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RAISING AMERICA: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children

Ann Hulbert, Author
Ann Hulbert, Author . Knopf $27.50 (464p) ISBN 978-0-375-40120-6
Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 01/01/2003
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-375-70122-1
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Rather than a social history of how Americans have raised their children, Hulbert (The Interior Castle: The Art and Life of Jean Stafford) offers an intellectual history of how children and parents have been studied in modern America. Here is the story of how Drs. Hall and Holt begat Drs. Gesell and Watson, who begat Dr. Spock and even Dr. Seuss, and how they in turn spawned an entire mini-industry of parenting experts. In spite of changes in terms or variations in thematic concerns, each generation of "experts" has been consistently bipolar, Hulbert finds: the "hard," parent-centered theorists fond of authority and discipline versus the "soft," child-centered theorists preaching love, bonding and liberty. With a flair for wordplay (paraphrasing Gesell's advice to parents to "walk—and speak—ever so softly, and carry a big chart") and a taste for irony (almost all the experts suffered from "mother's boy syndrome"), Hulbert documents the upbringings of the experts themselves, the fluctuations in their advice and the details of their downfalls. While few of these experts were as scientific as they claimed, they probably have managed to further parents' understanding of child development somewhat, admits Hulbert. The irony here—or perhaps it's a saving grace—is that parents, while eager for advice, rarely seem to have used it. This provocative and informative study is a model of lay scholarship. 15 photos. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. (Apr. 15)

Forecast:Skeptical moms and dads will surely take pleasure in learning about the dramas and claims surrounding so-called parenting experts. And while the publisher classifies the book as "sociology/childcare," readers interested in examining the history of science will enjoy it, too.

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