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Publishers Weekly
September 6, 1999

READY OR NOT: Precocious Children, Uncertain Adults, and the Shrinking of the American Spirit; Review

Kay S. Hymowitz. Free Press, $25 (304p) ISBN 0-684-83624-6

Asking how we can raise morally responsible children while nurturing their individuality, Hymowitz critiques the radical individualism that seems to have subsumed concern for the common good, the narrow vocationalism of much education, a vulgar and sensationalized media and the insidious ways in which such natural childhood activities as play and exploration have been channeled toward enhanced cognition and academic achievement.

 The author, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, advocates somewhat nostalgically for a return to the republican childhood of the 19th century—"a profound moral achievement"—that she believes effectively socialized the young into life as active democratic citizens. In a clear and accessible style, Hymowitz draws on the work of educational and psychological theorists, as well as popular culture, to develop her arguments. Unfortunately, the book suffers from a number of conceptual weaknesses, including the notion of "anticulturalism" (the belief that today's youth are being raised outside the influence of culture) and that we can overcome anomie and nihilism by constructing and transmitting a "common culture" (whose culture this would be remains largely unaddressed). Those readers who believe that contemporary social problems can be solved with a renewed emphas is on old-fashioned family values, back-to-basics schooling and rejuvenated adult authority will find much in this book resonant. Those who question the viability of returning to a romanticized past will find the complex issues addressed here oversimplified and framed in rather tired ideological terms. (Oct.)

©1999 Publishers Weekly

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