What then is the answer to the question with which we began? Why did such a great debate arise about children's conditions? The reason can be found in the development within the framework of school which preceded the legislation on child labor and the development toward a comprehensive school. To begin with, the debate about child labor, and the social problems in the towns, meant that the school authorities were forced to define the ages between which children were supposed to go to school. This definition was not only established in the local statutes of the towns but was also raised to the national level. Many years were to elapse before the rural schools found it worth the bother of even trying to come close to the ages stated in the statutes. The decision meant not only that ages for school attendance were clearly stated but also that there was now a norm against which it was possible to measure deviations. The 1882 statute also made it possible to establish a more highly developed system for control of school attendance. The only problem was that, for a long time, there were so many deviations from the norm. Many children avoided school or absconded. Until there was a more fully developed system of national registration, it was not really possible to supervise the children who should have been attending school. Children were no longer allowed to be useful. They were no longer allowed to help out with practical tasks in the home or on the streets. They were regarded as idle if they did not go to school. Childhood took on a new meaning for these children.
At the same time, the middle class began to send their children to the public schools -- to schools for the people. For these groups, education was an important but burdensome way to reproduce . the family . These groups had already created a new childhood, and they wanted an education for their children. Private tuition was far too expensive. Yet they could hardly accept a school which was characterized by bad social conditions -- big classes, poor hygiene, and study of the catechism. In the struggle for a new content in school, their forces could be combined with those of the elementary school teachers, who had the ambition of establishing themselves as a profession. Towards the turn of the century, most children therefore attended the comprehensive schools at some stage of life. The different childhoods met in school and were made even more obvious. This drew attention to the different conditions of children, and teachers and philantropist, and later doctors, began to work together on projects to normalize the childhood of the working class, according to the model that had been established among the upper classes.
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 1995. , 37 p.