloaded free of charge here.
In 1913 the first applied psychologist took up his post with the London County Council. His job was to assess children for special educational programmes and develop tools to identify children who may need alternative kinds of education. With this post, the profession of educational psychology was born. The numbers of educational psychologists have steadily grown over the subsequent hundred years and the practices, roles and functions that they adopt have similarly developed.
This book outlines the development of the profession in the United Kingdom during its first century of existence. It describes a number of different themes that have emerged over time and documents key points in the profession’s development.
The book’s contents follow below,
Monograph No.1 British Educational Psychology: The First Hundred Years
Edited by Christopher Arnold & Julia Hardy
Chapter 1 Origins by Christopher Arnold
Vignette 1: Defining Psychology, British Journal of Psychology,January 1904, Vol 1 No1
Breaking News: Two years ago, in August 2007, AHP reported the finding that “infants don’t learn language well from instructional videos.” This has since led to legal claims against Walt Disney Corporation and its Baby Einstein DVD product.
Now Disney is offering to refund all purchases made in US, going back five years. This provides an opportunity to look back at our original coverage, which examined the issue from the perspective of parents’ hopes to help their children become as gifted as possible. This also included a detailed bibliography of histories of giftedness. What has happened since?
Most notably, in terms of linking this story to the typical interests of AHP readers, Kathleen Ann Scott (2007) completed a dissertation comparing print and video as educational media for teaching the development of historical thinking. Although her efforts were not directed at infants, the resulting study can be conceived as setting some limits on how much the scepticism regarding the value of instructional videos can be generalized. She concludes: “readers manifested more and deeper historical understandings in their responses than did their counterparts in the movie group.” And she suggests this is as a result of the greater investment of attentional effort in reading as compared to watching television, which seems consistent with the criticisms of the instructional DVDs.
On Monday, President Obama made a fundamental change in policy. In a speech delivered at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, Obama said the U.S. will begin to reinvest in science and technology.
A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation; to invest in education, in research, in engineering; to set a goal of reaching space and engaging every citizen in that historic mission. That was the high water mark of America’s investment in research and development. And since then our investments have steadily declined as a share of our national income. As a result, other countries are now beginning to pull ahead in the pursuit of this generation’s great discoveries.
He set a goal that will put investment in science in technology to levels not seen since JFK made the then-audacious claim in 1962 that man would walk on the moon by the end of the decade.
I’m here today to set this goal: We will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science…. This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.
This new plan also includes renewed focus on science education, including an additional $5 billion for the Secretary of Education’s Race to the Top program and improved funding for graduate and post-graduate training.
In a recent issue of History of Education, 37(5), Angela Davis examines the post-Depression debates regarding the proper behaviour of mothers and, more specifically, the preparation of young girls to take on that role.
This article investigates how girls were educated about sex, pregnancy and childbirth during the years 1930 to 1970. Based on the results of 92 oral-history interviews with Oxfordshire women, it explores how national debates surrounding sex education influenced what girls in Oxfordshire were taught. In addition, it examines how successful the women themselves thought this education had been in equipping them for maternity and whether they believed women could indeed be educated for motherhood.
In a recent issue of Educational Theory, 58(3), Robin Zebrowski (pictured right) details some of the areas typically conflated in comparing the ideas of John Dewey with those of Herbert Spencer.
In educational scholarship, a number of comparisons have been made between the work of John Dewey and Herbert Spencer, many claiming that Spencer’s influence is unmistakable in Dewey’s theories or even that Dewey is derivative of Spencer. However, one must look beyond the surface similarities of Dewey and Spencer and recognize the drastically divergent views that each held on those very foundational notions upon which each built his educational program. In this essay, Robin Zebrowksi examines the theories of evolution, the directionality of organism and environment interaction, the agency of the individual, and the conceptualizations of progress in the respective works of Dewey and Spencer. Their underlying beliefs about the world and how it operates show that their philosophies cannot be reconciled. The educational theories that follow from these discrepancies, Zebrowski concludes, have incompatible and distinct implications for the classroom.
In February 1899, the Committee of Physical Culture of the Chicago Public School Board approved an intensive “anthropometric” study of all children enrolled in the city’s public schools. The study was a detailed attempt to measure the height, weight, strength, lung capacity, hearing, and general fitness of Chicago’s student population. Through 1899 and 1900, thousands of Chicago’s primary, grammar, and high school students had their bodies closely scrutinized, measured, weighed, tested, and, in a few cases, diagrammed. What the School Board members wanted to know was the “fitness” of the student body. Were Chicago public school students — many recently arrived immigrants from eastern and southern Europe — vital and vigorous children who could become energetic modern workers and citizens? (p. 341)
The results of this study had social and political implications.
Reassuringly, the authors stated that the students in the Chicago schools… showed “superiority” in “both size and physical development” when compared with children in other cities. Implicit in the social scientists’ comments was a desire to achieve an ideal type of body—an ideal that many Social Darwinist and eugenicists feared was disappearing. For some social reformers in the late 1890s loss of the ideal type was resulting in “a biological deterioration,” a deterioration caused by waves of immigration and resulting in social and economic degeneracy. (p. 343)