Review of Father of the Man by W.A. Davis and R.J Havighurst
This little book is the result of a study of two hundred and two families, white and Negro. Fifty of each race are "middle class," and fifty-one of each are called "Lower class" or "working class" or "slum dwellers." The lower class is assumed to have a "culture" of its own which is compared and contrasted with the middle-class "culture" in the methods of training children, with especial reference to weaning and toilet training. Seven of the case studies are briefly set forth to illustrate the conclusions.
The middle class seems to come out second best on many counts. One such family ("the Bretts") is described rather satirically, and it is found that middle-class parents train their children too much, make arbitrary and unjust demands, forbid fighting, sexual exploration, and the breaking of school windows. Described as most arbitrary and unjust is the demand that the children are expected to Learn the behavior and goals of their own society.
By contrast, the slum children live a happier life. "The Washingtons" are a family with eleven children, Living in the slums. The slum child gets more "organic pleasure" out of life, has less chance of going hungry (sic), has a closer and more intelligent relation to the mother, is less frustrated in his psychological responses and is spared the prolonged guilt feelings which middle-class parents seek to arouse and maintain. The child is encouraged to fight his brothers and thus escapes the "false peace" of the middle class. Mary is keeping a record of the number of people murdered in her block and knows one man who has been charged by the police with eleven murders. She envies her sister Hazel, who carries a knife to use on her rivals in love. Little Paulette has often seen Hazel and her boy friend having sex relations in the front room. Her family had a good laugh when her uncle gave his wife a whipping for a Mother's Day present. The children will probably have "motivations" which some people "stigmatize" as shiftlessness, irresponsibility, ignorance, and immorality, but the authors insist that the advantages are not wholly on the side of the middle class.
In trying to make a case for the slum "culture," the book almost goes too far and the reader begins to doubt the wisdom of the plans for slum clearance if the children are so happy there. Of course, much of what is here called "culture" is termed disorganization in the vocabulary of the sociologist. Were the slum-dwellers alone on some island, the case would be different, but in Chicago there are churches, schools, truant officers, visiting nurses, juvenile courts, and probation officers and these reach into the slums. Delinquency, theft, and murder are violations of the mores and the laws, and men of good will seek to abolish the slum "culture" by doing away with the slums.
Toilet training is the subject of one chapter, but in no less than eleven chapters is the subject dwelt upon. The subject of soiled diapers can grow monotonous, and, though there is some cautious advice given, the middle-class parents will probably continue to take the advice of the physician.
The weakest point is the central contention that the child is motivated only by fear of punishment and hope of reward. The experiments of Watson in which children burned their fingers in a candle flame a hundred times before they ceased reaching should completely negate this oversimplification. An acquaintance with the literature would have revealed scares of tribes and many middle-class families where no punishment is inflicted and parental love is never
( 402) withdrawn. Authentic literature exists describing the way in which, in a primary group relation, oral communication results in self-stimulation and response, whereby attitudes are transmitted and acquired.
There is a chapter on heredity, with the conclusion that heredity does "enter into a vast number of human characteristics; just how, and in what proportion, is not known." There is also a chapter on language, mostly commonplaces with a few minor inaccuracies.
The style is enlivened by some amusing rhetorical figures. Here are some samples: "Age is the ladder by which the young child hopes to climb to his Arcadia." "Learning social and personal control is the quintessence of becoming a human being." "Lunging and panting they (the children) throw their very bodies against the ramparts of age-privilege." And this culinary metaphor: "Our methods of weaning result from a mixture of superstitions larded with social conventions and basted with practical horse sense." The modesty of the authors is evident in this sentence: "The early training of a child is an unknown country in whose recesses the origin of personality is still lost." And finally the optimism is evident when they say: "In spite of his stupidity and vices, man remains the hope of the world."
The book is, as they say on the radio, a brave try; the reviewer would re-echo the words of the announcer: "Better luck next time."
University of Chicago