Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


HIST 365, Winter 2004, Week 1
Reading and Discussion Questions

Lisa Belkin, “Your Kids Are Their Problem”

1. What is the point Belkin makes about the difference between the terms childless and child-free? Why does this difference matter? Describe and discuss Jason Gill, the 30-something from San Diego who is trying to find a place to live where he won’t be bothered by children and families.

2. What reasons does she give to explain the appearance of a “child-free” movement now?

3. Do you think this is more of a backlash against children and families, or a new social movement that has identified a previously invisible form of social inequality and injustice (i.e. differential treatment of parents and non-parents)?

4. Are parents “privileged” by workplace and tax policies like maternity leave, health insurance for dependents, and tax deductions for children?

5. One of the fundamental points of the child-free movement is that parenthood is an individual (and sometimes selfish) choice, but one that is also seen as culturally mandatory for a full adult life. Do you agree? Is a life without children seen as inferior to a life with them? Can a family be a family without a child or children? Do people “choose” parenthood because it expresses individual desire or because they are conforming to their culture’s conception of mature adulthood?

6. Can the choice to have and/or raise children ever be truly “personal” and “individual”?

7. In terms of our society’s collective decision-making, how should the costs of children be distributed? Are they social responsibilities that everyone (including the child-free) should pay for? Are they purely the responsibility of their parents?

8. Compare Elinor Burkett’s ideas (The Baby Boon) to those of Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornell West (The War Against Parents).

Erica Goode, “Young Killer: Bad Seed or Work in Progress?”

1. Do you think that legal standards of guilt and innocence should be different for people based on age? If so, what age and why? What about the imposition of the death penalty? How do U.S. states handle the question of executing young offenders?

2. What differentiates the argument that young offenders are especially worthy of rehabilitation because of their youth and the argument that their brains have not yet matured based on scientific evidence?

3. If the criminal justice system utilizes a standard like “reasonable person” to gauge whether offenders foresee the consequences of their actions or control their impulses, does it make sense to use age as a dividing line separating reasonable adults from reasonable adolescents? Do all children and all adults possess “reason” in equal amounts at the same point in their development?

4. Do you think there are children whose criminal acts are so reprehensible that they should be treated as adults by the legal system? Why or why not?

5. What other implications can you imagine for new brain scanning technologies in juvenile justice? What role do you think science should (or should not) play in this arena?

Christina Hoff Sommers, “The War Against Boys”

1. What evidence does Sommers offer for her claim that American education now offers girls special and superior treatment? What evidence does she offer for her claim that boys are disadvantaged? How would you assess this evidence?

2. Who does Sommers hold responsible for creating and maintaining the “myth” that girls are in an educational crisis? Why does she think that policymakers and the public resist the notion that boys are failing in school?

3. Do you agree that girls are flourishing while boys are failing educationally? Do teachers pay more attention to girls and prefer them as students? Do you think that there might be important differences in elementary, secondary, and higher education? Explain.

4. Sommers criticizes Carol Gilligan for emphasizing gender difference in moral reasoning. Doesn’t Sommers herself stress fundamental differences between boys and girls? What are these differences?

5. Feminist scholars and policymakers in education have recently turned their attention to boys and masculinity, Sommers admits. Why doesn’t she welcome this trend?

6. What do you think of her concluding point that “civilizing its young males” is a “problem” for every society? What is Sommers’ solution to this problem? If you agree that it is a problem, what is your solution?

Matthew Speier, “The Adult Ideological Viewpoint in Studies of Childhood”

1. What does he mean by the “adult ideological viewpoint” in studies of children? Give examples.

2. What is wrong with this viewpoint?

3. What does he think is the alternative to this?

4. What“course correction” in scholarship does the author call for?

5. Speier suggests that our conception of children as “dependent” and “helpless” reflects the adult ideological viewpoint and grownups’ need to feel controlling and powerful. Discuss this.

6. What points does he make in his discussion of how children and adults enter into conversations with one another?

7. What points does he make in his discussion of the children playing house?

8. Do you think that children are actually members of a separate culture? Why or why not?

9. Can we and should we aim to distinguish adult notions of childhood from children’s notions of childhood?

Melissa Fay Greene, “What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans?”

1. Do you agree that being orphaned is a different experience for children when it is part of a mass disaster, like the AIDS epidemic in Africa, than when it results from a tragic accident? Why or why not?

2. What obligation do U.S. citizens have to intervene in the African AIDS crisis? Is that obligation different for children than for adults? Does the comparison to the Holocaust make sense to you?

3. Adoption policies in Ethiopia distinguish between children who are and are not HIV-positive. What do you think about this? How feasible is international adoption (to the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia) as a way of addressing this problem? How many U.S. citizens adopted children from Ethiopia in 2001?

4. What other “solutions” can you imagine? What are their advantages and disadvantages?

5. Does it matter that Melissa Fay Greene adopted Helen, an Ethiopian girl, herself? If so, why?