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The prolific Coles, Harvard's noted social ethicist and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning five-volume Children of Crisis, muddies the ethical waters conceptually in this rather loosely organized guide on raising a child to be a moral person. Linking morality to general character development, to ""goodness,"" rather than to specific issues of ethical attitudes and behavior, Coles meanders from topic to topic, discussing such matters as the process by which young people develop a worldview and manners, how career choices emerge, the nature of sociability in the young, and the origins of spirituality. Coles has a penchant for rhetorical overdrive, resulting in too many run-on sentences (one tops out at 138 words). Readers may feel that he quotes too liberally from his mentor, Anna Freud, and that he relies too frequently on excerpts from transcripts of group discussions he has held with parents, adolescents, and children. Finally, Coles sometimes states as a seemingly fresh perception concepts that have been in circulation for years, such as the idea that children, particularly adolescents, need and hunger for moral values and limits, that they often feel alienated or lost without such values, and that parents and teachers best impart these values through the day-to-day manifestations of empathy, kindness, and similar forms of sensitivity to others rather than through preaching or nagging. To be sure, Coles does glean some telling comments from young people. An adolescent girl, fed up with her parents' obsessive fretting about her possible romantic and sexual entanglements with boys, says shrewdly, ""I wish my parents would stop turning me into one more reason not to worry about themselves."" In general, however, Coles has considered the issues raised in this book more profitably in a host of earlier works, particularly The Moral Life of Children (1985) and The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (1988). He has little to add here.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Random