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