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Education Reporter

Book of the Month
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Ready or Not, What Happens When We Treat Children as Small Adults, Kay S. Hymowitz, Encounter Books, 2000, 224 pps., $16.95

Author Kay Hymowitz's important book explores the tragic, too-much-too-soon world of American children at the dawn of the 21st century, noting that, without a foundation firmly grounded in morality and objective truth, today's children are ironically the least likely to ever truly grow up.

Hymowitz traces the origins of how America became what she calls an "anticultural" society - one which believes that its children should develop independently of the prevailing culture and even in opposition to it. In defining anticulturalism, she explains that, while once parents were expected to civilize their children by teaching them morality and insisting that they restrain their antisocial impulses, it is now widely accepted that children are "innately moral" and that adults are the problem.

The author states that anti-culturalism "is the dominant ideology among child development experts, and it has filtered into the courts, the schools, parenting magazines, Hollywood, and into our kitchens and family rooms." She warns that the era of anticulturalism, "is producing a new kind of American personality, one that should give us great pause."

She writes that anticultural education - "touting labels like discovery learning, constructivism, lifelong learning, and child-centered curriculum" - has fostered the notion that children "are making meaning for themselves." Despite "back to basics" counter movements, which have exposed the failure of anticultural education and won the support of many parents and politicians, the new ideas have triumphed and "expanded into ever new and more extreme forms."

Embedded as it is in our society, Hymowitz believes that anticulturalism can be overcome if America reverts to its rich cultural tradition. "Our republican ideals remind us of the need to find a balance between our children's desires and the communal good," she states. "They allow us to recall that a sheltered childhood, protected not just from R-rated images but from the forces of the market, gives space for the individual spirit to breathe and thrive."

Encounter Books, 116 New Montgomery St., San Francisco, CA 94105, 415/538-1460, read@encounterbooks.com.

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