DURING THE Second World War, preschool teacher Claudia Lewis moved from New York City to eastern Tennessee. Lewis had been teaching three-, four-, and five-year-olds in a nursery school in Greenwich Village, but she wanted to broaden her perspective on childhood development by relocating to another part of the country. Arriving in Tennessee's Cumberland plateau, she soon discovered she had entered a world dramatically different from the one she had just left. The touchstone of that difference was the children themselves.
The children of the Cumberland were placid and shy. Much of the time they stayed by themselves, shunning the vigorous group play and spirited conversation so common among New York City children. Lewis had not gone to Tennessee to do research for a book, but when she "realized that there were marked differences between the mountain children and those... in Greenwich Village," she started "to look more closely at the structure of the community":
I wanted to find out what kind of homes and upbringing made these chil
dren so unresisting and "easy to handle."... Why was there so little rebel
lion in the mountains?... What was the meaning of their outwardly peace
ful, placid behavior? And why were these children so shy for months at a
time?... Was there any relation between the... talent of the New York
children and their energetic, self-assertive ways? Between the mediocre per
formances of the mountain children and their compliant, apparently untrou
bled behavior? 1
While Claudia Lewis did not discover the answers to all these questions, she did describe profound differences in the childhood circumstances as well as the child-rearing traditions of these two societies during the Second World War. What proved startling was that these stark differences existed in a nation whose population--with the monumental exception of people of color--was reportedly being rapidly assimilated in the American "melting pot."