In Defense of Childhood

In Defense of Childhood

Beacon Press | August 1, 2007 | 224 pages

As codirector of the Albany Free School, Chris Mercogliano has had remarkable success in helping a diverse population of youngsters find their way in the world. He regrets, however, that most kids’ lives are subject to some form of control from dawn until dusk. Lamenting risk-averse parents, overstructured school days, and a lack of playtime and solitude, Mercogliano argues that we are robbing our young people of “that precious, irreplaceable period in their lives that nature has set aside for exploration and innocent discovery,” leaving them ill-equipped to face adulthood. The “domestication of childhood” squeezes the adventure out of kids’ lives and threatens to smother the spark that animates each child with talents, dreams, and inclinations. There is plenty that those involved with children can do to protect their spontaneity and exuberance. We can address their desperate thirst for knowledge, give them space to learn from their mistakes, and let them explore what their place in the adult world might be. “Mercogliano is, in effect, a cultural therapist who accurately diagnoses and attentively ponders America's loss of childhood, offering fresh new ideas and creative solutions. Ultimately, he is what all good therapists are: a purveyor of hope. His message resonates with no one more than I, who grew up in the 1950s in rural Nebraska. He will help us care for our most valuable resource: children.” —Mary Pipher, author of Writing to Change the World “Chris Mercogliano’s provocative meditation on childhood sets up a dialectic among maple-sugaring, swan-diving in forest pools, slingshots, and adventuring on the one hand, and the adult-supervised ‘play’ of the Little League, Boy Scouts, YMCA, and Playground Movement on the other. Along the way are insights about the functions of solitude and self-organization that lead the reader to conclude: no self-organization means that no self worthy of the name will emerge. A very strong and attractive book.” —John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling “With deep insight, Mercogliano shows how our society is suppressing children’s creative energies. But he also brings a positive message, showing how we can help young people break through conventional restraints and pursue their passions. This is a beautiful, searching, and inspiring book.” —William Crain, Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York, and author of Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society Chris Mercogliano has been a teacher at the Albany Free School, a unique, freedom-based, inner-city alternative school, since 1973. He became codirector in 1985. He is the author of Teaching the Restless: One School’s Remarkable No-Ritalin Approach to Helping Children Learn and Succeed (Beacon / 3257–3 / $16.00 pb.). Mercogliano lives with his family in Albany, New York.

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ISBN: 9780807032862

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