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 Posted April 23, 2003 

The Wonder of Girls: Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters
By Michael Gurian
2002: NY, Atria Books
Reviewed by Lon Woodbury

The Spokane, Washington author has published several books on raising boys, but as the father of two girls, he decided to also write about raising girls. The result was this book, which draws on his personal experience as well as the latest research on female biology, hormones, brain development and the way they shape girls' interests, behavior, and relationships.

Gurian coined the term "womanist," after his studies led him to consider the feminist ideas of ignoring a girl’s basic nature, as superficial and limiting. He defines the basic theories of Feminism as: 1) "Human nature is not very important to girls' lives," 2) Women do best when they are independent of men," 3) "Girls are victims," and 4) “Girls' lives are dominated by gender stereotypes that leave girls one-down and powerless." While he feels these ideas might help provide insights that are useful in working with at-risk girls, for typical girls, they are "often static and over reactive, sometimes unfair, and generally incomplete in its assessment of human nature." Citing research from the hard sciences, he says "girls' lives are far more about the four-million-year human history than they are about the few decades, or even centuries, of social life that feminism helps us understand."

One of the most important aspects of girls, from a "womanist" perspective, is a nature-based logic he describes as “the hidden yearning in every girl's and woman's life to live in a safe web of intimate relationships…To be a girl is to become a woman who hopes to feel that she is performing a sacred, purposeful role in life," whether in the family or at work. Stating it another way, he said: “a boy feels unhappy if he can't perform at something.... his unhappiness is his cry for help in finding areas of performance in which to gain social respect," while, “a girl feels unhappy if she can't find the interwoven social alliances she needs. Her unhappiness at not being chosen for the group, clique, or pack is her cry for help in finding social mirrors for her own character development."

The author describes how classic fairly tales reflect archetypal ideas, evolving from stories told by our ancestors to their adolescent boys and girls to prepare them in the values each should have as adults. Cinderella is a story the author shunned as a feminist, seeing it as "a patriarchal tale about the repression of women's individuality, the imposition of dependency on men, and values antithetical to modern women." However, when he saw that this tale was a favorite of both his independently minded daughters, he re-examined it, finding: “this story depicts the female journey into high character, and it is a stunning rite-of-passage tale," reflecting that every girl wants to be a heroine. And, though being a heroine can sometimes include being a hero in the way that boys yearn to be, the author asserts being a heroine often involves seeking "the wisdom of the small over the flourish of the large." In general, a hero's empathy is based on large group principles, while a heroine’s empathy is based on the small suffering, shinning "the light of their character into hidden, small places." Common sense seems to be balanced with modern research in this book to offer practical balance in working with helping raise girls.


The Myth of Laziness
By Mel Levine, M.D.
2003:Simon & Schulster
Reviewed by Lon Woodbury

Dr. Mel Levine is a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School, and a very popular writer whose ideas in previous books have influenced the programs of several quality emotional growth/therapeutic schools and programs.

He is convinced that laziness is a myth; everybody has a basic drive to be productive. He describes what some call “laziness", as: "output failure," caused by some obstacle the alleged “lazy” person is having trouble overcoming. In his view, the output failure is usually some type of "neurodevelopmental dysfunction,” which, if treated, causes the “laziness" to disappear. The book is full of examples showing that what is considered to be “laziness,” is really something with which a person is having so much difficulty that for whatever reason, without intervention, the person doesn't have the ability to accomplish the task. He identifies seven forms of dysfunction that obstruct output, emphasizing writing as a key barometer of productivity during the school years. He devotes an entire chapter in his book to writing problems, because writing involves so many neurodevelopmental functions, such as memory, motor control, organization, and verbalization of ideas. The type of problems a child has with writing can give vital clues for pinpointing the exact cause of "output failure."

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