promote infant and child safety and physical health, but societal attention to children’s mental health is much less universal. Education policies, starting with the common school and continuing through the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, have been designed to ensure adequate accomplishments in particular domains; reading and mathematics are almost always included, but science, history, literature, art, music, and athletics receive more intermittent and contested support. American society has largely avoided making policies related to “positive ethics”—how one should act—consistent with the separation of church and state. The criminal code can be seen as a set of ethical guidelines focusing on the negative side—what one should not do—but here as well the policies relevant to children typically exempt them from full responsibility even for wrongful actions.
The largest body of child-oriented federal, state, and local policies focuses on a subset of goals for child development: It is fairly uncontroversial that society should legislate and appropriate funding to ensure safety and health and to promote academic achievement. Much less attention has traditionally been devoted to happiness; trustworthiness; friendship and social relationships; membership in family, society, or nation; moral development; or leading a productive life.
One might conceptualize the policies as a map that provides a distorted representation of the underlying landscape, much as the Mercator projection of the earth greatly overestimates the areas of land masses at the poles. The “policy projection” of child development has often shrunk the size of social, emotional, and relational domains to focus on health and academics. This perspective directly reflects (and may indeed result from) the “researcher’s projection” and the associated “measurement projection.” Somewhat more attention has been given by the field of child development to language, literacy, and cognition than to happiness, emotional health, friendship, or morality (although some of these goals are beginning to attract research attention and to be represented in states’ early childhood standards), and the tools available to measure development in that first set of domains are more numerous and more precise.
Assessment strategies also traditionally have focused on rather discrete aspects of a child’s functioning, such as vocabulary