Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Excerpt

For more than three centuries Americans have believed that the younger generation is less respectful and knowledgeable, and more alienated, sexually promiscuous, and violent, than previously. Today adults fear that children are growing up too fast and losing their sense of innocent wonder too early. Prematurely exposed to the pressures, stresses, and responsibilities of adult life, the young mimic adult sophistication, dress inappropriately, and experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex, and tobacco before they are emotionally and psychologically ready.

One of the goals of this book is to strip away the myths, misconceptions, and nostalgia that contribute to this pessimism about the young. There has never been a time when the overwhelming majority of American children were well cared for and their experiences idyllic. Nor has childhood ever been an age of innocence, at least not for most children. Childhood has never been insulated from the pressures and demands of the surrounding society, and each generation of children has had to wrestle with the social, political, and economic constraints of its own historical period. In our own time, the young have had to struggle with high rates of family instability, a deepening disconnection from adults, and the expectation that all children should pursue the same academic path at the same pace, even as the attainment of full adulthood recedes ever further into the future.

The history of children is often treated as a marginal subject, and there is no question that it is especially difficult to write. Children are rarely obvious historical actors. They leave fewer historical sources than adults . . .

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