Dr. Spock's ideas look good on paper

November 09, 1994|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,Special to The Sun

God love him. Dr. Benjamin M. Spock, the pediatrician whose book "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care" sold 40 million copies in 39 languages, is still reflecting, teaching and writing at age 91. His latest work, "A Better World for Our Children," decries America's moral and spiritual deterioration and offers ideas -- some very specific and practical -- to reverse the trend.

As many remember, Dr. Spock is more than just a world-famous pediatrician. He worked for the nuclear test ban treaty in 1962, spoke out against our action in Vietnam and was arrested, tried and convicted for conspiring to counsel, aid and abet resistance to the draft. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but the sentence was overturned a year later. In 1972, he ran for president as a candidate of the People's Party and for vice president in 1976. Today, he lives with his second wife in Maine and California, follows a macrobiotic diet, which caused him to lose 50 pounds, practices yoga, swims, walks, meditates, writes a column for Parenting magazine, and still has many speaking engagements. Now in his 10th decade, he is still a disciplined activist concerned about the future.

In "A Better World For Our Children," Dr. Spock gives us much to think about and concludes that "our present society is not working." He cites our high divorce rate, inadequate day care, the declining middle class and standard of living, and at the same time points to our rising lead poisoning, homelessness, crime and trade deficit. Generally, he finds that what was good is declining, and what's bad is increasing.

No wonder, Dr. Spock says. Our spiritual commitment has diminished, and we have sacrificed kindness and generosity and become ever more competitive and rude. Over the years, especially since World War II, we've become more materialistic, and he notes that while both parents are usually working nowadays, they're often worse off financially than their parents were.

He bemoans other signs of decline, such as increased obesity, our almost pathological dependence on television, and 11,000 handgun murders in the United States a year, compared with much smaller amounts elsewhere. Dr. Spock believes there are

TC three reasons for losing our way. Scientific explanations have undermined the spiritual explanation of the world and of humans' place in it; the soul has been de-emphasized in exchange for quick gratification of the physical; and we, through our casual, often vulgar dress, language and conduct, are still protesting against the artificiality of the Victorian era. While wondering how many of our young people could describe the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901), I question his opinion.

The doctor does more than complain and criticize. Perhaps one word summarizes his suggested methods for creating a better world: time. Parents must take the time to impart kindness and caring to their children and set them appropriate examples; they must monitor and say no to violence on TV, movies and videos; and we must all take the time to be participating citizens at every level of government. The press must inform us more fully and even-handedly.

He suggests that we do away with traditional grading systems in schools to eliminate some of the destructive elements of competition; that we introduce apprenticeship programs as well as interships in order to help students learn by doing, which would keep many from dropping out; and that we use experts to teach upper-level courses part-time (which would horrify teachers' unions). He suggests that we increase day care at the workplace, which would give everyone time.

Dr. Spock, citing his difficult struggle as a stepfather, offers 12 steps to building family values, which again stress taking time. He urges taking family meals together, family meetings to discuss plans and problems, a daily quiet period in the household, family outings and vacations, parental participation in school and the community and taking children to work occasionally.

Dr. Spock, in this occasionally rambling but readable book, has countless useful criticisms and possible solutions. But, in a serious oversight, nowhere does he suggest that our fast-growing population, especially its effect on competition, health, services and behavior, is perhaps part of the problem.


Title: "A Better World For Our Children: Rebuilding American Family Values"

Author: Dr. Benjamin M. Spock

Publisher: National Press Book

Length, price: 205 pages, $22.95

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