January 23, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- For Illinois Wesleyan University Professor Irving Epstein, who has studied issues involving street children, child labor and delinquency education, a society can be judged by the welfare of its children.
"Children symbolize the way in which societies interact," said Epstein. "You can ascertain much about a society by the way its children are treated."
Epstein enlisted his interest in the welfare of children as the general editor of a new encyclopedia that goes beyond facts and figures. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Children's Issues Worldwide is a six-volume set that includes essays by 174 contributors covering 126 different countries. Issues including children's education, child labor, child abuse and neglect, play and recreation and religion are analyzed in each chapter.
"On a global level, children's lives can be thrown away and neglected. They don't have political capital in many societies," said Epstein, an instructor with Illinois Wesleyan since 1996 who teaches a course on international human rights. "Even in our own society, children are the ones who are the casualties of poverty and abuse. There needs to be some accountability for how children are treated."
An acquisitions editor from Greenwood Publications approached Epstein to be the general editor after working with him on his first book published in 1991, Chinese Education: Problems, Politics and Prospect (Garland Publishing). "She knew me and understood that my interest in children's rights has spanned many years," said Epstein.
The encyclopedia is divided geographically, with six volumes on Asia and Oceania, Central and South America, Europe, North America and the Caribbean, Sub-Sahara Africa and North Africa and the Middle East. Contributors from across the globe gathered profiles of countries and data about children from groups such as UNICEF and non-government organization (NGOs). Each chapter addresses the challenges children face in a country, and how the country addresses those areas.
Epstein's background in comparative education worked well in tackling the monumental task of looking at children's issues across the globe. The greatest challenge came in compiling a list of authors and volume editors who could speak about the quality of children's lives. "Greenwood had previously published an encyclopedia on women's issues worldwide," said Epstein. "While many universities have women's studies programs, the topic of children involves even more interdisciplinary expertise. This presented specific challenges for this project."
Epstein chose the six volume editors for their experience in international studies and their expertise in dealing with children's issues. He had a chance to work closely with each editor and co-authored the chapter on the Russian Federation in the Europe volume with Patrick Beary, a 2007 Illinois Wesleyan graduate who is currently a Rotary Ambassador Scholar at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Argentina.
The encyclopedia discusses facts about children that are available, but have been scattered, said Epstein. "One can find some of the information in smaller parts on the Internet from non-government organizations (NGOs) or the UNICEF Web site," he said. "But to have one resource which was accessible for the public, for students, for librarians, and to present information in the form of a series of analytical essays that are regionally and country specific, is useful. It gives them a start toward research that can make a difference."
"The volumes allow students to see how children are impacted locally and globally," he said. Overall, Epstein hopes the encyclopedia will open people's eyes to the plight of children, and possible models being used in the world to help them. With this aim in mind, Epstein plans to bring the issues discussed within the encyclopedia into a new course at Illinois Wesleyan in May called Globalization and Youth Advocacy. "I believe that children are deserving of an encyclopedia devoted to their lives, so this is exciting for me," he said.
Contact: Rachel Hatch (309) 556-3960