March 29th, 2008

_The Case Against Spanking_, Irwin Hyman

Subtitle: How to Discipline Your Child Without Hitting

Hyman's work on ending corporal punishment by teachers (_Reading, Writing and the Hickory Stick_, which I own but have not yet read) is well-known and referenced by others. He got a lot of play on talk shows 10-20 years ago (Donahue, Sally, Oprah, etc.) and refers to those experiences in this work, which is aimed at parents. I ordered it used after reading Murray Straus' _Beating the Devil out of Them_. Hyman references Greven (_Spare the Child_, which I have read and enjoyed) and Murray Straus.

Hyman spent several decades working with families, not all of whom showed up in his office voluntarily, and when they did, sometimes some members were a lot more motivated to change than others. He stresses the transmission of "aggressive parenting" including corporal punishment across generations: if you hit your kids, you were almost certainly hit yourself (and, odds on, harder, more often, and with nastier equipment). Hyman has a multi-pronged approach to ending corporal punishment. Step 1 was go after non-parents beating kids, because even parents who beat their kids are often appalled to discover that other people are doing so as well, particularly when they leave marks and the parents have minimal recourse. Hyman also lays out the regionalism of corporal punishment in schools.

Step 2 is a larger discussion of what happens when you beat kids, which is more than adequately covered elsewhere. Step 3 is helping parents understand why their kids do what they do (Hyman uses loaded language like "misbehave", which I dislike), so the underlying issues (learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.) can be addressed in a productive manner. Step 4 is replacing corporal punishment with behavioral contracts, negotiation and alternative punishment.

While Hyman recognizes the importance of "rapport" between parents and children, and spends a little time discussing how to develop it, and he also talks about the need for "unconditional positive regard" for the children by the parents, his model for a "good" parent/child relationship is ultimately the therapeutic relationship. While he quotes Thomas Gordon on occasion, he does not refer to P.E.T. (even tho it had been in existence for a while by 1997 when this book was published). He does favorably refer to Myrna Shure's ICPS work. Ultimately, Hyman's work is mitigation, only: quit hitting, call an effective truce, address underlying problems, reopen dialogue. Precious little here about actually finding joy in family life, or even the fact that any relationship that is going to last had better have a lot more positive interactions (Gottman: 4:1) than negative (Hyman's just trying to even things out). There are people who could be helped by this book, and I don't know that this book would precisely harm anyone who read it. But it's a little sad that he spends several pages on "holding" methods (even with a lot of caveats) and so little on how parents can help their kids find joy in life and experience family life as pleasure instead of one kind of shit raining down after another.

Neutral review, but Hyman's a likable guy who has done amazing work. The world needs people like him: brave, persistent, imaginative, willing to work with anyone who is willing to work with him and sensible enough to not try to work with people who won't work with him. It's particularly nice that when schools/teachers treat children badly, he doesn't help parents make their kids tough it out, but instead lays out a long list of options (including hiring a lawyer and going after the school in court and getting the abusive teacher arrested, etc.), with a clear statement that this isn't going to be easy and you have to be prepared to persist. But at least he doesn't just advocate giving up at the outset. Hyman is particularly useful as an example for activists (and not just in this field!): he is up front about describing how he went into this thinking it would change quickly, and how he has adapted to the long struggle.

black is white, and white is black

From Judith Levine's _Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex_, a book I would _desperately_ prefer to like, but am currently feeling like I can no longer continue with.

From page 48:

"Normal is not an exact scientific term. It can mean what most people do or what some people consider healthy, moral, regular or natural, as opposed to sick, sinful, weird, or unnatural. It can mean what my mother, my priest, or the psychologist on Oprah Winfrey says is okay. Or it can mean what I think is okay. Normal is enormously susceptible to swinging with the gusts of politics and history. Disguised as scientific and fixed, it is subjective and protean."

Now, this is problematic. Normal _is_ an exact scientific term. It is also used in a variety of other ways, as she lists out. Kinda like "work" is an exact scientific term. And is also used in a variety of other ways. Fine. The usual course of action here is to say which one you intend to use and stick with it, alternatively, to pick another word to indicate _which_ meaning of normal you intend. She chooses (b).

"That is why I used the word normative above, a term derived from statistics, simply meaning what most people do."

Now THAT is a whopper of epic proportions. Normative is indeed a word in statistics. It does not mean "what most people do" (altho that _is_ one of the social sciences uses of the term "normal").

While normative can mean "what people do", it is generally used that way when "what people do" is being treated as equivalent to "what people ought to do" (where do can also mean think, say, etc.).

How, how, how can someone do this? And get published by a University press! And then spend the intro lamenting how people wouldn't publish the book because of political stuff. No, dear, that was not the whole problem.

Holy crap.

Am I being unreasonable? To be utterly fair, this came up in the chapter where she's going after the locking up of the underage person for sexual activity. While I think this is a lousy solution to the problem of underage people who sexually molest siblings (and while I'm certainly open to the proposition that some of these underaged people were convicted/diagnosed of something they didn't actually do, because _that's_ a common problem, too), I am _not_ okay with the idea that sibling incest is a harmless "normal" or "normative" activity, and I was complaining about the way no one took that seriously well in advance of the cases she mentions because I was a victim of sibling incest. If you'd asked me at the time, I would have agreed that I "complies willingly, enjoys or does not notice the "abuse"", which she uses to question whether this is coercive. But a few years later, without any therapists being involved, I was real clear on how this had messed me up -- and on how seriously disturbed the person who'd done it to me was.

So I could be a bit tetchy on her Humpty Dumpty approach to language here.

Judith Levine, _Harmful to Minors_

I read through page 48, then I just couldn't take any more. Having gone over the reviews on Amazon, I feel like my take on this book is a very solitary one; most of the people who had issues with it complained about the them-vs-us/blame the right perspective they saw in the book (altho interestingly enough, a lot of them actually liked the book other than that, which is sort of a clue right there).

What has stopped me is 3 instances of error/dishonesty that I just can't get past. One (using "normative" rather than "normal" for what can only be called specious (sounds good; happens to be totally false) reasons I've already posted about. The other two that stood out:

(1) In the introduction, she tosses out a statistic that a quarter of teenagers contract STDs. p xxiv: "One in four of these adolescents contracts a sexually transmitted disease each year, with genital herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia leading the list." No note; no source. R. and I have tracked this data, together and independently, over a long period of time. We haven't seen all the studies, but we've never seen anything like this. Yes, perhaps close to a quarter of teens get an STD. But the top of the list is _always_ occupied by HPV, with the rest trailing consistently in the single digit percentages. (Also in the intro, she refers to STDS as "serious to fatal". Er, HPV, so not that big a deal.)

(2) Really misleading use of notes. This happened several times, but this really stuck in my craw, p 44: "Attorney General Janet Reno's decision to lay siege to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, was based in part on rumors of child abuse going on inside. 100 In the ensuing conflagration, eighty people died, including twenty-four children. 101"

Here's note 100:

"Evidence suggests that statutory rape, or sex with minors, did occur at Waco. David Koresh did so with the parents' consent, because his followers believed it "was his religious duty to father 24 children by virgin mothers." Because the parents cooperated, the state did not bring charges. Dick J. Reavis, the Ashes of Waco: An Investigation..."

If Levine wants to say, hey, getting a bunch of wack jobs to let him rape their children is NOT a good reason to kill children, I will so support her. Fine. Law enforcement maybe did not handle the situation in an optimal -- or even a good -- way. But you have to go to the note to find out that _yes_ child abuse was happening, and even there, she doesn't _call_ it child abuse, she calls it "sex with minors".

Three strikes is enough for me to stop, especially after the debacle that was my experience with Kristin Luker's book.

However, I'm now going to go off on a bit of a tangent, based on the aforementioned little trip through the reviews of Levine's books on Amazon.

(1) According to a review, the book that she published after this book detailing her father's descent into Alzheimer's: "She makes herself examine her relationship with her father (which has always been fraught) and her mother (whom she resents for leaving her ill father for another man)." And: "As her father worsens, Levine gets closer to him." The review also indicates that her manipulation of the meaning of normative is being accepted unquestioningly (which is a big chunk of the problem with specious claims -- they sound plausible, so people don't check them). (Reed Business Information review)

(2) A still more recent book about not buying (the Reed Business Information review has some hilarities in it) has an ALA review which includes this gem: "Many of her points are intentionally provocative; for instance, not buying makes her feel vulnerable and having to ask for help."

While I don't know Levine, as near as I can tell, she does not have children of her own, which does not necessarily mean she's insensitive to some of the issues surrounding children's sexuality, but which in my experience is worrisome. A lot of people who were damaged by their own upbringing figure it out before they have kids; some of the rest figure it out after they have kids. The ones who never have kids often were the most damaged, and are the least able to separate enough from the parents who messed with them to realize that, well, their parents messed with them.

Let's just say there's some low hanging evidence here.

To speak in favor of both Levine and _Harmful to Minors_, I will note that her description of "child porn"/sexual predators and so forth is refreshing and eye-opening. I had suspected that a lot of this stuff was ginned up (maybe not entrapment, but maybe not that far off); she supplies some support for that belief. It is entirely possible that large chunks of the book that I didn't read include a lot of similar information that would be valuable to have. So this isn't precisely a negative review of the book, so much as it is a set of observations as to why I was unable to read it, and why I'm very suspicious of her as a person. Sampling later in the book suggests, for example, that she advocates supervision of small children. Don't ignore play that involves a lot of touching, but don't interrupt it, either, as long as it is friendly and safe. This is an approach I could fully support. (See chapter "Good Touch")

But then a few pages later on, her discussion of "privacy" for children (just like her favorable comment about how children sharing beds with adults a couple centuries back pushes them towards the adult world -- not so much; it keeps them safe and alive) is problematic beyond belief.

So. Good luck to you if you want to read it. I'm putting my copy up on TitleTrader.