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James returns to some of the concerns of Children in Trouble (1970), but his focus here is all the victimizations of children by adults through accepted American social institutions. It's a subject doomed to shapelessness except in the hands of a doctrinaire faddist or a formidably agile and penetrating intelligence. James is neither. He is an honest and humane man with an intermittent gift for communicating appalling truths, but unable to link them into a sustained sequence of thought. Luckily the importance of the material offsets the flaws of the treatment. James unsparingly reminds us of what we know--that the American child is produced with shocking casualness, treated as pet, ego-extension, or market, and fed through a school system which satisfies only needs defined by itself. He refuses to prettify the fact that children who can't be pigeonholed under a few sleazy rubrics may face lifetimes of neglect or imprisonment. Beyond a certain point we resort to ""warehousing"" to deal with ungovernable behavior, mental disturbance, or retardation, and physical handicaps. James is nothing if not conscientious: instead of uncritically praising the occasional institution which improves the condition of its charges, he chillingly points out that the ""better"" ones severely prune their objectives--restrict the number of children admitted and the types of problems to be handled, and leave the residue to overburden other facilities. Piecemeal results are all one can expect from haphazard national policies, and in James' opinion our national policies toward children reflect a deplorable faith in ""hedonistic consumerism '--an attitude he blames for everything from abortion to cultural mediocrity For James, re, allocating money to children's troubles is no answer; the real problem is the pathological American preoccupation with self and inability to cope with otherness--here, deviation--beyond certain cosmetically acceptable limits Still, he sees a few signs of hope in the trend away from isolating children in huge institutions trod toward working out flexible community-based services. A plodding, often fumbling book, awkwardly written and colored by some annoyingly idiosyncratic opinions--but these faults are a reasonable price to pay for its uncompromising sincerity.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1975
Publisher: McKay