The Moral Life of Children

Robert Coles, Author, Peter Davison, Editor Atlantic Monthly Press $19.95 (302p) ISBN 978-0-87113-034-1
What meaning do terms like ""conscience'' or ``moral purpose'' hold for malnourished, sick, poorly clothed children in Brazilian slums or South African hovels, children whose main goal is to survive another day? In attempting to answer this question, child psychiatrist Coles (Children of Crisis) shows how children in the most trying circumstances manage to maintain their moral dignity. Using field notes on poor black and white families in the South, Coles convincingly argues that kids don't merely respond to parental promptings but also fashion their independent sense of how the world works or ought to work. Preteens' very real fears of the nuclear bomb come through in conversations that reflect their outrage at adults for allowing the arms race to continue. Coles's belief that trashy movies may leave children unscathed and even help them sort things out is too pat. His tendency to psychoanalyze dilutes the impact of his findings; the ever-present threat of death facing slum children is the ``equivalent of an oedipal father,'' he writes. Despite such lapses, this mixture of rumination, reportage, quotation, anecdote and sociological analysis is powerful. January 28
Reviewed on: 01/01/1986
Release date: 01/01/1986
Paperback - 302 pages - 978-0-395-43153-5
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-87113-770-8
Open Ebook - 978-1-322-35773-7
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