Ive always, simply
as a student of culture, been interested in childhood, he is
saying. Because childhood is such an extraordinary prism for
everything going on in the culture.
Zuckerman has a unique
take on the subject, and not because he is himself a father of
five. Having dissected Dr. Benjamin Spock and his Baby and
Child Care in a 1993 profile titled Dr. Spock: The Confidence
Man, he has just co-edited a book of essays with Dutch psychologist
Willem Koops, titled Beyond The Century of the Child: Crossroads
of Cultural History and Developmental Psychology, to be published
this fall by the University of Pennsylvania Press. And as he notes
in his summing-up essayThe Millennium of Childhood That Stretches
Before UsA disturbingly large company of our authors
persuaded that something has gone awry in relations between the
young and their elders.
We sense, dimly
but disturbingly, that we have conceded too much to our children,
he adds. They become increasingly the bearers of our civilized
discontents, because we have allotted to them what we now think
we want, which isnt civilization after all.
The books intellectual
forebear is The Century of the Child, an international
bestseller written in 1900 by a Swede named Ellen Key. It argued,
with a sort of Nietzschean fervor, that the worlds children should
be the central work of society in the century just dawning.
Though Key herself
never thought her century of the child a plausible prospect,
notes Zuckerman, it turned out to have more resonance than she
would have imagined. And so, a few years ago, he responded to
Koops invitation to examine whether we had actually enjoyed
(or suffered) such a century, and to see what the evidence of
the century past portended of the century to come.
The essays they have
gathered are pretty evenly balanced between historians and developmental
psychologiststhe two great domains of scholarly inquiry devoted
to the study of childhood. For some, the point of departure is
Philippe Ari╦s 1962 book, Centuries of Childhood: A Social
History of Family Life, which maintained that the very concept
of childhoodwith all its implications of innocencewas a relatively
recent development. (Before the 15th century, Ari╦s argued, they
were simply regarded as small young people with some modest physical
limitations.) For others, it is Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist,
who believed that childrens logic and modes of thinking are entirely
different from those of adults, and whose work influenced a generation
of developmental psychologists.
But, as Zuckerman
points out: Every-thing we thought we knew a generation agothe
most exciting, the most sophisticated ideas about childhoodwere
now being called into question. And so the bookand this interview.