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The child care worker in the year 2000: mother, researcher or survival specialist in the jungle

Haydn Davies Jones

The performances that the directors and leading staff of institutions ask from educational staff are changing at the mercy of the waves. When, ten years ago, the author of the present lines was promoted to be the head of the office of child and youth care institutions of the city of Zurich, the last “mothers” determined the character of social policy. Married to men in a high position in economic and political life, they knew what were the needs of the common herd and exercised their influence over the educational system. The ideal head of an institution in their eyes was an unmarried Protestant woman devoted as mater gloriosa to some twenty or thirty children. Her staff had to be devoted – or else devout – hiding their individuality behind a white apron, sacrificing themselves to their director, too.

After World War II, empirical thinking found its way from the so-called exact sciences to medicine, sociology and education, establishing its rigorous empire. The glorious mother had to substitute her apron for jeans and narrow pullovers, her bible for the computer and she had to write reports on her research projects.

The children, formerly contributing as cherubs by their mere presence to the holiness of the director, found themselves left to be objects of scientific research. After the sixties, child care workers returned home from their trips all over the world, touched by the poverty they saw in Mexico and the Indies, weakened by grass smoking and disgusted with the consumer society and the working methods of universities. In their way, they perpetuated the image of the mother and the father sacrificing themselves to the poor. However, in the light of indisputable scientific evidence, they contented themselves with caring for three or four cherubs instead of twenty to thirty, as the former director had done.

In the seventies and the eighties, Consumers United began to occupy the last lost paradises on earth systematically. Avoiding the “club med” by conviction or lack of money, they looked for adventures where they were still supposed to exist, desperately escaping speed limitations and tailbacks on international motor ways, looking for the adventures promised by Camel and Marlboro. Together with these people, child -care workers discovered the places where they were obliged to do the housework themselves in agreement with the principles of modern social pedagogics: with yachts, four-wheelers, and cottages on the border of the Finnish lakes where you have an ant-sandwich together with some young people dreaming about looking peacefully at a TV-movie in their institution.

This preposterous summary of the recent history of child care professions is the basis for the three following postulates:

In his article, Ulrich Gschwind tries to show in a probably more polemical than scientific way, but on the basis of innumerable discussions with directors of child care institutions, child care staff and their victims, what kind of child care worker we need, what the young people think of them and what working conditions promote the development of this kind of personality.

The notions of authenticity, of freedom, of personal enrichment and surrender of authority are key words of the article. The conclusions to which he comes may eventually scandalise the child care workers who always repeat that the development of autonomy and an independent and critical personality are the main objectives of education of the child but who, on the other hand, stuff the same children with ideologies and half-truths. On the other hand, he may also disappoint those who think that the quality of child care work can be measured by questionnaires or in terms of money.

Gschwind has no intention to add one more to the thousand recipes warranting a good job practice of child care staff. By his contribution, he wants to stimulate the exchange of experience on the international forum of FICE.


This feature: Jones, H.D. (1993) The child care worker in the year 2000: mother, researcher or survival specialist in the jungle. FICE - Bulletin. Vol. 8, pp. 26-27. Summary and translation: Robert SOISSON