Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner discusses his book "Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R."
BROADCAST: Jul. 22, 1970 | DURATION: 00:48:28
Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner discusses the differences between how children and childhood are treated in the United States and the Soviet Union. Topics of discussion include the age segregation of American society, the value of intergenerational ties, peer group influences on children, and the influence of societal expectations on parenting and child raising.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Urie Bronfenbrenner How can we judge the worth of a society? On what basis can we predict how well a nation will survive and prosper? Many indices could be used for this purpose, among them the gross national product, the birth rate, crime statistics, mental health data and so on. In this book we propose yet another criterion: the concern of one generation for the next. If the children and youth of a nation are afforded opportunity to develop their capacities to the fullest, if they are given the knowledge to understand the world and the wisdom to change it, then the prospects for the future are brighter. In contrast, a society which neglects its children, however well it may function in other respects, risks eventual disorganization and demise.
Studs Terkel This is the introduction to, I think, a quite important book and a very perceptive one, indeed, read by its author, Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University. He's in many of the departments there, Department of Human Development, Sociology, psychologist. He's here in Chicago for a--there's a convention, conference held at Loyola University. By the time this broadcast will be heard, the convention would have been held, involving changing environment and its effect on children. And Dr. Bronfenbrenner's book is education in the Soviet Union and the United States: "Two Worlds of Childhood", published by the Russell Sage Foundation, and in the very opening paragraph he tells us what it's all about: society's attitude toward children will pretty well determine the nature of that society, won't it?
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, I think so. This is one way of really judging whether a society is falling apart or whether a society is flourishing, because this is the long-term investment: what happens not today but what will happen with our children as they emerge into human adults.
Studs Terkel This is the question, of course, people ask continuously, and of course, you are a student of two societies: the socialist society, call it what you will, the Soviet society, you visited the schools there and preschools, and a student of the American educational system. And the book is a very revealing one and you chose the contrasting approach to children as well as some remarkable similarities, too. Where do we begin? We begin with, there's a phrase you use called "shefstvo." "Shefstvo."
Studs Terkel "Shefstvo." "Shefstvo." We think of our young as alienated. Now the Soviets don't think of their young as alienated, do they?
Urie Bronfenbrenner They certainly don't. I would say it's not the young who are alienated, it's we grownups who are alienated in the United States, in the sense that we don't make the effort, the investment that's necessary, and this has shown up in this institution that Studs just mentioned, called "shefstvo" in Russian, which we don't have a word for it, just as we don't have a word for what's a national pastime and a hobby in the Soviet Union, what they call "vospitanie," and "vospitanie" means the process of making human beings human. We don't even have a word for it, and I suggest it's not only the word that's missing, coming back to shefstvo, what is done in Soviet society is that, for example, in a school where you have a first grade and a second grade, the fourth or fifth grade will be given responsibility. They'll sort of adopt one of the first grade classes. This means they get to know the children there, they walk them to and from school, they play games with them, they read to them, they help them with their problems, and in fact their progress in school, that is, the academic status, if you will, of the older class is judged by how well the younger class is doing, not just in academics, but as little people growing up. Now, the same pattern applies not only within the school system, but between the school system and the adult society, so that a shop or a factory or an institute or an office will adopt a nursery group or a classroom and visit them, bring them over to their place of work, to go on outings with them, talk to them, get to know them, and they talk about our class, our children. And the purpose of this is not to get them particularly knowledgeable about this particular industry or operation, but rather to build a bond between the generations so that the youngsters will feel that the society cares. And the other thing, of course, is it's just fun. You get a lot of pleasure out of showing kids things and seeing how they appreciate the attention.
Studs Terkel Several things come to mind, Dr. Bronfenbrenner, Urie, as you're talking here, oh, about four or five questions just jump at once, the fact that all generations seem to be inter-related here, that the young see some of the men at work. You point this out in your book. Rarely does a child see what his father does for a living and whenever he does see him. But also we hear of the generation gap today. You know, the gap now is no longer 25 years, it's five years, it's eight years, you know. You're saying that some of the older kids teach the younger kids and, so, it seems to be a connecting, as though it were a chain connecting.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Exactly, Studs. Exactly. See, I view what's called the generation gap, I say this generation gap is really adult made, and it's an attention gap. We don't pay attention, and the gap is not just between the adults and the children. It's we live in an age-segregated society, so that you have contact, really, only with people your own age, and this is true for children, too. How many 12-year-olds have any contact with two or three-year-olds outside their own families? It's really a rare experience for an American child, whereas for a Russian child it's part of everyday experience from hour to hour, almost minute to minute. As a result, the Russian youngsters when they grow up are very much at home with young children. And it's quite a surprise for an American to watch a male Russian teenager with a little baby.
Studs Terkel Suppose you recount that incident, it's a very endearing and moving one, you and your family were visiting there during--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, I recall.
Studs Terkel And your little boy who was 4 years old was running ahead of you.
Urie Bronfenbrenner That's right.
Studs Terkel And a bunch of Russian teenagers come along.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes. We were walking along the street with our two children. This is when I was working in the academy there, and I looked down the block and we saw this group of five or six strapping teenage boys coming in our direction. All of a sudden I noticed that they were running toward us. In fact, they seemed to be running towards Steve, who was sort of jogging along in front of us as he usually did.
Urie Bronfenbrenner He was 4 years old at the time. And sure enough, they ran up. We were sort of, didn't know quite what to do, because they ran right up towards Steve, and the biggest one in front, a great big chap, swept Stevie up in his arm and he said, "Hi, malysh!" which means, "Hey, little one!" And he grabs him and hugs him and kisses him and then sort of throws him gently to the next one who does the same thing, and all five boys sort of throw this little fella from one to the other, and then they get him down on the ground and they make a "ring around the rosy" and they all dance and sing, and after about three or four minutes of this, one of the boys comes up to us and with a sort of a slight bow hands us our little boy, says, "Thank you very much for the company of your son" and gives him back to us.
Studs Terkel Yeah. And I suppose your little son got a kick out it.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Oh, sure. You know, because these kids knew how to do it.
Studs Terkel Well, now we have to imagine for a moment a similar scene here. Let's say four or five teenagers are going along, four or five teenagers are going along, and a little kid's going, "Would they?" We know that many teenagers--I know some--who do, who have been in trouble with authorities, do like little children. But I guess the showing of this kind of affection outwardly might be considered--
Urie Bronfenbrenner You see, it's not that American kids can't do this. It's just that it isn't done. You know, if you saw a bunch of American teenagers behaving this way, you'd think there was something, you know, better go see a psychiatrist. But once kids are given this opportunity, they're great. This is no, it doesn't take any, you know, special training. It just--because a little child himself invites attention, and invites what to do, and the kinds of things that people do naturally with little kids are precisely the kinds of things that little kids need to have done.
Studs Terkel Now, the phrase for this, there is one phrase here you call shefstvo, and shefstvo involves older children carrying, even teaching for young--I think some of the students--by the way, during the misconception of student unrest by the press so often, I think one of the--I forget on what campus it was, some of the students were suggesting this very point somewhere on colleges, that seniors be able to somehow teach the freshmen.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Oh, sure. One of the things that I urge in this book as you know is that Head Start centers and preschool centers should be placed in or next to schools. It's a tragic thing that here in our country, throughout the entire educational system, we do virtually nothing to prepare children and young people for the one thing that it's almost certain they'll be involved in, namely the raising of the next generation. And this is a challenging, fascinating, rewarding kind of thing. What we do do in our schools, of course, is courses in sex education, which essentially is how to have fun without having children. What we need is how to have fun in having children and being with children, so it becomes a constructive kind of adventure. And this works. You'll recall my describing this incident that happened and I think, actually, it was here in Chicago during the early days of the Head Start program when this--in the Head Start center where the little kids were having difficulty because there was through a heavy traffic area and there's some incidents of molesting by children. So the Head Start directors there asked the local gang, the local teenage gang if they'd be willing to help get these children to and from the center. And we had this fascinating operation in which they did it as they call it in snap formation. And finally got involved in working at the center. And as you know, the experiences with the sort of thing is that the reading scores of these teenagers go up because they start telling stories and reading to the children. And it turns out that this is beneficial for them.
Studs Terkel Aren't you hitting at something right now, using the American version of shefstvo with those groups called gangs, those groups editorials condemn so often? Were they given the chance, were they given the chance, the responsibility, the feeling of self-worth, of telling someone else what to do, of course they came through beautifully, I'm sure.
Urie Bronfenbrenner As you see, there's another side to this. So often we try to teach responsibility by saying, "Now you have to do this. You know, you have to set the table or do the dishes or carry out the garbage," and you get this answer back, "Well, why don't you do it?" Well, part of that "Why don't you do it?" is a function of the fact that this, you know, this really isn't anything that really needs to be done, you're just doing this to me to quote train me or something. Now, there are two kinds of situations in which young people clearly recognize that something needs to be done. One is in relation to little children, because little children obviously need help, they obviously need taking care of, it's not an unrealistic thing to say, you know, here's this little kid, help him. And the other group, and this is another strange thing about our society, we ship off all our old people down to Florida. How do we expect young people to learn compassion if there's never anyone around in relation to whom one learns compassion? And little children and old people are the visible sort of evidences of "Here is someone who needs my help. I'm young, I'm strong, I can do it." And the young people miss out on the appreciation, and the old people, of course, miss out on one of the delights of life in having young around you, and we deprive ourselves on the grounds that somehow it's not right for young people to see suffering or to see sickness. It's a lot of nonsense.
Studs Terkel Of course the phrase you use there is segregation by age.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes.
Studs Terkel We have this segregation by age. The word you use, though, "needed." To feel needed. This is the important thing.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes.
Studs Terkel If the teeniest guy in the middle, this very vital, full of life, full of juice of life that can go either way, you know, feels
Urie Bronfenbrenner needed-- Why, then, he'll deliver.
Studs Terkel And of course, the old person himself, through his life experience he had this exchange, don't you?
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes.
Studs Terkel He has something to offer.
Urie Bronfenbrenner He has something to offer, yes. One of the delightful things is to see what can happen when you get the very young and the very old, because it is a match. That is, each has something to offer the other. For the younger person it's the unqualified affection and acceptance which he quite validly doesn't get from his own parents who are also challenging and objecting and setting limits, whereas from a grandparent, you know, the grandparent can love the child without any strings, and the child feels this, and in turn the child feels needed, as you point out.
Studs Terkel So, therefore, the link is there continuously between all the generations--
Studs Terkel Rather than the split and the break and segregation by age, you're talking now about a oneness of age.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, yes, I'm talking about a process that is not only rewarding at the time, but I regard this as a fundamental key to the problems of American society contemporaneously in terms of delinquency, in terms of alienation, in terms of job turnover, in terms of difficulty, new difficulties we're beginning to observe in the quality of the work that's done. These are the product of the failure in this chain of humanizing human beings.
Studs Terkel I know you realize that many of the new suburbs that have been set up in our country. There is this, a certain group of a certain age of a certain--
Urie Bronfenbrenner All living together, yeah.
Studs Terkel You see the fear of not facing death. No, no cemetery there. No kin--That is all--but a monolithic society.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Let's have all everything clean and nice and tidy and show no pain or suffering or you know, that death is ahead just as birth is--
Studs Terkel In short, show no life.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Show no life, exactly.
Studs Terkel This phrase, "vospitanie," "vospitanie," this Russian phrase, now, you said somehow a synonym might be upbringing.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yeah, but upbringing, you see, the very word "upbringing" sounds artificial. Very hard to find--we don't have that word because we don't have that concern. You know, we used to call it character education, but that sure sounds like something you only do on Sunday morning. And it's missing almost uniquely for American society because, for example, in German there's a word "[German]" which, and they have [German], who are people who are trained in this, which is another interesting reflection on the American scene. In almost every European society there are these occupations and professions, especially for young people, training them to work with children. These are--This training is sort of at the high school level, and this will be a person you'll find them in hospitals, in camps, in nursery schools, in recreation centers, anywhere where children are you'll find these folks, and in homes, and they carry a little bag. They're both, incidentally, both male and female, which is very interesting. And in that bag are all kinds of games and supplies and books and first aid and this, that and the other. And they are prepared to deal with kids, and the kids when they see them coming, say, you know, "Hi, welcome," we know because now this would be a marvelous set of occupations to make available to young people when they graduate from high school. For some temporary, for others long term. It would be especially useful in all of these programs in which we're trying to find new jobs for the disadvantaged, because this is an area where American society needs competence, and what it requires is being human and then learning a few things about what are the particular things you can do with kids.
Studs Terkel Talking to Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner on his book, we're reflecting on his recently published book, "Two worlds of childhood: USA and USSR," the Russell Sage Foundation has brought forth, and also there are several aspects--ironic touches here, too, we'll come back to the question of what you call diffusion of parental responsibility. Before that, you mentioned behavior codes. There is a code of behavior there that sounds very much early American Boy Scout, almost McGuffey First Reader, a little--perhaps a little too much obedience there in the Soviet Union.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes. In a sense the Russian scene and the American scene present us with two extremes, both of which are carried too far. The Russians put so much emphasis on responsibility and loyalty and patriotism and obedience that deviance, any kind of difference is viewed as immoral. We, on the other hand, go to the opposite extreme in our emphasis on the individual. We lose sight of the fact that there are other people, too, and one has--and we lose sight of the fact that one becomes a person through relating to and working with and cooperating with others. I think a mix from both of these two societies would be better than either one.
Studs Terkel Something you used the phrase "communal morality," a communal morality as well as an individual one.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, essentially this is altruism. And, again, we have difficulty in words for this in English, because the Anglo-Saxon tradition hasn't emphasized this notion of responsibility in one's neighborhood, in one's family, in one's immediate surround, but in a way, our younger generation now is calling for it, and demanding it and trying to build it itself in the communes that the young people are creating. But in a sense that's almost fated to failure for the same reason that our present system is fated to failure, because you cannot build a society which makes human beings human unless you have different age groups working together in it. And these communes also are segregated by age.
Studs Terkel Back to that again, it's also the commune is something outside the mainstream of society.
Urie Bronfenbrenner They're outside the rest of society and hence they can't contribute and their members cannot receive the benefits that the larger society has to bring.
Studs Terkel Now coming back to your book I was impressed by one aspect that's remarkably similar to an experience Dr. Bettelheim experienced in "Children of the Dream" in certain kibbutz in Israel, the schools there, that there was a diffusion, there too, the parent, the child has his mother and father of course, but the others also become sort of parents, in a sense, too.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, I think I differ with Dr. Bettelheim who's a respected colleague in this field, in that he describes the kibbutz you'll recall as upbringing without a mother. Actually, we're carrying on research in Israel now and I would say quite the contrary. This is a situation in which--well, think of this: Where in the United States would you find a situation in which every day, for at least two and usually three hours a day, there is a period set aside in which both parents plan to be with their children and prepare for it and engage during that time in activities which are especially intended to be pleasurable for the kids? Every day, two to three hours. Now, that's what happens in the kibbutz. My colleague, Jack Goertz, at the National Institutes of Health recently completed a study in which he observed on a very detailed basis infants in the first year of life in the kibbutzim, and he found that mothers interacted with their children there three or four times more frequently than these upbringers. The thing about the kibbutz, Studs, is that it's a place where not only parents, but the entire community, is involved with children.
Studs Terkel Well, that's what I meant. I mean that part there, I refer to Dr. Bettelheim's "Children of the Dream" in that respect. They all become sort of parents in a sense--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Everybody is involved.
Studs Terkel And this is similar, I take it, to the Soviet Union, too.
Urie Bronfenbrenner This is, not altogether in this sense, that in the Soviet Union, and this is where I would differ with the pattern that they have. They have very high involvement with young children but when they move to their nurseries and daycare centers and so on, the parent is ruled out. There, the professional runs the show. Now, they can afford to do it because parents are so involved with their kids that, in effect, the child needs a little rest from that overprotective mama. Now, in our situation, we don't have enough and what we need is to break down professionalization in American society. As I say in the book, we are up--we've come to the strange notion that the only person who's qualified to having to do with a child has to have a master's degree. Well, that's ridiculous. What a child needs is not professionals, he needs people.
Studs Terkel So we come back to the question, don't we, expertise, the horrendous aspect of expertise in all aspects of our society. And you are saying one need not be an expert. It's the human touch you're talking about here.
Urie Bronfenbrenner That's right. Well, just look at history. You know, for--There were many, many thousands of years that people were bringing up children, and there were no professionals around. Now I can't detect any measurable improvement since the professionals got on the scene in the quality of children. Now mind you, I don't minimize the importance of the professional. But as I see it, the task of the professional is not to bring up kids. The task of the professional is to facilitate, to make it possible for the people, to help the people who are doing the job, and should be doing the job, and those people are parents, older brothers and sisters, neighbors, friends, people.
Studs Terkel This is what you call a diffusion of maternal responsibility.
Urie Bronfenbrenner This is what I call diffusion of responsibility for children.
Studs Terkel And, so, if a child, there's less anxiety on the part of a child if for a time he has to leave his mother.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Sure. If everybody's interested in children, and I think I mentioned this example that in Soviet society every stranger is automatically called "dyadya" or "tetka," which is uncle or aunt. So there are no strangers. Everybody's an uncle and aunt, and people carry things in their pockets for the children that are going to be put on their laps because they know that somebody is going to pop a child on their lap and when that happens you have something in your pocket and you talk and children are encouraged to talk to strangers so that strangers are no longer strangers.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Strangers are no longer strangers. And, so, we come to another fascinating sequence in the book of Dr. Bronfenbrenner, a childhood of two worlds, U.S. and U.S.S.R. Peer groups. Now, how the peer group differs here and differs there. Now the peer group, obviously, here is the big factor; we know what that kid, young guy, it's the admiration, the respect of his peers that are most important to him rather than that of a parent or a teacher.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes. And it's not that we have peer groups and they don't. In fact, quite the other way. In Soviet society, the peer group is viewed as the princ--not the family, but the peer group is viewed as the principal instrument of the process of child-rearing. With us, the peer group is sort of apart from the rest of the society. It may even be against the rest of the society because it's there by default. But the peer group is very powerful. Even young, very young children, two and a half, three years of age. For example, one of the most effective ways of changing a child's eating habits years ago was shown that all he has to do is to see another child his own age eating something else. Then he shifts over. Peer groups are very powerful in our society. But when peer groups have no contact with any other groups, what happens--well, really, what--it's best described not in research but as so often is the case, in literature, and I'm referring, of course, to the "Lord of the Flies", which is a magnificently valid fictional account of what we have come to know in the study of human behavior, namely that when you get a group--you recall in that story what happens is a plane with a group of children, all pre-adolescent kids, crashes on an island and all the adults are killed, and you see the effort of some of these children to try to organize a co-operative, help-each-other world, and they can't do it. And the one child, Piggie, who is sort of the symbol of mutual trust and affection finally is stoned to death just at the end of the book when a ship comes by and the first person to land comes on and he's greeted by this mob of children and the book ends with the question, "Where are the grownups?"
Studs Terkel Of course, and that book of course, has been attacked by someone like say Dr. Montagu, Ashley Montagu, and the fact that here is the cynical approach also to man, that is, the aggressive nature of man and the child being father of the man, that too. But that's another point. He's saying that this is a cynical approach, that is, man basically is aggressive is Golding's point. That's aside from the point you're making.
Urie Bronfenbrenner No, it's not aside from it, because what I'm saying is man is basically a social animal. And when he is bereft of his neces--of what he needs, it's like depriving a child of mother's milk or food. He becomes something other than human. In that case he becomes dead. Man is a social animal, and if you deprive him of the kinds of opportunities that he needs to grow up with other people, he becomes a monster.
Studs Terkel Now we got it. So we have him in "Lord of the Flies" is an unnatural--
Urie Bronfenbrenner It's an inhuman situation.
Studs Terkel Inhuman, unnatural, thus, in peer groups here, if there is segregation by age, split off from adults, mutual--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Sure. Sure.
Studs Terkel Then you will have a peer group being antisocial.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Exactly. It's like raising a wild animal in a cage. An animal becomes fierce and mean and horrible and you say, "What a horrible creature this is that God made." It's we who made that.
Studs Terkel So we come back to it again. You cite cases of how peer groups work there. Look at Kolya. Look at Mitya. You know. Now, is this good or bad? Teacher says, "He's doing good." Isn't this, doesn't this also have a certain deficiency here?.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes. This is what I mentioned earlier, their extreme. What's done in the Soviet setting is that when undesirable behavior occurs, the pressure of the attention of the group is focused on it, so that the child is suddenly surrounded by his friends and they are looking at him. I remember I gave this example of how this is taught in the early nursery school years, where the nursery school teacher has been showing some pictures to children asking to tell stories and all of these stories have a moral. Here's a picture of a child and with her mother in the kitchen and the mother's washing the dishes and the child is playing on the floor and the children are asked to explain, to tell the story, and of course they correctly point out she should be helping her mother, and then the nursery school teacher says, "Yes, children. And do we have anyone in our collective who sometimes doesn't help?" And the children say, "Yes. Masha, Masha doesn't help." Well, yeah. But the teacher comes to the rescue, says, "Masha used not to help, but now we all watch while she helps everybody." But there's a tremendous amount of social pressure being put on this little kid this way.
Studs Terkel Now this works two ways, doesn't it? This can work, also the social pressure in a way is a touch of humiliation here.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Of course. It also means that you become fearful of doing anything different, of proposing a reform, because gosh, if the group is always right, how can you dare lose their love and affection?
Studs Terkel And so we have, again, this irony that is in your book. You point out the excellent aspects of the Soviet system that children at the same time the obedient social pressure aspect--
Urie Bronfenbrenner The conformity aspect.
Studs Terkel And here we have the other extreme, the antisocial aspect.
Urie Bronfenbrenner But in a way, you know, it's conformity in both cases. Because in their peer group they use the peer group to get conformity to adult values. Whereas what happens in our situation, we really don't have individualism. We have kids who become the creatures of their peer group, and will then do what the peer group is doing, whatever that is.
Studs Terkel Again, the question of alienation that we hear so much about because of segregation--
Urie Bronfenbrenner That's right.
Studs Terkel Now, there's an interesting experiment or observation you made about Russian kids and Swiss kids here, about if there's an alternative. Someone, one of the kids is doing wrong, something antisocial and there are four choices, aren't they? To go to an adult. To tell the kid to "Mind your own business." I forget the fourth. But there are several choices.
Urie Bronfenbrenner To tell some other children.
Studs Terkel To tell some other children.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Is the fourth one, yeah.
Studs Terkel And, so, you have here 75 percent of the Russian kids. What choice do you have? Tell the kid himself about it.
Studs Terkel And only 11 percent of the Swiss kids. While--yeah. Most Swiss kids tell the adult about it.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Right. Right.
Studs Terkel That's rather interesting, isn't it.
Urie Bronfenbrenner That's right.
Studs Terkel We think of the open society Switzerland, we have a reverse process involved.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Exactly. What is very interesting, because these four alternatives, one is what we ask the children is, "What would you do if your friend was doing this and that?" And one of the alternatives is "I wouldn't do anything about it because it's really none of my business." Now, an interesting reaction when we showed, when we did this study in the Soviet Union, we had a great deal of difficulty with our Soviet colleagues because they felt that one of these alternatives was so immoral that it was even improper to show it to the children, and the alternatives was, "I wouldn't do anything about it 'cause it's none of my business." Said "That's terrible! Even by suggesting that you're suggesting something which should just never be thought of."
Studs Terkel Now, less than one percent of the Russian kids said "None of my business," whereas 11 percent of the Swiss kids--
Urie Bronfenbrenner The Swiss kids, yes. And the percentage, by the way, is even higher of American kids.
Studs Terkel Well, I imagine it would be, yeah.
Urie Bronfenbrenner I've forgotten what that figure is right now.
Studs Terkel So we come back to the question of noninvolvement again--
Urie Bronfenbrenner That's right. In fact, you know, it's part of the American tradition. "It's none of my business."
Studs Terkel So thinking about--
Urie Bronfenbrenner "Don't tread on me."
Studs Terkel "Don't tread on me." And, of course, everyone in the sense is saying "Don't tread on me," but you're saying, of course, for health, for psychic health and social, it has to be this give-and-take. Most of all you're talking about the split in age groups.
Urie Bronfenbrenner There has to be like the motto of my university, "Freedom and Responsibility."
Studs Terkel That's at Cornell University.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes.
Studs Terkel Which of course is, has a very interesting contemporary history, indeed.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, it has an interesting contemporary history.
Studs Terkel It's not unremoved, is it, in a way?
Urie Bronfenbrenner No, it's not. It's precisely the same issue, in fact. How do you find that balance between freedom and responsibility? That's a very difficult question and we're going to have to find a new balance, because the present balance as we see is producing a society where the coming generation does not have faith, and in some segments of it is out to destroy, and the position taken in this book is that the sins of the fathers are being visited on the children, and it's our responsibility that they don't, they do not destroy.
Studs Terkel The last part of the book deals with our country, with U.S., and your own observations and suggestions, and you speak of adult influence, the adult influence in Russia, perhaps a bit too much, adult influence here too little.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Right.
Studs Terkel There's a defaulting here and, perhaps, an over--over much--and you're speaking now of a fusion somehow, the best--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, I'm suggesting that there is really nothing in our traditions. In fact, there is much in our traditions that would move us in this direction. Neighborliness is an old American tradition and what we're really talking about is neighborliness and that there are many things that we could do that would help turn us around on this particular issue and once turned around. We'd find it quite comfortable. For example, I think this idea of giving older children responsibility for younger children is not, there's nothing un-American about that. And as I've suggested, if part of the training in citizenship or even in classes in English and history and social studies would involve, would provide an opportunity for younger children, for older children to go out and work with younger children, to see them in the settings in which they have to live, to help with them and work with them would be a very, very good thing and quite consistent with our values. Part of the problem, you know, is that we're really--we have our eyes on other priorities and we don't see what happens to children in our society. That's why I suggest this notion that in every community and neighborhood the first step might be to set up a commission for children which would ask, "What happens to children in our community? Where do they spend their time? What does the community do for them? What happens to the older children when the mother goes to the hospital to have a baby? What are the conditions like under which children eat their lunch in high school?" It's one of the most frightening experiences for me every time I go to one of these madhouse cafeterias, 20 minutes for lunch, noise and so on, lot of people not getting enough to eat, not getting the right kinds of things to eat, and you know this has a consequence, because the major source of prenatal/perinatal damage, that's damage to children at birth, is children born of teenage mothers. Now these teenage mothers are not suffering from hunger. They're suffering from malnutrition. That is, they eat enough, but they don't eat the right things. They're eating, you know, grab bag in a hurry in this kind of mad world where these things don't have value. My expectation is that if we were to set up such commissions for children, what they would discover about how children have to live in that community and with whom they spend their time by default, would be so disturbing and so troubling that it would set in motion corrective measures, because people do care once they realize that the problem exists.
Studs Terkel It's this awareness, I suppose, too, you point out in your book, this is a very rewarding book, indeed, and I think, in a good sense, thick with ideas the effect of the mass media, too, the effect of TV, speak of the wild way in which we live, so no time is taken to pause for a moment, to think just what are we doing instead of devouring. In fact, you were pointing out recently, in one of the hearings I think you attended, one of the U.S. senators was saying, "What sort of society is it that has so antagonistic toward its young?"
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes.
Studs Terkel And, so, this unawareness of what we are doing to our young and we wonder and then, of course, the media speaks of the rebelliousness of the young in its different forms.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes, I think that, in effect, the rebelliousness of the young and the desperation of that rebelliousness is really a signal. It's really a warning, a warning of the urgency of the problem, a warning of doom because one of the things I've been doing recently is reading history and the history of what happens to children in societies. And I'm struck with the fact that one of the signs that a society is about to fall to pieces is that in the preceding generation there is decreased concern for children. And this is what we're seeing in American society now, but there's a positive side to this, because when you're living in an age in which values are falling by the wayside and cynicism is taking over, the last thing to go is concern with kids. That's the thing you can still push a button and get a response on. And I'm suggesting that if we, that if it is our hope to reverse our way of life in the interests of the quality of American life, one place around which we could do it is concern for children, because we still care about the kids. And if we focus our attention there and if we ask how can we improve the quality of life for our children, all these other things get into the act.
Studs Terkel As you're talking, Dr. Bronfenbrenner, there is another myth that you explode in the book. I think a colleague of yours, [Coleman?] is talking about the family, you know, and of course the immediate response is, "Well, the kid had a bad family upbringing," and you're showing how it is not the family reflects the nature of the society.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Exactly. As I put it, parents do only what society tells them to do and it's really wrong to put the blame on parents. Because if you or I, and I can speak personally about this, if you as a parent try "to do the right thing," you find you can't, because the requirements of life, the way life is organized, the kinds of support you get or don't get in your community and your job don't let you, parents couldn't be good parents if they tried nowadays because they'd be missing out on important social engagements, they wouldn't be doing the right things so far as their job is concerned. What we need to do is to make it possible for parents to be parents. And this means a reorientation in the real, in the institutions that really determine the quality of life in America. That is, business, industry, government, mass media. I've been tempted to approach some of our business leaders and suggested to them that the time schedule, the way life is organized. If they could be more flexible about that so that they could offer, let's say they wanted to compete for a good man, offer him as a fringe benefit that we'll llow--we'll organize your life in such a way that you can be a father to your kids, that you--we won't call you away every weekend on a conference. Another pattern that's very important, and this is reflected both in industry and in welfare legislation, so far as women working is concerned, it's all or none. You either work full-time or not at all. The ideal pattern is one in which a mother of a young child especially can work part-time. Because it's important for her to have a life of her own, but it's also important for her to be with her child as much as she wants to. Most mothers want to be with their kids more than a full-time job would permit, and the half-time job would do it, but industry doesn't want to hire them.
Studs Terkel Of course the very point you're making here, you're dealing with one- half of our population. Women more, but certainly a tremendous portion of young mothers or for that matter middle-age--no age involved, but women themselves seeking certain creative outlets--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Sure.
Studs Terkel Outlets, social outlets for work, socially useful, as well as being mother in the rewarding sense, both way, to the child and to herself. So you're suggesting, of course, of this development of part-time, part-time work.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Part-time work in such a way that a full-time job is split and allows two people to work at that job. And I think it's in the long-range interest of business and industry to do this, because that's the way they'll beat this problem of too fast a turnover, of undependable workers, because the undependable worker is a product of this segregation by age phenomenon.
Studs Terkel See, Dr. Bronfenbrenner, just as a tangential point, the book is quite a powerful one. "Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R.", Russell Sage Foundation, the publishers, Basic Books, the distributors, just on a tangent here, aren't there, isn't there rebelliousness, too, among the young in the Soviet Union? Have you noticed that, too, to some extent?
Urie Bronfenbrenner This is a very interesting point, really, because how to put it? Well, I'll tell you two stories in this connection. At one point "The New York Times" was carrying a series of articles about the rebelliousness of Soviet youth. This was several years ago, and how these big hotels where Western music was played there here were these Soviet youngsters, you know, doing The Frug and this, that, and the other, well, it so happened that we were in Moscow at the time staying at one of the hotels that have been named in "The Times". And sure enough, when we went down to dinner every night, there'd be the orchestra playing the American music and there'd be the Russian teenagers doing The Frug. Both of them. A very small proportion. Now where do we get the impression? Because the Russians themselves are terribly upset by what they view as hoodlumism and a falling away from real values. But the Russian level of expectation is quite different. If we had what they are worried about in juvenile delinquency and hoodlumism, we'd feel we were really lucky. You know, they worry when a kid walks around with long hair. Well, we've gotten pretty used to that.
Studs Terkel And that's kind of bad they worry about that. That's what I mean.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Oh, sure. That's kind of bad. But that's their problem. And I must say that if we had to choose between problems right now, so far as the welfare of the next generation is concerned, I'd rather have their problem than our problem, because I think we are doing greater harm to our kids than they're doing to theirs.
Studs Terkel It's remarkable, though, something interesting here, the weakness that is in the Soviet system that's looking askance upon long-haired kid is a conservative approach in America.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Of course. Isn't that an irony here?
Studs Terkel Here it's interesting how--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes. The people who would have, really, a lot in common with the Russians, who are complaining about the youth are, of course, our most reactionary elements. They and the Communists are in complete agreement on this.
Studs Terkel This is one of the ironies, underlying ironies--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Sure.
Studs Terkel That we come back, though, to the major theme of your book, children, young and the old and the connecting link that must be there, and the alienation by the very--the gap is obviously man-made or society-made--
Urie Bronfenbrenner Society-made.
Studs Terkel Society-made. And your suggestions, you have a number of suggestions. One, you spoke of the matter of the part-time work for the mother who has other creative outlets as well within her. And these are continuously being discussed, the various approaches.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Yes. I tried in this book to be not only on an analyst, but also a constructive critic in the sense of proposing various things consistent with our value system and our kind of society that could be done. Some of these have been put into effect. You mentioned my involvement in the founding of Head Start. Well, as far as my participation in that was concerned, it grew directly out of this study that I was doing. I felt that given what the Russians were doing, we had to do something in our way. And then there are these other suggestions I've made. Like the commission for children at the local level and incidentally at the state level, and of course we already have it now in the Office of Child Development at the federal level, the notion of asking industry to concern itself not just with the employer and employee as an individual, but with the employee as a member of a family who is bringing up children, so that the industry begins to view his life in that context and instead of inviting him to go for a weekend, or him and his wife to go for a weekend, to think of activities which the family could do as a family in terms of recreation.
Studs Terkel Talking to Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, member of various departments there, he's involved with ecology, with human development of course, psychology primarily with the young and the elders. The book, "Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R.". Dr. Bronfenbrenner's name is B-R-O-N-F-E-N-B-R-E-N-N-E-R.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Dr. B, my students call me.
Studs Terkel Dr. B. And it's Russell Sage Foundation the publishers, and Basic Books the distributors, and a number of comments made by various educators, Jerome Bruner of Harvard has said, "This is surely one of the most important books in the field of child-rearing for scientists and laymen alike," and the style, by the way, is a very elegant and direct one, and Dr. Bruner speaks of it as one of the most important ones published in the past quarter-century. And so does John Fisher of Teachers College at Columbia and Joseph Reid of the Child Welfare League of America. You opened reading the opening paragraph of the introduction. Perhaps the last two sentences of your book tell us what it's all about, too, and you speak of the need for a total community.
Urie Bronfenbrenner Okay. I spoke here at the end of the fact that the Soviet Union was doing a job that we weren't doing, and that we were neglecting our children. And I said, "Moving to counteract this tendency doesn't mean subscribing to Soviet insistence on the primacy of the group over the individual or adopting their practice or shifting major responsibility for upbringing from the family to public institutions. On the contrary, what is called for is greater involvement of parents and other adults in the lives of children, and conversely, greater involvement of children in responsibility on behalf of their own family, community and society at large. Given the fragmented character of modern American life, its growing separatism and violence, such an injunction may appear to some as a pipe dream, but it need not be. For just as autonomy and aggression have their roots in the American tradition, so have neighborliness, civic concern, and devotion to the young. It is to these that we must look if we are to rediscover our moral identity as a society and as a nation." Thank you very much.
Studs Terkel Thus ends the book by Dr. Bronfenbrenner. "Two Worlds of Childhood". And it's available and most fascinating and certainly quite important. Dr. Bronfenbrenner, thank you.