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The Moral Life of Children Paperback – February 4, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What meaning do terms like "conscience" or "moral purpose" hold for malnourished, sick, poorly clothed children in Brazilian slums or South African hovels, children whose main goal is to survive another day? In attempting to answer this question, child psychiatrist Coles (Children of Crisis) shows how children in the most trying circumstances manage to maintain their moral dignity. Using field notes on poor black and white families in the South, Coles convincingly argues that kids don't merely respond to parental promptings but also fashion their independent sense of how the world works or ought to work. Preteens' very real fears of the nuclear bomb come through in conversations that reflect their outrage at adults for allowing the arms race to continue. Coles's belief that trashy movies may leave children unscathed and even help them sort things out is too pat. His tendency to psychoanalyze dilutes the impact of his findings; the ever-present threat of death facing slum children is the "equivalent of an oedipal father," he writes. Despite such lapses, this mixture of rumination, reportage, quotation, anecdote and sociological analysis is powerful. January 28
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Child psychiatrist Coles received the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his Children of Crisis , a multi-volume cross-cultural study of American children as moral witnesses to social struggle. The present work, issued in two companion volumes, expands on that theme by including transcripts and thematic analyses of probing interviews with children in Brazil, French Canada, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Poland, South Africa, and Southeast Asia, while occasionally comparing their responses with interviews of American children. Coles's field work methodology is not made explicit enough, the transcripts are highly edited and undocumented, his subjects seem to have been chosen because they were articulate and resourceful, and he admits to an existential bias that one's moral or political conscience is tested only through adversity. Nevertheless, these volumes raise fundamental questions and make an important contribution to the literatures of survival, poverty, and political socialization. Most of his subjects display unnerving composure while living in constant moral jeopardy, and cope by what Coles admiringly terms "an Orwellian attentiveness to the drama of everyday life." These compelling narratives form a vivid testament to the embattled moral stature of children in a diversity of cultures. Both volumes are recommended for those concerned with moral education, the child as citizen, or nationalism as an aspect of childhood. Both include children's drawings that mirror with evident pathos each child's fears and aspirations. William Abrams, Portland State Univ. Lib., Ore.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (February 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871137704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871137708
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,775,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Coles is professor emeritus at Harvard University and the author of numerous books, including his series Children of Crisis, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. He has also won a MacArthur Award, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a National Humanities Medal. He lives in Massachusetts.

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
A truly remarkable book that debunks the reductionism of social scientific and (to a somewhat lesser degree) psychoanalytic thinking with regard to the astonishing complexity of morality in thought, word, deed. Through discussions with children in the U.S. and Brazil he illustrates how difficult it is to completely understand or delineate morality however it may seem to manifest; how much its development is affected by and affects its social context; and the significance and malleabilty of religious beliefs. His respect and even reverence for the children he meets and describes is a beautiful thing. Despite new heights of Manichean reductionism in our current political scene, this book's discussions of the civil rights struggle, poverty in Brazil, and nuclear weapons are timeless. Worth reading and re-reading, and thinking about at deeper and deeper levels. Thank you, Dr. Coles. I look forward to reading many more of your books.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WKE on August 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a load of b=sht to dump on the head of children. I prefered Flip Wilson reasoning - the devil made me do it.
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16 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
I think we all agree that we would like to be good and moral people and to raise children who are good and moral. I have some problems around Coles' ideas of how to achieve this. He disregards well-researched principles of infant psychology, e.g. that a parent cannot really "spoil" a newborn baby. Nowhere does he refer to the research of people like Bowlby, who have found an association between secure attachment between parent and infant, and psychological health of the child.
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