The reviewer is a Washington writer and the mother of five young adults.
Make no mistake. The movement in the field of child care is to the right, or the rear, or wherever the old-fashioned methods are stored. Many middle-aged parents look at the younger generation and wonder if, as adorable toddlers, they received too much Spock and not enough spank. Anyone who applauds this revised thinking will stand up and cheer when they learn that no less a figure than Margaret Mead may have been wrong. An Australian anthropologist has written a book (to be published by Harvard University Press in April) which casts the gravest doubts on Mead's watershed work, "Coming of Age in Samoa," and on all the "nature over nurture" philosophy that it engendered.
Rita Kramer will not be surprised. Her exhaustive research has led her through the works of Mead and her disciples and she has found them all skewed or wanting in one way or another. Her book offers 46 pages of detailed notes to reinforce her conclusions.
The author believes several things very, very firmly. She believes that mothers should stay home with their babies at least through the first three years. She believes that every child is entitled to grow up in a home with a mother and a father performing their primary functions as female-nurturer and male-provider. She believes that schools are for teaching and nothing else. She thinks that the role of government in education has been an unmitigated disaster. She is not sure that the benefits of today's technology outweigh the damage that has been done by television. She seems to question the wisdom of the child labor laws.
Of her first tenet she writes: ". . . to seek out another individual to take your place in the life of your child may be necessary and sad, or it may be unnecessary and therefore even sadder, but to leave the job to the staff of a day-care center, in any conceivable meaning that phrase may have in reality, is besotted." So much for the working mother's dream solution.
Of her second view she writes: "Children should have two parents and they should be unequivocally of opposite sexes. Young children learn what it is to be male or female by identifying with a parent of one sex or the other." Surely this will cool the idea of "house-husbands" once and for all. She regards the phrase "one-parent family" as an oxymoron.
On education: "Schools are for teaching children to read and write, to reason with words and numbers, to master the skills that are needed for understanding the past and operating in the future. That is their job. Everything else, like bringing about social change, teaching children how to get along with different kinds of people, diagnosing or treating children's individual emotional problems, is not their job." All this in case any parent was looking to the school for help.
Kramer has a special scorn for the role of government in the field of education, for the "federal-academic complex . . . in which the government funds research projects on programs as well as on further research, a self-perpetuating system with a vested interest as well as an ideological one in expanding government." Her examples of government-funded sex-education manuals are positively hair-raising, e.g., in their suggestions that homosexuality is simply another choice of life style and that the only thing wrong with teen-age sex is feeling guilty. Kramer came to this argument well-armed.
She wonders "is there really much that most women find to do in the work force that is worth giving up shaping the next generation for?" She allows that some women must work, but affords them small comfort. The reader must also wonder. Does Kramer know about modern mortgage payments that require two incomes? Has she considered the cost of educating the children when they are ready for college?
This book offers a stern view of family life. It will, with some eloquence, reinforce the views of some young parents, but it will cause a lot of grief and guilt to settle in most hearts and homes.
Early on, the reader is urged to choose only the advice that will help. Since the tone of the book is so didactic, it is hard to know just what small bits could be extracted to enrich the "quality time" concept embraced by most working mothers.
It will take more than one book--or 100 books--to overcome the last 50 years of change. However, this book is another step on the road back.