Author: Steven Mintz
Title: Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood
Publication Info: Belknap Press (2004)
This book is an interesting history of the United States from the perspective of children that takes on the myth of the idealized childhood – one enjoyed by precious few children, mostly prosperous and fairly recent. The analogy of Huck’s Raft is adept centering on the idyllic childhood adventure yet the raft itself is adrift and unsheltered from the storms raging around it. Mintz’s history goes back to the earliest American children among the Puritan’s of New England and traces childhood life among the enslaved and working class, the inner city immigrants and the privileged elite. It’s amusing to note that commentators over the centuries are always stating that children of the day are more spoiled, more sexually promiscuous, more violent, and less educated (statistically kids these days have actually improved upon their predecessors as far as teen pregnancies, violence, and education despite outcries to the contrary). It’s an interesting take on what is really the creation and evolution of childhood as a concept in America and reassuring that there was never really a golden age. If I have any criticism of this book is that Mintz’s prose is dry & academic and at times repetitive. Still, an interesting book about the history of a large but generally voiceless part of the populace.
“But despite popular stereotypes of ghetto pathology, most inner-city residents resist the temptations of crime, drug abuse, or teenage pregnancy. Indeed, inner-city youth drink less, smoke less, and use drugs less than their suburban middle-class counterparts. One factor that has contributed to this pattern is the strength of black mothers, who serve as models and nurturers of strong and independent behavior. Socialization among African Americans historically has not emphasized sex-role dichotomies in the way found among white families, and as a result many young black women, even in the poorest neighborhoods, have higher aspirations for education and a career than many of their white counterparts.” – p. 353