Second Nature, Becoming Child, and Dialogical Schooling

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This paper argues that children as members of a perennial psychoclass represent one potential vanguard of an emergent shift in Western subjectivity, and that adult–child dialogue, especially in the context of schooling, is a key locus for the epistemological change that implies. I argue from Herbert Marcuse’s prophetic invocation of a “new sensibility,” which is characterized by an increase in instinctual revulsion towards violence, domination and exploitation (whether personal or structural) and, correspondingly, a greater sensitivity to all forms of life. As the embodiment of a form of philosophical “post-animism” or hylozoism, it represents the evolutionary shift that, it could be argued, our species requires for survival at this historical moment. I suggest that the evolutionary phenomenon of neoteny—the long formative period of human childhood and the pedomorphic character of humans across the life cycle—makes of the adult-collective of school a primary site for the reconstruction of belief. After exploring child–adult dialogue more broadly as a form of dialectical interaction between what John Dewey called “impulse” and “habit,” I argue for a form, or archetype of schooling first articulated in ancient Greece called skholé, a space that functions, according to Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, as a “meeting place,” a “form of gathering and action” dedicated to inquiry, and not to the production of calculated, preordained outcomes—a space removed from the world of production, and characterized by a form of temporality associated with childhood: aion, or “timeless time,” as opposed to kronos, or linear time. Skholé is dedicated to emergence and cultural reconstruction, which follows from an educative relationship between adults and children based on understanding the latter as bearers of the “novel,” and on a faith in the “reorganizing potentialities” of childhood impulse, or interest—that is, on natality as a fundamental principle of cultural evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)641-656
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Philosophy and Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Dialogic education
  • History of childrearing
  • History of subjectivity
  • Skholé
  • Social democracy


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