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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1997 Issue #44


by: Hillary Clinton -- NY:Simon & Schuster;1996
reviewed by: Lon Woodbury

This book was presented as a sharing of what the First Lady has learned in her life as a parent and as a professional about what children need to grow up to be “able, caring, resilient adults.” But a funny thing happened on its way to book stores, it instead became part of the Clinton Administration image. The timing of the release was unlucky. Just as the book was released, and Mrs. Clinton started her book promotion tour, she was subpoenaed to testify on the Whitewater controversy. As a result, the anticipated press coverage of the book itself and what was said in it were overwhelmed by questions and discussions of the whole Whitewater controversy. Any chance this book would move children, family, and education needs to the forefront of public discussion for the 1996 election failed. 

Then critics pointed out Mrs. Clinton had neglected to give any credit to the person who had allegedly ghost-written the book. Others observed that the village she says is necessary to raise a child seems to be the government most of the time. Then there were those who wrote it off as simply an election year effort to emphasize the Administration’s priority on social programs. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, I tend to agree with the last view because it seems there is something in the book for everyone. 

For example, in talking about teenage sexual activity, the author makes a statement for abstinence that would warm the hearts of the Christian Coalition. Then she goes on in the next page to write about the importance of educating kids about sex in a way that would meet the approval of Planned Parenthood (P. 161-2). There are numerous similar examples throughout the book, which can be taken two ways. One way would be that Mrs. Clinton is merely pandering to both sides of the issues (the negative spin). The other way is that she is trying to bring the country together on divisive issues by finding common ground (the positive spin). I guess the reader can take his or her choice. 

Leaving the context behind, the content has some good material that makes reading this book worth while. For example, the book’s definition of a village updates our concept to late 20th century reality. The traditional concept of a village has a geographical basis - those people living in physical proximity. That has been expanded in recent decades to talk of the American village, or the global village, usually reflecting some political jurisdiction. The author’s definition is that the village “is the network of values and relationships that support and affect our lives” (P. 13). This makes sense. Our lives are usually more influenced by the people we associate with than with those we just happen to live near. As e-mail, faxes, travel and phones become a greater part of our personal and work life, our village might be geographically spread all over the world, as is the network of Emotional Growth schools and programs, which is a village as defined by the author. 

When parents enrolls a child in an Emotional Growth school or program, this means they have decided to enlist the help of the Emotional Growth school or program village for help in raising their child. This is the same process parents went through a century ago when they enlisted the help from that era’s village -their extended family, their minister or doctor, employers, or other resources that could help meet the needs of a child making poor decisions. The only difference comes from the change in technology. 

Other areas the author touches on include an emphasis on a relationship between violence in children and a lack of attachment in their early years (P. 88-89). And, the importance of quantity time between parent and child, “...there is no substitute for regular, undivided attention from parents.” (P. 96). Also, “A parent who fears that discipline will alienate children is heading for trouble. What begins as permissiveness’ too often ends in negligence and confusion.” (P. 158). The author even zeros in on the negative impact of television on children, “The merciless, minute scrutiny of crimes and victims emphasizes and exaggerates the powerlessness of individuals, especially in the minds of children, whose own lack of power in the world is all too plain to them.” (P. 275). Throughout the book, the author makes a strong case for the importance of confident and sensitive parents for the well- being of children. 

There are two aspects I have some difficulty reconciling. First, how does this reconcile with the writings of Mrs. Clinton’s firebrand days in the early seventies when she was writing things like, “I want to be a voice for America’s children... advocating... the immediate abolition of the legal status of minority....” (Harvard Educational Review, 1974)? Perhaps 20 years of life experience and becoming a mother have caused a change of philosophy. The other aspect is the strong case she made for confident and sensitive parents AND the frequent favorable references to actual and proposed government programs. I spent several years administering anti-poverty programs in the early seventies as a federal employee. The main thing I learned from this experience is that government programs are required by law to respond to guidelines that often were arbitrary, and consequently weak in their sensitivity to recipients’ needs (usually the sensitivity I saw came from people, sometimes in spite of the guidelines). I have a hard time accepting that her proposals for government programs will be as benevolent and helpful as she assumes. 

This book has a lot to offer, but like many writings of national public figures, it cannot be taken at face value. It has to be read in context, and read critically, to gain the most value. 

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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