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In A Call to Character: A Family Treasury, two award-winning writers also known for their work as teacher-educators, Colin Greer and Herbert Kohl, have collected almost 200 pieces of writing that they believe celebrate the values that go into building character. Through the poems, folk tales, prayers, and essays of writers from the past and present, they illuminate traits that embody such values as courage, loyalty, empathy, and generosity. Some of the selected writers include E.B. White, Mary Shelley, Nelson Mandela, and Jane Austen. Seen by some in the publishing world as an alternative to former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's Book of Virtues, this literary sampler is intended by its authors to be a catalyst for families to reconnect and to discuss serious moral issues. Professors Greer and Kohl champion the fading family tradition of reading together as a way of re-opening lines of communication between parents and children in a media-dominated culture and of sparking in children moral imagination, self-esteem, and compassion for others. (HarperCollins)

The structures that support many American families are as precariously perched as a house of cards and are increasingly dependent on a single factor for their stability: child care. The search for adequate child care is a balancing ACT usually undertaken in private, which, if it collapses, threatens to wreak havoc not only on individuals, but also on schools and businesses, according to a new book. In Everybody's Children: Child Care as a Public Problem, William T. Gormley Jr., a professor of government and public policy at Georgetown University, contends that child care is a social problem critical enough to deserve government intervention. He observes that changes in the family structure and the economy have meant that traditional sources of child care have largely disappeared, throwing parents into a panic over how to find safe, affordable, and reliable care for their children. As a solution, he proposes a new level of collaboration between federal, state, and local governments as well as schools, family-support agencies, and religious institutions. He offers four distinct child-care models as an initial blueprint for inventing the best possible care system for children. (The Brookings Institution)

"I worry in every fiber of my being about our many children who, lacking a sense of sacred or internal moral moorings, are trying to grow up in a society without boundaries, without respect, without enough positive role models in home, in school ...." The lament is from Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children's Defense Fund, who explains that when she started to write another policy book about the fate of the nation's children, "out tumbled prayers instead." The prayers, more than 150 of them, are carefully gathered in Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working with Children. They speak about the rituals of parenting and love, the struggles of personal faith, and justice for children. She also includes special prayers for children as well as for community leaders. (Beacon Press)

The writer John K. Wilson begins his analysis of the current politicized climate of academe this way: "Unlike most of the people attacking political correctness and higher education, I am a firsthand witness to what has been happening on college campuses for the past eight years." As a graduate student on the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago in the 1980s, Mr. Wilson witnessed the birth of a movement questioning higher education's assumed capitulation to certain liberal modes of thought known loosely as "political correctness." Since that time, he has taken more than 150 college courses on topics ranging from economics to feminism taught by both left-leaning and conservative professors. His experience led him to conclude that anecdotes and exaggeration, not reality, make up most of the "conservative correctness" backlash against such social movements as multiculturalism, feminism, and affirmative action. In The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on Higher Education, Mr. Wilson uses examples from many college and university campuses to refute the widespread contention that, as he puts it, some politically correct "monster" is rampaging higher education. Like Nessie of Loch Ness, Mr. Wilson suggests, PC is a beguiling specter, but nonexistent. (Duke University Press)

Neglecting the nation's youngest citizens will have profound consequences for society, two professors from Columbia University's school of social work warn in a new book. Sheila B. Kamerman and Alfred J. Kahn outline the discouraging findings from a three-year study in Starting Right: How America Neglects Its Youngest Children and What We Can Do About It, reporting that the U.S financial commitment to the under-3-year-old population is less, proportionately, than any other industrialized nation's. The current social-policy counter-revolution, they say, will only exacerbate the situation. The professors argue that rather than retreating from a national commitment to young children, federal lawmakers should re-examine the country's fiscal priorities--if not for moral reasons, they say, then for economic ones. Although implementing the policies to help disadvantaged youngsters would be expensive, the writers argue that such an investment would not threaten the U.S. standard of living, but would provide a route to preserving it. To that end, they offer a detailed "action agenda" based on what they consider best practices in the United States and Europe. But the question remains, they note, of whether the public will support a policy reversal and how the government will respond to such public backing. (Oxford University Press)

--Megan Drennan

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