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Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 05:58 PM   #1
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Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

Stephanie Coontz has actually written two books: "The Way We Never Were" (1992) and "The Way We Really Are" (1997).

The first book relentlessly demolishes alarmist sound bites about the "breakdown of the American family". Most of the problems are very real, but they're usually caused by inflation & employment upheavals that lead to family stresses. There's nothing wrong with building a stronger family, but "today's problems" are not caused by its breakdown. In fact it's more important than ever to maintain community networks (to relieve pressure and to provide mutual assistance) than to try to succeed as an independent (isolated) nuclear family unit. Unsurprisingly Coontz believes that govt programs could do more, especially when that could be funded through taxing America's richest 1% by an additional 1%. (She has a point that it's more cost-effective to prevent the problems than to treat them, but I don't believe that socialized taxes are always the answer.)

The first book is much more rigorous & comprehensive (it tends to beat the concepts to death) and I think it was intended to start a debate among sociologists & historians. Its best theme is the methodology of studies, many of which are incorrectly interpreted or even manipulated. For example, changes in very small rates of occurrence are boring unless you attract attention by reporting them as percentages. Having teen suicides rise from 1 in 125,000 (in 1980) to 1 in 60,000 (1992) isn't very impressive, especially when you learn that the database is actually ages 15-24 (not strictly teenagers). Teenager's accidental deaths have declined while firearms & poisoning have hardly changed since the 1950s, so the percentage of teen deaths from all causes is pretty constant. But it's a great journalistic sound-bite when the CDC reports that "teen" suicides have doubled ("soared") in 12 years. And it just has to be caused by the dissolving family. No one will ever publicize the statistician who points out that the suicide rates for actual 13-19-year-olds are lower than any other group than preteens, or that parents & teachers are twice as likely, counselors & psychologists are four times as likely, and school administrators are six times as likely to commit suicide as are high school students.

The first book also shows that studying a phenomenon or an issue always makes it easier to identify, which makes it seem to be getting worse. (Like detecting prostate or breast cancers.) Families have been under pressure for at least 300 years, and dissolution has always been "imminent". The 1950s were an aberration (based partly on America's avoidance of most of WWII's world-wide destruction) that (hopefully) will never be repeated. This was especially seared into the collective consciousness by the rise of marketers who learned to target kids (families!) and the nationwide access of TV.

Coontz' conclusion is that parents should do what works for your family while making you happy. Ignore studies or sound-bite journalists that make you feel guilty. Especially ignore Dan Quayle & Pat Robertson. (Today she'd probably include both Bush administrations too.)

The second book is aimed at individual situations instead of sociological trends. She wrote it after a five-year firestorm of radio & TV appearances plus thousands of seminars & focus groups. This book is written to the average parent instead of to the research community. She repeats some of the same concepts as the first book but in a much less pedantic presentation. The best part of the book is her theme of how things tend to repeat from one century to the next even as they seem to be dramatically changing over the last 50 years. She also explains why the 1950s resonate so strongly with so many—especially the part where the rise in real personal income in any year of the 1950s exceeded the entire decade of the 1980s. (Much of the 50s lifestyle was fueled by huge govt subsidies as well as the post-WWII reconstruction boom.) She shows how divorce can actually be a good thing (especially where parents stay together "for the kid's sakes") and that the vast majority of divorces don't adversely affect kids in the long term. Above all else, family situations appear to be on the decline today because people are marrying later, having fewer kids, and spending more of their lives as empty nesters.

The last chapter of the second book works through the issues of parenting styles & family types. It doesn't endorse one over another—it just shows the strengths & weaknesses of each. Most of a family's problems come from authoritarian or permissive parenting, and unsurprisingly the middle ground of authoritative parenting tends to produce the independent critical-thinking kids who are most likely to succeed. ("Your mileage may vary.") No objective study has shown that breadwinner-homemaker parents have any clear advantages over two-earner families. Single-parent families have their own strengths & weaknesses but can work better than many two-parent families. Each system has a lot of benefits and there are some clear pitfalls, but each works best when the parents are comfortable with their chosen roles. All work better when they're part of a community of other adults who can exchange services and act as mentors to the kids. IOW and as we already know, it really does take the entire freakin' village to raise a kid.
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 06:28 PM   #2
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by Nords
* * *
* * *
* * *The last chapter of the second book works through the issues of parenting styles & family types.* It doesn't endorse one over another—it just shows the strengths & weaknesses of each.* Most of a family's problems come from authoritarian or permissive parenting, and unsurprisingly the middle ground of authoritative parenting tends to produce the independent critical-thinking kids who are most likely to succeed.* ("Your mileage may vary.")* No objective study has shown that breadwinner-homemaker parents have any clear advantages over two-earner families.* Single-parent families have their own strengths & weaknesses but can work better than many two-parent families.* Each system has a lot of benefits and there are some clear pitfalls, but each works best when the parents are comfortable with their chosen roles.* All work better when they're part of a community of other adults who can exchange services and act as mentors to the kids.* IOW and as we already know, it really does take the entire freakin' village to raise a kid.
"It takes a village" is a classic "Hillaryism". Stalin in a skirt. This post is
BS.

JG
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 06:54 PM   #3
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by MRGALT2U
"It takes a village" is a classic "Hillaryism".* Stalin in a skirt.
Although that's an interesting mental image, I used the quote for itself and not for its quoter. I'm not posting about Hilary or politics-- just about families & studies.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MRGALT2U
This post is BS. JG
And I wonder if your opinion is shared by the mother of your children...
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 07:12 PM   #4
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by Nords
Although that's an interesting mental image, I used the quote for itself and not for its quoter.* I'm not posting about Hilary or politics-- just about families & studies.
And I wonder if your opinion is shared by the mother of your children...
The mother of my children is a fine woman, with many admirable
qualities. However, she is not a deep thinker.

JG
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 07:28 PM   #5
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Most of the problems are very real, but they're usually caused by inflation & employment upheavals that lead to family stresses.
Interesting. We had no prolonged inflation in the United States for the first 100 years. The fed was instituted in 1913, with a mandate to debase the currency. They kicked it into overdrive after the Great Depression, and we have had constant inflation ever since. If inflation is one of the primary causes of family stress that leads to breakdown, perhaps we should get rid of the fed?
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 07:56 PM   #6
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

I could give you an argument for the evils of the fed, the world bank, and the IMF, but I'll save it for another thread.

While I think there is something to what Coontz is saying, I've played single parent for a week, and I've seen kids before and after their kids are divorced. In most cases, it ain't equal, much less better. I haven't read the book but both the left and right can be guilty of having a desired conclusion (intelligent design over evolution!, or single parents are just as good as a two parent household!) and then sifting for data that supports said desired solution and tossing/ignoring data that does not. But I'll look into it more before I make any judgements (yeah right, like I'm somebody to be judging! )
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 09:27 PM   #7
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by Nords
Its best theme is the methodology of studies, many of which are incorrectly interpreted or even manipulated. For example, changes in very small rates of occurrence are boring unless you attract attention by reporting them as percentages. Having teen suicides rise from 1 in 125,000 (in 1980) to 1 in 60,000 (1992) isn't very impressive, especially when you learn that the database is actually ages 15-24 (not strictly teenagers). Teenager's accidental deaths have declined while firearms & poisoning have hardly changed since the 1950s, so the percentage of teen deaths from all causes is pretty constant. But it's a great journalistic sound-bite when the CDC reports that "teen" suicides have doubled ("soared") in 12 years. And it just has to be caused by the dissolving family. No one will ever publicize the statistician who points out that the suicide rates for actual 13-19-year-olds are lower than any other group than preteens, or that parents & teachers are twice as likely, counselors & psychologists are four times as likely, and school administrators are six times as likely to commit suicide as are high school students.
One of my favorite subjects...a well crafted bar chart that snips off 95% of the numbers to show huge differences where there are none; a well crafted and dramatic title or catchy tag line.

The thing is, with most stuff like this its like physics...you screw up the observation simply by observing, or start off with information gleaned from what people want you to think or what they think is the truth...which rarely is.

This is one for the 'prarie dog' approach. I think most sound-minded people know what the right and wrong things are to do, which wont stop them for a minute in doing what they'd rather do instead.
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-09-2005, 10:42 PM   #8
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by th
This is one for the 'prarie dog' approach.* I think most sound-minded people know what the right and wrong things are to do, which wont stop them for a minute in doing what they'd rather do instead.
Excellent point!

No matter the circumstances, if you keep the best interests of the family and the kid(s) in the forefront, things will probably turn out OK.

Judy

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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-14-2005, 09:23 AM   #9
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by th
One of my favorite subjects...a well crafted bar chart that snips off 95% of the numbers to show huge differences where there are none; a well crafted and dramatic title or catchy tag line.

The thing is, with most stuff like this its like physics...you screw up the observation simply by observing, or start off with information gleaned from what people want you to think or what they think is the truth...which rarely is.

I never thought I'd read about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle here! We are truly a Renaissance board
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"
Old 05-17-2005, 10:57 AM   #10
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Re: Book report: "The Way We Never Were"

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Originally Posted by MRGALT2U
"It takes a village" is a classic "Hillaryism".* Stalin in a skirt.* This post is
BS.

JG
I grew up in a small midwestern town, where everyone knew me, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents. If I got out of line, or was in trouble, or needed help, there were plenty of people who could help, or who WOULD call my parents to inform them of my activities. In that sense, the "village" was looking out for its own. Had/has nothing to do with Billary.
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