Books: Readings

January 17, 1990 4 min read

In the following excerpts from Spock on Spock: A Memoir of Growing Up With the Century, by Benjamin Spock and his wife Mary Morgan, the author of Baby and Child Care recalls his aims in writing the influential guide:

After I had been in practice for only five years, an editor fromDoubleday came to ask me to write a book for parents. I was completely unknown, but a publisher in New York inquiring around among professors of pediatrics might have stumbled on me as a doctor who had psychological as well as pediatric training. Immediately, I told Doubleday that I didn’t know enough. ...

Doubleday went away, and another five years went by before an editor from Pocket Books came, who told me, “The book we want doesn’t really have to be very good, because we are only going to charge a quarter and can sell 10,000 copies a year easily!”

Putting it that way, though he was really only joking, made it easier for me to accept. First of all, 10,000 copies a year meant reaching a lot of people. That appealed to the do-gooder in me. And his saying that it didn’t have to be very good--this relieved me of the need to be perfect in my advice. ...

Interviewers often ask me to state my “theories” of child raising. I never set out to impose any such grand design on the parents of the world. In fact, it grew increasingly clear to me as I continued to practice that there were so many experts--with the best of intentions--telling parents what to do that parents’ most widespread problem was their own uncertainty, a guilty feeling of “Maybe I don’t know enough ... maybe I need to read another book!”

Less secure parents begin to think that only professionals know the answers. They don’t dare trust their own judgment or stand firm. ...

This reliance on distant experts was fostered by the increasing mobility of young families and the fragmentation of the extended family. The awe-inspiring expert took the place of the reassuring grandmother.

Yet another factor that seriously shook sensitive parents was the new, oversimplified notion that when there were behavior disturbances in children, it was always the result of parents’ mistakes in handling them. This idea didn’t exist in earlier centuries but was propagated in the first three decades of this one by those who were mobilizing up support for the mental-hygiene and child-guidance-clinic movements. ...

My purpose was not to advocate a theory, but primarily to tell parents what children are like, including descriptions of their unconscious drives. This was a big change from earlier manuals, with their stern dictums. I was just trying to show confidence in parents and reassure them whenever possible.

I certainly never advocated a permissive philosophy. I have always believed that parents should respect their children but also ask for respect from them, too. It was certainly not my principal aim to give them a whole bookful of “do’s” and “don’t’s.”

Pantheon Books, 201 East 50th St., New York, N.Y. 10022; 282 pp., $19.95 cloth.

Bob Keeshan, creator of the popular television character Captain Kangaroo, describes the importance of his audience’s point of view in the following excerpts from Growing Up Happy: Captain Kangaroo Tells Yesterday’s Children How To Nurture Their Own:

I had an instinct about undistracted, focused attention and its connection to a child’s development. On “Captain Kangaroo,” I wanted to try to use the camera in such a way that the child would get the message, “I think you are important. You are my sole concern right now.”

I remembered my “Howdy Doody” days, chasing Bob Smith across the set with a seltzer bottle while the Peanut Gallery of children screamed in delight. Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of the television monitor to see a shot of those laughing children.

“What about the real audience,” I thought, “the children at home? What must they be thinking, watching all those laughing children? ‘What are they laughing at? What am I missing?”’ I did not want a Peanut Gallery or anyone else to interrupt the relationship between the show’s characters and the child at home.

“I want to be talking to one child at home,” I told our director, Peter Birch, as we were preparing the pilot. “I want the relationship to be uninterrupted, and I want things to be visually presented from the child’s point of view. The children should never be excluded from what I am doing and should never have the feeling of being4part of an ‘audience.”’ ...

That first morning, on Oct. 3, 1955, the camera showed some doors, made to look like a jigsaw puzzle, with “Captain Kangaroo” written across the front. ... The now-familiar theme played as the doors parted to reveal the Captain, in baggy blue jacket with huge pockets, dancing to his desk to hang up the keys to the Treasure House. ...

(The name for the show had come serendipitously, as an afterthought. After I saw the marvelous jacket that had been designed for me, the enormous pockets called out “kangaroo.” We were looking for a name that alliterated, and so Captain Kangaroo was born.) ...

I made a rabbit out of napkins and showed the child at home how to play boat by using two chairs (“Ask your mother or father first”) and three pieces of cloth, two for sails and one for our flag. We ran a safety film on traffic lights, and a lemur and a kinkajou ran about the set. ...

I also did something I still do on almost every program today: I read a book, The Happy Lion. All of these activities were familiar to me as a parent of young children, and many of them brought me back to the sort of imaginative activities I had enjoyed as a child in my Forest Hills [N.Y.] backyard.

Doubleday, 666 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10103; 230 pp., $17.95 cloth.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 1990 edition of Education Week as Books: Readings


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