It’s Hard to Get the Right Right!

Fellow nerds: Have you ever had this kind of deflating experience?  You see a new book title that promises to answer a bunch of questions that have been rattling around in your head unorganized and unarticulated.  You finally get your hands on the book and eagerly start reading, only to find that the author does not seem very interested in the very interesting questions that you wanted her to answer.  That was my experience with Michelle Abate’s Raising Your Kids Right.

Now Cam Scribner has published a review on the US Intellectual History Blog of Abate’s book that manages to put my geekmotional response into coherent prose.  Scribner is working on an important study of conservative educational activism.  He is someone who works hard to understand what it meant to be “conservative” in America.  And, as Scribner notes, Abate fails to get the Right right.  In Scribner’s words:

First, despite providing a pretty cogent history of right-wing politics since the 1960s, Abate uses the word “conservative” far too broadly. For her, in fact, it seems interchangeable with the words “histrionic,” “retrograde,” and “racist” (pgs. 35, 37, 180-181).

I know it’s not fair to criticize someone for the book they didn’t write.  But in this case, I agree with Scribner.  If one is to dig into the rich field of conservative children’s literature, there are a few things that one must consider.  Quoth Scribner:

Rather than capturing conservative writing at its smallest, Abate could have written a much more meaningful book about what conservatives actually think will interest or ennoble their children. Prefacing her discussion of The Book of Virtues, for example, with selections from C.S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Progress, McGuffey’s Readers, or other conservative favorites would accrue more historical weight to her argument and preclude the sort of caricature and dismissal that seems to underlie much of her analysis.

The good news for historians, I suppose, is that there is still plenty of room for studies of conservatism and children’s issues, including children’s books.

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