Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Response To Comment From September 2 Post...

I appreciated what you said about the Pevensie's. I think if a great epidemic hit my area, I too would send my children away and stay to assist using my nursing skills. Although I'd much rather be with my children.

I can hardly go to the library for a few hours of personal study without wondering how my family's doing and what they are doing. I miss them.

I think the point of my post is whether this idea that publishers during the early part of the twentieth century influenced a change in children's literature to the point of disconnecting families. When Gove and I read this page in The Underground History of American Education, it was a sudden opening to many books we have read to the children without realizing the connection. Below is the first paragraph I was referring to. However, I think the additional paragraphs are informative from the same pages of 126-127.

"Another dramatic switch in children’s books had to do with a character’s dependence on community to solve problems and to give life meaning. Across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, strength, afforded by stable community life, was an important part of narrative action, but toward the end of the nineteenth century a totally new note of "self" was sounded. Now protagonists became more competent, more in control; their need for family and communal affirmation disappeared, to be replaced by a new imperative—the quest for certification by legitimate authority. Needs now suddenly dominant among literary characters were so-called "expressive needs": exploring, playing, joy, loving, self-actualizing, intriguing against one’s own parents. By the early twentieth century, a solid majority of all children’s books focus on the individual child free from the web of family and community.

This model had been established by the Horatio Alger books in the second half of the nineteenth century; now with some savage modern flourishes (like encouraging active indifference to family) it came to totally dominate the children’s book business. Children were invited to divide their interests from those of their families and to concentrate on private concerns. A few alarmed critical voices saw this as a strategy of "divide and conquer," a means to separate children from family so they could be more easily molded into new social designs. In the words of Mary Lystad, the biographer of children’s literary history from whom I have drawn heavily in this analysis:

As the twentieth century continued, book characters were provided more and more opportunities to pay attention to themselves. More and more characters were allowed to look inward to their own needs and desires.

This change of emphasis "was managed at the expense of others in the family group," she adds.

From 1796 to 1855, 18 percent of all children’s books were constructed around the idea of conformity to some adult norm; but by 1896 emphasis on conformity had tripled. This took place in the thirty years following the Civil War. Did the elimination of the Southern pole of our national dialectic have anything to do with that? Yes, everything, I think. With tension between Northern and Southern ways of life and politics resolved permanently in favor of the North, the way was clear for triumphant American orthodoxy to seize the entire field. The huge increase in conformist themes rose even more as we entered the twentieth century and has remained at an elevated level through the decades since.

What is most deceptive in trying to fix this characteristic conformity is the introduction of an apparently libertarian note of free choice into the narrative equation. Modern characters are encouraged to self-start and to proceed on what appears to be an independent course. But upon closer inspection, that course is always toward a centrally prescribed feeling that you have freedom, not from its actual possession. Thus social planners get the best of both worlds: a large measure of control without any kicking at the traces. In modern business circles, such a style of oversight is known as management by objectives social goal, never toward personal solutions to life’s dilemmas. Freedom of choice in this formulation arises from the ."

Wow! I said. "This is Harry Potter, Magic Tree House, Boxcar Kids, Ender's Game, and Narnia" not that any of these are bad stories. But the fact is there is no family involved with all that the children do. It's not bad what the kids are doing. Yet the books seem to fit into the above statements. All of these books were written after 1930. The books that I felt had family dynamics involved with the plot of the children includes the Laura Ingells Series(1800's), Little Britches by Ralph Moody(1950), Laddie(1913), Strike at Shane's(1893), A Girl of the Limberlost(1909), Freckles(1904), and to a degree The Keeper of the Bees and The Harvester(1911) by Gene Stratton-Porter. The last two books I mention of Gene's are about young men who's parents have died and their journey seeking family and preparing for family life. Mother by K. Norris(1911),Rebbecca of Sunny Brook Farm by K. Wiggin(1903).

Last night I came across a 1905 group called the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. It was set up to "throw light on the world-wide movement of industrial DEMOCRACY known as socialism"(The New York Times Jan.28, 1919). In 1921 they changed to "The League for Industrial DEMOCRACY" due to the USSR term of socialism being strongly repugnant to many Americans. President Wilson had surrounded himself with members of the ISS.

Here is something I think is interesting: "...by the 1930's the more brilliant young leaders of the movement from WWI days(regading the ISS members) had risen to some of the most prestigious positions in politics, press, publishing houses, radio, academic circles, teaching-training colleges, the National Council of Churches, and just about every other major center of opinion-molding influence" (The 5,000 Year Leap, pg.156-159).

I wonder if these are the publishers that influenced the change that Gatto speaks of in his Underground History of Education of America?

I think this is the question that needs me to find an answer.

Post Note:9/11/08 I just remembered that the Boxcar Kids lost their parents. They do end up with their grandfather. It seemed that their adventures were focused upon themselves. Which would be the case without a parent. But just the fact that parents are written out of the script seems to be a form of disconnecting family.

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