Front Page Titles (by Subject) Truant Officers as Scapegoats - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3
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Truant Officers as Scapegoats - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1978, vol. 1, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Truant Officers as Scapegoats
“The Man Nobody Liked: Toward A Social History of the Truant Officer, 1840–1940.” American Quarterly 29 (Spring 1977): 31–58.
Never able to shed his “hooky-cop stereotype,” the truant officer has perennially served as a scapegoat for the injustices of the existing social order whose authority he supported. Over the years the truant officer's image has varied from policeman to minister, salesman, psychologist, social worker, and executive of “child accounting.” He has, nonetheless, never escaped the ignominy of subjecting to compulsory education harmless Huck Finns who generally preferred gainful jobs to the dull routine of classrooms. Although he came into daily contact with family poverty, social decay, and dispirited children, his remedy was stabilizing social order through obligatory schooling rather than major social changes.
In pre-nineteenth century America, “truant” was synonymous with “rogue.” Victorian America continued these connotations. Even before compulsory education, “truant officers” were charged with removing “dirty, ragged” children from mischievous idleness to school (often a reform school).
Truant officers were caught in the middle of complex social forces and became scapegoats: to parents who scorned compulsory education, to employers who disliked meddlers curtailing their labor force, and to teachers who resented incorrigible students being thrust into their classroom. Furthermore, they were ridiculed as the butt of jokes and cartoons. To euphemize their connection with compulsory education, truancy departments in Pennsylvania changed their name from “compulsory attendance” to “child helping and child accounting.”
Truant officers strove to upgrade the image of their discredited group. During the Victorian era, truant officers were viewed as quasi-policemen who dealt with quasi-delinquents and disorderly youth. Truancy was a moral flaw of character, and punishment was the appropriate remedy. Beginning with the Progressive era, the truancy rhetoric shifted to include environmental factors such as poverty and cultural differences. By the 1940s, bureaucratic experts appeared who institutionalized the new ideology of child accounting. In all eras, however, truant officers were “street-level bureaucrats” who were “empowered to regulate the poor” to accommodate them to the prevailing social order.