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Home arrow Geography arrow Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice


Regulation of Very Young “Neuro-Citizens”

Neurosciences re-created humans as “subjects of [novel] deliberations and decision that opened also new space of hope and fear . . . around genetic and somatic individuality” (Rose & Novas, 2002, p. 36). The idea of “somatic individuality” accounts for direct relations between body and self. By providing descriptions and judgments, for example, about blood pressure, heart rhythm, or blood cholesterol, biomedical languages moved from scientific discourse into the lay expertise of citizens. They also convey a new responsibility to add such factors to the list of things individuals are responsible for controlling in order to become “productive citizens.” Similarly, biogenetic and neuroscientific truths are also being translated into ideas of personhood that extend somatic individualization into forms of “neuro individualization.” As Novas and Rose continue their explanation,

Like earlier languages—that of intelligence, or that of “hormones”— these genetic languages render visible to others and to oneself aspects of human individuality that go beyond “experience,” not only making sense of it in new ways, but actually reorganizing it in a new way and according to new values about who we are, what we must do, and what we can hope for. (2000, p. 488)

In this way, techniques developed earlier in “psy” sciences for the regulation and self-fashioning of the person (Rose, 1989) have spread to the somatic self and now are “gradually extending from the body to the embodied mind—the brain” (Rose & Abi-Rached, 2013, p. 22) or the embrained individual. The optimization of brain functioning or mental capital through psychology, psychiatry, and pharmaceutical products is a growing trend and is written about in relation to education (for the latest, see Harwood and Allen’s [2014] or for earlier, see Graham [2007]). The screening of a brain’s physiological “malfunctioning” and the administration and later self-administration of drugs provide ways to avoid delinquency in school and criminality later in life.

Biomedicine and biosciences also provided ways to redefine mental capital as written in genetic codes. This includes the genetic makeup of a person and also the experiences of previous generations inherited through epigenetics. Mental capital is understood as the potential for either “optimal” brain development and functioning given optimal stimulation or “genetic susceptibility” to particular diseases attacking the brain. Genetic susceptibility creates new categories of individuals as “the asymptomatically ill” (Novas & Rose, 2000, p. 496) where the body is conceived as “molecular software that may be read or rewritten” (Lemke, 2005, p. 5). Genetic susceptibility potentially leads to stigmatization, minoritization, and the creation of a new “underclass” (Novas & Rose, 2000) where this recalibration of disadvantage removes any societal responsibility. As suggested by Corrie (2000) and Einboden and colleagues (2013, p. 563), “the production of children as subjects of social value, figured as human capital, investments in the future, or alternatively, as waste” based on their parents’ and educators’ capacity to exploit or “waste” their children’s “critical periods,” might reconstruct children from particular backgrounds as irredeemable to society (Corrie, 2000). This vision also offers politicians new ways to argue with neuroscience to avoid class connections or categorization of people (Edwards et al., 2013). Thus, neuroscience offers ways to overcome class differentials in the governing of the population by moving into the biological processes of the body that seemingly equalize all humans.

Interventions to safeguard the mental capital of the nation can then be targeted as intervention at the molecular or genetic level coupled with the development of a whole array of medical and educational assessment regimes, including the mobilization of children’s self-actualization by making both them and their parents responsible for their genetic makeup and environmental circumstances. In this way, the governing of parents’ and children’s conduct targets their choices and prudence or lack of it, following a “somatic” or “neuro” ethics (Novas & Rose, 2000; Rose & Novas, 2002). Through neuroeducation, particular pedagogies and curriculum have been and are being designed that educate about correct choices by linking them to possible scenarios, and make families, educators, and children responsible to make the right choices by creating solid foundations keeping in sight the probabilities, possibilities, and the unexpected in their lives.

For those who are not “asymptomatically ill,” the same strategies offer ways to maximize their potential, as John Bruer notes. As soon as early years advocates promoted the first three years of life as critical for brain development, middle-class parents became consumers of brain-based products and activities that would help their children to achieve educationally (in Edwards et al., 2013). Moreover, somatic techniques, such as neurofeedback that provides “conscious” control learned by identifying signs of optimal brain functioning with the help of electronic gadgets, assume direct links for the governing of the mind through self-regulation. As a seventh grade student expresses on the MindUP website, “It is a way to focus your mind, calm down and reflect on a situation when you need to make a choice.”8 These links re-create human will and decision making into choices based on sensations and visual images coming from one’s body.

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