Raising America: Experts, Parents, And A Century Of Advice About Children

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  • Publish Date: 2003-04-29
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Author: Ann Hulbert

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In this probing inquiry into Americas preoccupation with raising children, Ann Hulbert blends biography and critical analysis to probe the personal dramas, the scientific claims, and the social visions of a succession of experts who during the twentieth century aimed to make a science of child rearing. She describes how these pediatricians and psychologists came to be popular advisers, and explores the origins and outcome of their ambitious quest to predict and perfect childrens futures, and to solve the dilemmas of modern mothers and of families in flux.

The story unfolds like a curiousand often contentiousfamily saga, featuring an odd couple of presiding experts in each generation: one a stern father figure espousing a nurture-counts-most, parent-centered emphasis on discipline; the other a child-centered proponent of gentler bonding as a childs nature develops. They include turn-of-the-century pioneers L. Emmett Holt, whose precise infant-care regimens promised calm, healthy mothers as well as babies, and his counterpart, G. Stanley Hall, who invented adolescence as a special time of freedom and experimentation. Between the wars, the harsh behaviorist John Broadus Watson and the maturationist Arnold Gesell faced off with grander theories about childrens personalities and maternal responsibilities. In the postwar era, Benjamin Spock, a genial Freudian intent on finessing debates between bonders and disciplinarians, soared to prominenceonly to be confronted on the antiwar barricades by a fiercer Freudian, Bruno Bettelheim, and then attacked by feminists in the early 1970s.

As the millennium approached, a new host of advisers contended for primacyfrom cognitive experts anxious to fine-tune childrens intellectual growth to parenting-specialists-turned-public-advocates from the right and the left issuing manuals and social manifestos to combat what they saw as the erosion of morality and harmony in a family-unfriendly America.

Raising America is a provocative account of how a hundred years of expert advice clearly failed to ease modern child-raising anxieties. It makes clear that the advisers, with their shifting formulas and dogmas, in fact proved to be unnerving. Yet as their stories reveal, they have also been enlightening, holding up an intimate mirror to the rising social and psychological expectations and tensions of an unsettled century.

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