Psychologists Linda M. Fleming and David J. Tobin can't tell you where to look for today's fathers. But they do know where not to look: on the pages of modern books on child-rearing.

Forget those statistics showing that fathers are playing an ever-increasing role in the lives of their small children. Daddies who change diapers, cart the little one to the pediatrician or help cook for Baby Dearest rate barely a mention in the typical child-care book, Fleming and Tobin of Gannon University in Pennsylvania claim in an article for the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

Instead, they found that recently published guides to raising babies, when they mentioned dads at all, typically perpetuated outdated stereotypes that portray fathers as being little more than what these researchers termed the "parenthetical parent."

To measure what child-raising experts were saying about dads, Tobin and Fleming identified every child-care book published in English during the 1990s that was still in print in 2001. Then they selected books that concentrated on general issues of child-rearing in children from birth to age 6. From the resulting list of 66 books they randomly selected 23 for analysis and scanned the pages of each into a computer.

Then they scrutinized each of the 56,379 paragraphs in these books, counted those that mentioned father's roles in child-rearing, and performed additional analyses to determine how dads were portrayed.

They found that only 4.2 percent of the paragraphs in these books referred to fathers -- and nearly a third of these references were negative. (Because references to mom were so numerous and the tallying so labor intensive, the researchers did not do specific tallies for the maternal side of the partnership.)

When they examined the accompanying photos and illustrations, women outnumbered men 3 to 1. Even when the paragraph referred to a "parent" or used some other gender-neutral term, the message often was clearly intended for mothers. "For example, when discussing stress management techniques for parents, suggestions would include going to the spa, getting one's nails done, or talking with a girlfriend," they wrote.

What these child-care mavens did write about dads was nearly as disturbing as the fact that they wrote so little, Fleming and Tobin found. "Fathers' roles were predominately ancillary to mother and often portrayed as voluntary and negotiable," they wrote, and perpetuated "outdated cultural expectations" of fatherhood (or the absence of any expectations at all). For example, they found that only two sentences in all of the books explicitly "referenced fathers and day-care concerns."

Sometimes the advice of the child-care authors seemed geared to offending both dads and moms.

One popular 1998 book reassured fathers that, "Yes, your wife does have some of the same characteristics as a crazy person during the postpartum period, but it's only temporary insanity."

Crazy, indeed.

Homework Doesn't Work

Here's some summer homework for America's teachers and other educators: Read the newly published book "National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling" by Gerald K. LeTendre and David P. Baker, professors of education at Pennsylvania State University.

The new book, published by Stanford University Press, asserts that the amount of homework appears to have little, if anything, to do with scholastic achievement -- the latest in a growing number of studies that suggest homework alone doesn't make kids perform better.

LeTendre and Baker led a team of researchers who analyzed educational data collected in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades in more than 40 countries in 1994, as well as data from an identical study in 50 countries conducted five years later.

Virtually wherever they looked, the researchers found no correlation between the average amount of homework assigned in a country and academic achievement.

For example, teachers in many countries with the highest scoring students -- such as Japan, the Czech Republic and Denmark -- gave little homework. At the other end of the spectrum, countries with very low average achievement scores -- Thailand, Greece and Iran -- have teachers who assign a great deal of homework, Baker noted.

U.S. teachers assigned more than two hours of math homework per week during the 1994-95 school year, compared with an hour in Japan. And while American teachers have been piling on homework beginning in the 1980s, Japanese teachers have been reducing the amount of after-school work for their students.

Neither the American nor the Japanese educational reforms of the 1980s seems to have affected general achievement levels in either country, the research team reported.

The Politics of Vacations

Gas prices remain out of sight, but a majority of Americans say they still plan to take a summer vacation this year -- a majority of Republicans, that is.

Nearly six in 10 Republicans -- 58 percent -- said they're going to take a vacation away from home this summer, compared to 48 percent of all self-described Democrats, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall, 53 percent of all adults told the survey interviewers they plan to take a vacation this year, 6 percentage points fewer than the proportion who say they normally head off for a little rest and relaxation during the summer.

A total of 1,002 randomly selected adults were interviewed June 2-5 for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

morinr@washpost.com