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Childhood Lost by Sharna Olfman

Childhood Lost

How American Culture is Failing Our Kids

© 2005


Edited by Sharna Olfman



For what it’s worth, this is one of the 10 books I came home with after attending a panel presentation in Pittsburg about “Bipolar Children” that was sponsored by Park Point University.  Unfortunately (full disclosure) it sat on my shelf for too long before reading and the sheer quality of the content of it is what has put a moratorium on the purchase of “new books” until I get through the ones I have not yet read!


And, in an effort to be transparent; that is one of the goals of this school year – to read the ones that have started to collect dust because lately I find myself wondering….  what other undiscovered gems are in that pile !!?!?!


You could read this book cover to cover (what I did), or you could read one section at a time.  Each chapter has a different author and topic, although they all share a common theme (see the title).


For your reading pleasure I offer titles, authors and brief commentary on all 10 chapters.


So we begin: Sharna Olfman, the editor of the book, provided an amazing intro:


“Americans have a deep faith in and fascination with technologies that remove us farther and farther away from the natural world…”


“So enamored are we of our machines that the information-processing model of thinking, with the computer as it’s guiding metaphor, has become the backbone of American educational philosophy…”


“Americans give primacy to individual rights and freedoms even when those rights and freedoms undermine humane consideration of our collective responsibilities to children, families and communities…”


Among other things, she attributes these characteristics to “why we confuse the ability to download and process facts with real education.”


“The time has come to acknowledge that ensuring a healthy generation of children is not a private matter but a national priority.”



Children’s Irreducible Needs


Chapter 1:

The Natural History of Children

By Meredith F. Small



Small offers an anthropological view of parenting and attachment.  She says that the “anthropological perspective is both deep in time (evolutional) and broad in scope (cross cultural).  This perspective is particularly relevant at this juncture because western culture seems to have lost its ability to understand children.”


Small goes on to state that the idea of “attachment” has controversial history in American culture, yet:


“…these days those who adhere to a closer physical and emotional style of parenting are said to be practicing “attachment” parenting, which is considered to be new and revolutionary.  Lost in the “new” is the fact that attachment parenting has been molded by evolution and was until very recently the only kind of parenting practiced by humans.”


“The western style of infant care….is in fact an aberration rather than the rule, despite the fact it has become normative in America.”


She offers 3 pages of notes at the conclusion of the chapter.



Chapter 2:

Why Parenting Matters

Laura E. Berk


She lists indicators of eroded parenting quality:


Mediocre Academic Achievement

Overloaded, Overscheduled Children

Entrenched TV Viewers and Video Game Players

Widespread Corporal Punishment of Children

**1/4 of parent surveyed for a study in 1999 said they hit their child with a hard object

High Rates of Peer Violence and Deviant Behavior

Worsening Adjustment of Children of Divorce

Many Chronically Anxious Children

Increasingly Egoistic, Self-Satisfied Children

An Epidemic of Childhood Obesity


She acknowledges that we are a culture that undermines parenting; that American parents are baffled and insecure, and that parents receive child-rearing advice that is one sided and contains conflicting views….


And she provides fuel for the fire AGAINST the “parenting matters little” argument (see: Judith Rich Harris, 1998, author, The Nurture Assumption)


She provides 10 pages of notes!



Part II

How American Culture is Failing Our Kids



Chapter 3

The War Against Parents


By Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West (Who, by the way, I follow on the twitter)


“Other rich democracies seem to understand that parenting cannot be left to the tender mercies of the marketplace.”


**let your brain really wrap itself around that there peeps**


Did you know that much of Jane Addams “political activism was directed toward securing for women the RIGHT to stay at home and care for …. children rather than being forced into the labor market.” ???


Jane Adams saw “the home as the original center of civilization.”


Wait – one more!


“A particularly shameful fact is the United States has the highest percentage of children living in poverty of any rich nation: 20.5%”


Oh fine! One more!  Then we must move on to chapter 4!


“In the wise words of Jerome Kagen, precisely how a parent feeds an infant or disciplines a teenager is less important than the ‘melody’ those actions comprise.”


They also offer 5 pages of notes and a “Parents Bill of Rights.”



Chapter 4

The Impact of Media Violence on Developing Minds and Hearts


By Gloria DeGaetano


“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.  The capacity to create ourselves based on this freedom is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness.” – Rollo May


She makes some very good points and offers some very do-able guidelines and provides 3 pages of notes.


Chapter 5

The Commercialization of Childhood


By Susan Linn


Is much of what you have heard me say!!!!!  Including the “story” behind the deregulation of children’s TV; brand recognition tactics; Channel One (barf);


I think this one sums it up:


“Children are bombarded from morning to night by messages designed not to make their lives better but for the sole purpose of selling them something.”


She has 4 pages of notes.



Chapter 6

Big Food, Big Money, Big Children


By Katherine Battle Horgen



I’m both sad and frustrated to admit that this chapter is rather self-explanatory.




That a student in a school who has sold their “pouring rights” to Coke, wore a “Pepsi” shirt to school and got suspended.  Um, yeah. Really??? Yes.


She concludes with 3 pages of notes.



Chapter 7

So Sexy, So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood


By Diane E. Levin (who I often communicate with because of our shared interest in the final outcome – still not published or released – of the NAEYC technology in ECE position statement)


Levin offers messages about sex and gender in our culture, identifies some of the new sexual issues we have to face in early childhood, and addresses the impact of television deregulation on the sexualization of childhood.


Additionally she offers a list of organizations that are working to stop the commercialization of childhood… and 3 pages of notes.



Chapter 8

Techno-Environmental Assaults on Childhood in America


By Varda Burstyn and Gary Sampson


They address POPs  (persistent organic pollutants), herbicides, pesticides, hormones & antibiotics in the food chain, mercury, lead and other heavy metals, etc.


And have 5 pages of notes.



Chapter 9

“No Child Left”: What Are Schools for in a Democratic Society?


By Peter Sacks


I’d copy all 16 pages of text and 2 pages of notes for everyone I knew if I could.  Here’s the part that got me to whip out a pen AND a highlighter:


“According to the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, just six economic and social variables, including family income, poverty rate, and educational attainment of parents, accounted for fully 85% of the variance in test scores among that state’s school districts.  This means that teachers, administrators, staffing levels, and all other factors that go into the mix of school quality explained no more than 15% of the differences in school test scores at the district level.”


Oh, that, and, because of this chapter, I’m currently attempting to locate a copy of Alfred North Whitehead’s book, “The Aims of Education.” Pub in 1929.


However, here, in my humble opinion, is Saks’ piece de resistance:


“Perhaps Americans have gotten the education system and school reform they deserve.  Perhaps the cult of measurement and the politicization of schools through endless testing and endless bureaucratic meddling is the perfect system for a largely apathetic public that pays a lot of lip service to the value of schools and education but oftentimes seems more engaged in Bachelorettes and Apprentices.”



Chapter 10

Where Do the Children Play?


By Sharna Olfman


Ok, so I pretty much highlighted this entire chapter!  I alternated with pink and yellow so I could break it up a bit, but in essence, this entire chapter needs to be ready by everyone and anyone who has any contact with children in any way manner shape or form!!!  Shoot, anyone who even KNOWS children needs to read this!


My favorite inner-chapter sub-heading:  “Academic success is predicated on play.”


More fuel for your fire:


“Preschool and kindergarten teachers are reporting that for the first time, they are witnessing a generation of children, many of whom literally don’t know how to “make believe”, who have to be taught to play.”




“Increasingly, the “play” that children are bringing to the preschool and kindergarten classroom is a repetitive mimicry of violent sequences that aired on their televisions or video game screens the night before, not tempered by the impulse control and judgment necessary to avoid inflicting injury or pain. If this is what is now construed as “playing” then small wonder that parents and educators sometimes lose site of the value of play.”




This one will keep you up at night! Like all the books I highlight, it is on the list of recommended books on my website.




Respectfully submitted

Lisa Murphy

September 12, 2011







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