LIVES ON THE EDGE by Valerie Polakow


Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America
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 What life is like for single mothers and their children living in poverty in America today--and why it need not be that way. Polakow (Educational Psychology/Eastern Michigan University) brings historical perspective to society's often hostile attitudes toward the poor, especially those on welfare. Interviews with six black teenage mothers and five somewhat older white mothers reveal their precarious existence and their struggles to cope in the face of woefully inadequate social-support systems. The author also looks closely at the early classroom experiences of selected poor children, concluding that discriminatory assumptions and expectations of educators often fail to enrich such childhoods and, instead, promote discouragement and failure. Noting that the US falls far short of the level of social services offered in other Western industrialized countries, Polakow argues for universal health care, a national child-care system, affordable housing, child allowances, parental leave, and educational reform. Acknowledging that legislative and public support for such measures is lacking, she urges a fundamental change in the way the ``haves'' view (i.e., blame) the ``have-nots.'' The individual stories here refute the popular image of welfare mothers as moral degenerates breeding children solely for the meal tickets they represent. Polakow's subjects care for their children and strive to improve their lot but are hampered by social policies that thwart rather than aid their efforts. Their individual stories, told mostly in their own words, are often moving, but Polakow's academese (``deconstructing the myth of childhood''; ``pedagogy of equity''; ``concrete praxis'') can make for slow going. A serious effort that commands attention when the poor speak for themselves but that loses its power when the professor lectures.

Pub Date: March 5th, 1993
ISBN: 0-226-67183-6
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993