Discourses of Gender, Childhood, and Delinquency: A Look at Childhood and Citizenship in Industrial Schools in Colonial Jamaica, 1918–38

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 10:30 AM
Empire Ballroom West (Sheraton New York)
Shani Roper, Smith College
Throughout the late nineteenth century, the Jamaican colonial government along with several religious institutions established a small network of Industrial Schools as well as a Reformatory to house criminal, destitute, and displaced juveniles. Advocates of the industrial school system argued that the goal of an industrial school education was to create good colonial citizens. A gender- based vocational oriented curriculum was promoted on the grounds that such an education enforced values of self-sufficiency, loyalty, obedience, and thrift. At the core of the discussion was the question, ‘What were the most effective ways to mold and shape parentless Afro-Jamaican children into desirable and productive citizens?’ Industrial Schools, while existing on the periphery of the main educational structure and away from the prying eyes of family and community members provided the ideal environment for pilot projects in citizenship.

By the interwar years (1918 – 1938), the number of industrial schools fluctuated as the colonial state closed schools for girls, due to low numbers, and increasingly provided support for private institutions that incorporated girls into the main education system. Industrial Schools for boys operated at full capacity and continued to receive government support. This paper argues that Industrial Schools reflect the changing discourse of gender, childhood and delinquency and more importantly, the role of the ‘state’ in providing care for delinquent, destitute, and abandoned children. As such, the period 1918 - 1938 became the turning point in state policy as it related to children under its care. I conclude that due to the lack of a systematic education policy as well as limited human and financial resources advocates of industrial schools lost ground within the wider discourse about citizenship as many schools closed and children were incorporated into the mainstream education system.

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