IN DEFENSE OF THE FAMILY: Raising Children In America Today by Rita Kramer

IN DEFENSE OF THE FAMILY: Raising Children In America Today

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The modern family, ailing and disfigured according to contemporary critics, is indeed in jeopardy, maintains Kramer (Maria Montessori, Giving Birth)--who is closest to Fraiberg and Lasch in her highly opinionated defense of three unfashionable positions, and in bold opposition to numerous others. On the basis of the child's developmental needs, she contends that mothers belong at home (full-time for at least three years, part-time for many more); that sex differences cannot be extinguished by environmental manipulation; and that schools should first and foremost help children master academic skills. Such arguments have current appeal, and Kramer's gathering of evidence is extensive; but her narrow idea of good-family (no gays, no single parents, etc.) is sure to outrage a variety of readers. Fraiberg had a head start characterizing the needs of the early years (in Every Child's Birthright, 1977) but Kramer reviews the research and its implications again, continues on through latency (a fine section) and adolescence, and surveys much of the cultural scene as well. Often her observations ring true. Like Christopher Lasch, she regrets the intrusions of social science experts into parenthood and she sees through a clutch of related issues--how ""natural"" childbirth literature frequently ignores ""natural"" differences between people, or how many juvenile books pander to questionable tastes and goals. She also exposes the shallow message of sex education texts and understands that a good 19th-century novel dramatizes moral choice far better than the text of values courses. Although Kramer believes she is just providing information, not prescribing, there is little neutral territory here, merely temporary DMZs. She is so deeply convinced of the rightness of her stance that she can't hold back, and she lashes out too often at radical feminists, key theorists (Keniston, Mead, Kohlberg), and popular influences (television, Judy Blume books). Though many will agree that most alternate life styles don't mesh with community needs and smile at her pungent asides (television for children ""beats public executions""), others will fight back with both fists. Homosexuals, for example, will chafe at her characterization of their life as ""impoverished,"" and working mothers, single parents, and day-care advocates may take up arms. Kramer knows where she stands and how she got there--something has gone haywire when a feminist's son won't go to a camp with a ""man-made"" lake--but slash-and-burn tactics undermine her effectiveness.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1982
Publisher: Basic Books