The course of human development used to be a topic for the specialist – the pediatrician, the development psychologist, the child welfare worker, and even the anthropologist in search of the origins of cultural difference.
There was also, to be sure, a wider audience of parents, in search of advice about how best to ‘raise’ their children, and the better educated among them often browsed in the technical developmental handbooks for clues about how to deal with their children’s ‘difficulties,’ like dyslexia or persistent bedwetting or failure to meet the ‘norms’ popularized in such widely read manuals as Arnold Gessell’s endlessly revised and reissued Manual of Child Development.
That degree of specialization is no more. ‘Child development’ and its course has, in the last quarter-century, become an issue of general, even political concern, a passionate issue. To a degree never before seen, the cultivation of childhood has become central not only in debates about schooling and parenting, but also in discussions of broader policy: anti-poverty programs in our inner cities, budgetary policy nationally, even international policy where aid for the care and education of the young has become a central issue.
Indeed, there are few issues that are as publicly scrutinized as, for example, when and how ‘education’ should start, even before a child ever gets to school. What should schools take as their objective, and in what ways might the larger social environment harm or help a child’s readiness for later school learning?
Indeed, the introduction of Head Start in America in the 1960s (and comparable programs elsewhere) provoked a blizzard of debate on how and whether poverty disables a young pre-school child for later schooling. In a like vein, intense debates rage about the possibly irreversible effects of childhood ‘deprivations’ in the Third World. As never before, the adage “The child is father to the man” has emerged into open debate about policy.
All of these concerns make it all the more urgent that there be available not only to the expert, but also to the engaged citizen, some informed and intelligent guidance regarding human growth and development. It is our hope that The Cambridge Encyclopedia will fill that function. It is written by distinguished specialists in child development, but written with a view to being accessible to the intelligent reader concerned with the growth and welfare of the young.
One special point needs emphasis. Over the last quarter-century, there has been a remarkable burgeoning of research on early childhood. Inevitably, this research on early growth and the factors affecting it has come to concentrate more than before on neural as well as psychological processes that might be affected by early encounters with the world. Such research is well represented in this volume, and to good effect.
For many current debates swirl futilely around the issue, for example, of whether certain early experiences produce ‘irreversible’ effects on the ‘brain.’ The reader will find a well-balanced approach to this feverish issue in this Encyclopedia.
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Free download The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Child Development by BRIAN HOPKINS