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Ships Without A Shore – Book Review

We must set our children free from our adult agendas and our frenetic, goal-oriented pace. The path that we have accepted for ourselves is the wrong path for children. Children do need a foundation upon which to grow and children do need their parents. They need to belong to a community, not an interest group. They long to know right from wrong and long for adults in history and in their lives to look up to. They need time to play and to forge meaningful relationships with family and friends. They need the opportunity to retreat within themselves – to find out what is there. -From Ships Without A Shore, pages 248-9

Anne R. Pierce holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and has published articles and books on social and political issues and intellectual history. In Ships Without A Shore she sites a great amount of research regarding day care, child development, political philosophy, psychiatry, brain science and genetics to support her theory that childrearing in the United States and our educational system in this country are on the wrong path.

Pierce’s book is divided into four sections which deal with:  1. The dangers of day care, the woman’s liberation movement, and the pressure for women to conform to societal demands to work outside the home, 2. Maternal love and normal child development in the context of current societal mores and expectations, 3. The impact of moral relativism on modern parenting, and 4. The failure of America’s educational system.

Throughout the book, Pierce simultaneously argues for more nurture while allowing a child’s nature to develop – the classic nature vs. nurture argument is debunked early on.

Given the advances in brain research and in anthropological techniques, it is simply impossible to deny the influence of genetics and of natural foundations for behavior. Given the abundance of evidence, confirmed by recent research in psychology, psychiatry, neurobiology, and sociology, that parents and communities (especially parents) have dramatic effects upon the emotional and developmental outcomes of children, it is simply implausible to deny the influence of the environment. -From Ships Without A Shore, Introduction-

She also questions current parenting practices which place children very early on into day care when so much research indicates the importance of early attachment to mother.

It is unlikely that children’s developmental needs should miraculously and conveniently change just when adult career patterns and life styles required them to change. – From Ships Without A Shore, Introduction-

The practice of detaching from our children, Pierce argues, is fueled by a media which makes women feel they are neither intelligent nor contemporary if they choose to stay home to rear their children. She further argues that although Feminism was ‘right to call for a less subsuming vision of motherhood,’ it was wrong to suggest there should be a detachment between mother and child (ie: placing children into childcare situations from infancy onward). Pierce’s arguments in her first chapter are supported by reams of research, but she lost me a bit when she began relating horror stories about children who were placed into the hands of uncaring or negligent providers. To read these examples, one might think it foolish to even hire a babysitter for the night. Despite this, Pierce makes a good point when she questions the objectivity of media reporting when it comes to research dealing with day care and its affects on children.

Our willingness to buy into the superficial and partial picture painted for us has stemmed in part from our belief in the larger social cause. The cause of women’s liberation has been thought so worthy that we have been willing to accept less than clear thinking nad less than accurate reporting in support of it. -From Ships Without A Shore, page 58-

I found Pierce’s second chapter the most compelling. Pierce examines normal child development in the context of institutionalized care and points out that all developmental evidence points to  the fact that ‘children thrive upon love‘ and that attachment to a maternal figure is paramount to normal development. She then goes on to say that no one can love a child as their parent does and that it is reasonable to expect a paid caregiver will be less responsive to a baby’s signals than a mother would be. Pierce observes that children become over-dependent or “anxiously attached” not because they have had too much care, but because they have not had enough.

The truth is that even high quality day care centers cannot provide the optimal conditions for development. -From Ships Without A Shore, page 115-

In the last two chapters of Ships Without A Shore, Pierce delves into the area of politics, the welfare system, morality, liberalism, and the failure of our education system. Although she provides ample research to support her conclusions, I was less convinced by her arguments because I felt there was an underlying political bias. Pierce is careful, however, to temper her opinion that the best family for a child is a traditional one with one father and one mother.

I should note that I do not agree with those that advocate a return to the stigmatizing of unwed parents and their children as an alternative solution. I do believe in a return to the valuing of fathers’ essential role in the family, of the intact family, of responsible parenting, and of firmly founded mother-child attachment. – from Ships Without A Shore, page 152-

Pierce convincingly writes about the frenetically busy life-style of American families and the pressure on children to achieve constantly – whether it be in advanced classes, sports teams or other extracurricular activities. This, along with over-stimulation from technologies (such as television and computers), leaves children exhausted, stressed and depressed. Pierce goes on to attack an American educational system which by empowering girls, degrades boys; neglects American history and philosophy while ‘providing students with a “social conscience”‘; and teaches multiculturalism while ignoring American culture.

Unfortunately, multiculturalism has been twisted by the agendas and, yes, the biases which hide behind it. It is often a code word for anti-Americanism. -from Ships Without A Shore, page 231-

Ships Without A Shore is a provocative and penetrating look at American culture and how it has impacted societal views on child rearing. Pierce does not mince words, but speaks strongly in advocating more parental involvement in raising our nation’s children. She supports her opinions with ample research. I did not always fully agree with Pierce’s conclusions, which at times felt excessively right-leaning. But despite my disagreement on some of her points, I believe this is an important book to read for those individuals working in the child care industry and school systems…and for those adults who love children and care about where our society is headed. Pierce’s prose is easy to read and the book is well-organized. At the very least, this is a book which will generate dialogue on one of the most compelling issues of our society – how we choose to raise the next generation and how those choices will impact our future.

Recommended for readers interested in child development and social issues.

2 Comments

  1. September 17, 2008    

    Thanks for posting this wonderful article. I’m going to get this book!

  2. September 19, 2008    

    Karen: You’re welcome 🙂

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