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Jan Steen, "The Severe Teacher"

I am the associate director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy and Assistant Professor of Politics (General Faculty) at the University of Virginia.

My research focuses on the themes of education, childhood, authority, and the family in historical and contemporary political thought. Children are born incapable of full citizenship, and so require both a justification for their subordination to adults and an education that will prepare them for citizenship. These requirements are especially difficult for liberal democracies, for whom the exercise of authority is fundamentally at odds with the natural liberty and equality of citizens on which the state is grounded. My work aims to recover the ways that earlier writers have addressed the problem of childhood in political thought, education, literature, and the law.

My first book, Liberal States, Authoritarian Families: Childhood and Education in Early Modern Thought, examines the justifications for authority over children from Jean Bodin to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and explores how and why Locke and Rousseau departed from their absolutist predecessors by refusing to model the family on the state but nonetheless preserved authority – even extreme authority – over children within the family for the sake of the liberty of adults.

My second book project focuses on American education, tracing the debate between proponents and opponents of schooling  from the early republic through the twentieth century to show how many of our educational system’s contradictions originated from an effort to reconcile the liberal imperative of individual freedom with the democratic imperative of public schooling.

My research has been published in the American Political Science Review, the Review of Politics, and the History of Education Quarterly, as well as in several edited volumes. I also contribute book reviews and essays to the Hedgehog ReviewNational AffairsThe Point, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.