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Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood…
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Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

by Steven Mintz

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This book is an interesting history of the United States from the perspective of children that takes on the myth of the idealized childhood - one enjoyed by precious few children, mostly prosperous and fairly recent. The analogy of Huck's Raft is adept centering on the idyllic childhood adventure yet the raft itself is adrift and unsheltered from the storms raging around it. Mintz's history goes back to the earliest American children among the Puritan's of New England and traces childhood life among the enslaved and working class, the inner city immigrants and the privileged elite. It's amusing to note that commentators over the centuries are always stating that children of the day are more spoiled, more sexually promiscuous, more violent, and less educated (statistically kids these days have actually improved upon their predecessors as far as teen pregnancies, violence, and education despite outcries to the contrary). It's an interesting take on what is really the creation and evolution of childhood as a concept in America and reassuring that there was never really a golden age. If I have any criticism of this book is that Mintz's prose is dry & academic and at times repetitive. Still, an interesting book about the history of a large but generally voiceless part of the populace.

Favorite Passages:

"But despite popular stereotypes of ghetto pathology, most inner-city residents resist the temptations of crime, drug abuse, or teenage pregnancy. Indeed, inner-city youth drink less, smoke less, and use drugs less than their suburban middle-class counterparts. One factor that has contributed to this pattern is the strength of black mothers, who serve as models and nurturers of strong and independent behavior. Socialization among African Americans historically has not emphasized sex-role dichotomies in the way found among white families, and as a result many young black women, even in the poorest neighborhoods, have higher aspirations for education and a career than many of their white counterparts." - p. 353 ( )
  Othemts | Dec 29, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674019989, Paperback)

Like Huck's raft, the experience of American childhood has been both adventurous and terrifying. For more than three centuries, adults have agonized over raising children while children have followed their own paths to development and expression. Now, Steven Mintz gives us the first comprehensive history of American childhood encompassing both the child's and the adult's tumultuous early years of life.

Underscoring diversity through time and across regions, Mintz traces the transformation of children from the sinful creatures perceived by Puritans to the productive workers of nineteenth-century farms and factories, from the cosseted cherubs of the Victorian era to the confident consumers of our own. He explores their role in revolutionary upheaval, westward expansion, industrial growth, wartime mobilization, and the modern welfare state. Revealing the harsh realities of children's lives through history--the rigors of physical labor, the fear of chronic ailments, the heartbreak of premature death--he also acknowledges the freedom children once possessed to discover their world as well as themselves.

Whether at work or play, at home or school, the transition from childhood to adulthood has required generations of Americans to tackle tremendously difficult challenges. Today, adults impose ever-increasing demands on the young for self-discipline, cognitive development, and academic achievement, even as the influence of the mass media and consumer culture has grown. With a nod to the past, Mintz revisits an alternative to the goal-driven realities of contemporary childhood. An odyssey of psychological self-discovery and growth, this book suggests a vision of childhood that embraces risk and freedom--like the daring adventure on Huck's raft.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:13 -0400)

Publisher description: Like Huck's raft, the experience of American childhood has been both adventurous and terrifying. For more than three centuries, adults have agonized over raising children while children have followed their own paths to development and expression. Now, Steven Mintz gives us the first comprehensive history of American childhood encompassing both the child's and the adult's tumultuous early years of life. Underscoring diversity through time and across regions, Mintz traces the transformation of children from the sinful creatures perceived by Puritans to the productive workers of nineteenth-century farms and factories, from the cosseted cherubs of the Victorian era to the confident consumers of our own. He explores their role in revolutionary upheaval, westward expansion, industrial growth, wartime mobilization, and the modern welfare state. Revealing the harsh realities of children's lives through history--the rigors of physical labor, the fear of chronic ailments, the heartbreak of premature death--he also acknowledges the freedom children once possessed to discover their world as well as themselves. Whether at work or play, at home or school, the transition from childhood to adulthood has required generations of Americans to tackle tremendously difficult challenges. Today, adults impose ever-increasing demands on the young for self-discipline, cognitive development, and academic achievement, even as the influence of the mass media and consumer culture has grown. With a nod to the past, Mintz revisits an alternative to the goal-driven realities of contemporary childhood. An odyssey of psychological self-discovery and growth, this book suggests a vision of childhood that embraces risk and freedom--like the daring adventure on Huck's raft.… (more)

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