The Public Interest

Child experiments

Claudia Winkler

Fall 2003

IN Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of .Advice  About Children, † Ann Hulbert examines several generations’ worth of expert advice on the rearing of children. It is a carefully structured and meticulously documented book. Hulbert, biographer of the writer Jean Stafford and a former senior editor at the New Republic, uses five national conferences on children, in 1899, 1925, 1950, 1980, and 1997, to capture five cultural moments, each with its characteristic hopes and illusions, its dominant ideas, and divergent factions. She follows these accounts by homing in on a few of the period’s leading representatives of opposing “hard” and “soft” schools of thought about the treatment of children, the former emphasizing parental authority and discipline, the latter stressing love and the free unfolding of the child’s inborn self. She shows how the experts’ ideas grew out of their personal histories—and often how inadequate they themselves proved to be as parents.

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