Education

In both Keywords (Williams 1983a) and New Keywords (Bennett, Grossberg, and Morris 2005), “education” (Keywords has “educate”) is primarily an institutional practice, which, after the late eighteenth century, is increasingly formalized and universalized in Western countries. Bearing the twin senses of “to lead forth” (from the Latin educere) and “to bring up” (from the Latin educare), “education” appears chiefly as an action practiced by adults on children. The Oxford English Dictionary thus defines the term as “the systematic instruction, schooling, or training given to the young in preparation for the work of life.”

Education may be primarily vocational, leading children into their futures as productive adults, or more holistic, nurturing children into, variously, adulthood, gentlemanly status, and/or citizenship. This latter sense of education is often called “liberal education.” Either view of education focuses “on the formation of individuals to the benefit of society” …

Gender

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) informs us that “gender” has at its root the Latin genus, meaning “race, kind,” and emerges as early as the fifth century as a term for differentiating between types—especially those of people and words. In the ensuing 1,500 years, “gender” appears in linguistic and biological contexts to distinguish types of words and bodies from one another, as when words in Indo-European languages were identified as masculine, feminine, or neuter, and humans were identified as male or female. It is telling that gender has historically (whether overtly or covertly) been a tool of negotiation between our understandings of bodies, and meanings derived from and attributed to them.

Within the field of children’s literature studies, as in other disciplines, gender in and of itself is rarely the object of critique. Rather, specific constructions of gender structure understandings of subjectivity; allow or disallow certain behaviors …

Identity

In the various branches of the natural, mathematical, and human sciences, “identity” has a range of uses related to the property of sameness or consistency of an element regardless of the influence of other variables. “Personal identity,” the subset most relevant to studies of children’s literature, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “the sameness of a person or thing at all times and in all circumstances; the condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else.” This definition has a rigidity that most contemporary scholars of children’s literature will find objectionable. Rather than being an invariant condition or a fact, identity is more likely to be conceptualized as a goal or an achievement. It is usually thought of as developmental, and is entirely dependent on the influence of variables such as race, culture, religion, family, ideology, and embodiment.

Moreover, the …

Queer

The word “queer” is a slippery one; its etymology is uncertain, and academic and popular usage attributes conflicting meanings to the word. By the mid-nineteenth century, “queer” was used as a pejorative term for a (male) homosexual. This negative connotation continues when it becomes a term for homophobic abuse. In recent years, “queer” has taken on additional uses: as an all-encompassing term for culturally marginalized sexualities—gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and intersex (GLBTI)—and as a theoretical strategy for deconstructing the binary oppositions that govern identity formation. Tracing its history, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the earliest references to “queer” may have appeared in the sixteenth century. These early examples carried negative connotations such as “vulgar,” “bad,” “worthless,” “strange,” or “odd,” and such associations continued until the mid-twentieth century. In the early nineteenth century, and perhaps earlier, “queer” was employed as a verb, meaning to “to put out of order,” “to …

Race

A term with a variety of charged meanings and purposes, “race” arose in English in the sixteenth century from the French “race” and the Italian “razza” and has been employed as a means of grouping individuals by ethnic, social, or national background. While the term has been applied generally to a range of collective identities—including the “human race” (Williams 1976) or the “German race” (Murji 2005)—at present the term invokes categorization attached to imagined physical similarities or to a group’s own sense of collective ideals and history. “Race” as a term points both backward toward injurious histories of eugenics and physiognomic pseudoscience (Gombrich 1970; Rivers 1994), and forward in its reclamation and revision within liberationist social movements, like the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s and postcolonial movements in the Caribbean and Africa.

Within children’s literature and culture, representations of “race” …

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