BROKEN PROMISES: The State, Children, and Families in America by W. Norton & Marvin Lazerson Grubb

BROKEN PROMISES: The State, Children, and Families in America

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A long, tortuous, highly repetitive argument, pegged on the deficiencies of institutions and programs for children, for restructuring American society to achieve everything from participatory democracy and ""meaningful work for every individual"" to (in the short-run) full employment and the elimination of racial discrimination to (in the immediate interests of children) parental leave and health screening. The case for a social reordering (a redistribution of income and power) to give children a better chance in life is far more cogently made, however, in Richard deLone's Small Futures (1979). Grubb (Economics, U. of Texas) and Lazerson (Education, U. of British Columbia) dwell unremittingly--and unoriginally--on the class factor (""The fear of social disorder has been so consistently-class related that identical behavior among middle-class youth and lower-class youth elicits very different responses"") and on two related child-specific themes: the perniciousness of tying public services to parental failure (attributable, they believe, to ""the conception of the private family"") and the desirability, instead, of articulating ""a set of public responsibilities toward children."" This line of reasoning, however, does not require a review of 19th-century institutional biases and 1930s welfare-programs, typical of the much-explored topics tendentiously rehashed here. And these, in turn, distract attention from the relevant, demonstrable drawbacks of the policies (and, yes, professionalism) Grubb and Lazerson decry--as well as from the demonstrable advantages (e.g., in child care and parent education) of the approaches they propound. The result is a book, ranging all over the lot, that can't really be recommended to anyone. For the failures of the schools or welfare policy, there are better, specialized works; for an expert overview, there is Kenneth Keniston's Carnegie Council report All Our Children (1977), as well as the deLone; for a more nuanced, less polemical discussion of the issue of family privacy, there is Before the Best Interests of the Child (1979), by Joseph Goldstein et al. And as regards the restructuring of American society per se, one might as well read Michael Walzer's much-cited Radical Principles straight.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1982
Publisher: Basic Books