HUCK'S RAFT: A History of American Childhood

Steven Mintz, Author . Harvard Univ. $29.95 (445p) ISBN 978-0-674-01508-1

No aspect of American life is as shrouded in idealizing myth as childhood. In this compelling work of historical synthesis, University of Houston history professor Mintz argues forcefully—if not originally—that for most of the past three centuries childhood has been the exception rather than the norm. Responding to the exigencies of colonial life, Mintz writes, the Puritans unsentimentally mentored children as "adults in training." With the explosive rise of an urban, factory-based economy in the mid-19th century, childhood first emerged as a discrete period of development. Limited, home-based instruction was replaced by compulsory instruction in public schools—but not all children benefited. For most young people in the years after the Industrial Revolution—despite the mixed results of reformers—childhood meant grim factory or farm labor, poverty, loneliness, exploitation (economic and sexual) and often unspeakable cruelty. Poor, immigrant and black children suffered disproportionately as the class gap widened. More recently, Mintz recounts, childhood has been refined and extended into the phenomenon of protracted adolescence. That childhood has mostly been less than ideal is not surprising. What may be, for many readers, is Mintz's portrait of just how far from the ideal this country has been—and perhaps continues to be—in meeting the health needs, education and welfare of all its children. 36 b&w photos. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/06/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 445 pages - 978-0-674-01998-0
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