Child Labor and Father-Gods

A Cultural Complex of Public Schools in the United States


  • Cynthia Schumacher



abjection, child, collective unconscious, cultural complex, cultural unconscious, education, personal complex, personal unconscious, public schools, subject in process


This paper works from a Jungian perspective to explore the unconscious dynamics of an authoritarian cultural complex at work in public schools in the United States. The paper exposes two areas of what Jung called the shadow archetype: the historical narrative of child labor during the industrial revolution as a traumatic societal event; and mythic images of the Greek Father-gods who buried, ate, or imprisoned their children. The working hypothesis of the paper is that the trauma of child labor operates as a social force, an unconscious archetypal pattern of authority and exploitation that is imaged and illuminated by the mythic narratives of the Greek Father-gods. Using depth psychological concepts and methods, the paper reveals how these repressed traumas create unconscious cultural attitudes that view children as commodities whose innate value and potential are sacrificed to feed the nation’s economic power and growth rather than leading out the potential within each student. Kristeva’s theories of abjection and subject in process provide psychoanalytic insights into how authoritarian cultural attitudes toward the education of children enslave students in a mandated instructive process that inflicts a kind of violence upon them. In conclusion, the paper suggests that the current system of education calibrated to standardized testing needs to broaden significantly to include transformative educative processes encompassing learning through the body, senses, feeling, intuition, and imagination.