The End of American Childhood takes a sweeping look at the history of American childhood and parenting, from the nation's founding to the present day. Renowned historian Paula Fass shows how, since the beginning of the American republic, independence, self-definition, and individual success have informed Americans' attitudes toward children.Read more...
The End of American Childhood takes a sweeping look at the history of American childhood and parenting, from the nation's founding to the present day. Renowned historian Paula Fass shows how, since the beginning of the American republic, independence, self-definition, and individual success have informed Americans' attitudes toward children. But as parents today hover over every detail of their children's lives, are the qualities that once made American childhood special still desired or possible? Placing the experiences of children and parents against the backdrop of social, political, and cultural shifts, Fass challenges Americans to reconnect with the beliefs that set the American understanding of childhood apart from the rest of the world.
Fass examines how freer relationships between American children and parents transformed the national culture, altered generational relationships among immigrants, helped create a new science of child development, and promoted a revolution in modern schooling. She looks at the childhoods of icons including Margaret Mead and Ulysses S. Grant--who, as an eleven-year-old, was in charge of his father's fields and explored his rural Ohio countryside. Fass also features less well-known children like ten-year-old Rose Cohen, who worked in the drudgery of nineteenth-century factories. Bringing readers into the present, Fass argues that current American conditions and policies have made adolescence socially irrelevant and altered children's road to maturity, while parental oversight threatens children's competence and initiative.
Showing how American parenting has been firmly linked to historical changes, The End of American Childhood considers what implications this might hold for the nation's future.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-05-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Fass (Children of a New World), a UC Berkeley professor emerita of history, provides a wide-ranging and stimulating history of childhood and parenting in the U.S. Fass convincingly argues that in the rural, “new” society of Thomas Jefferson’s America, parents saw themselves as inheritors of a revolutionary tradition and tried to adapt to a raw and tumultuous country by emphasizing individual resourcefulness and independence. She shows how these qualities never really left the American psyche, highlighting how they led to a revolutionary modern school system; high school, for instance, is a “uniquely American institution” that became a second home for adolescents. She illustrates her points with examples from the childhoods of figures both famous (Ulysses S. Grant and Margaret Mead) and obscure (Rose Cohen, a 19th-century child seamstress). She concludes by noting that with the insecurities of the global economy, adolescents put off independence, particularly financial independence, for far longer than in the past two centuries, but that independence is still their eventual goal. Her work provides an invaluable perspective on an important topic. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary. (June)