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How and Why Children Fail.

The main problem with these two books is the lack of editorial direction. It is not clear to the reader what the real focus of the books is or why certain topics or contributors were selected. The editor, Ved Varma, only provides half a page of introduction to each book. There is no structure to either of the books - no sections or linking of different chapters. I would also guess that there was little editorial direction given to the contributors. This is a pity, as the topics are certainly important. As it is, the books are useful, with some good succinct contributions, but a stronger editorial policy would undoubtedly have enhanced them further.

How and Why Children Fail survives the lack of editorial direction best. Most (not all) of the contributions implicitly take failure in the educational system as their main reference point. There are some useful summaries by Freeman on giftedness and boredom, by Rogers on gender and motivation, by Povey & Tod on dyslexia, and by German on racial prejudice. Howe develops an expected but interesting argument about a lack of skills and knowledge (rather than 'intelligence' per se) as the basis of school failure. Barker contributes three chapters on physical illness, chaotic families and child abuse; these, the latter especially, hit a good balance between evidence and opinion and between research findings and evidence from case studies. Hollin tackles failures in social relationships and fails to do justice to this broad area, but he does review succinctly the work on causes of delinquency.

I found Parsons' discussion of inappropriate curricula rather narrow, since it consisted mainly of a discussion of the TVEI initiative. Higgins, on creativity, and Etkin, on fear, are less satisfactory, being discursive and lacking in empirical back-up. Etkin, for example, says that 'the role of bullying and teasing ... does not require much elaboration' (p. 24), when in fact this is exactly where elaboration would have been useful to the reader (for example, by reference to the long-term studies of Olweus, Farrington & Gilmartin). The longest chapter, by Dwivedi on confusion, was the least focused or useful and should have been pruned by the editor.

How and Why Children Hate is a more ambitious topic (or, at least, one that has received less prior consideration). Higgins starts with an interesting discussion of how hate appears in children's nursery rhymes. But this and the other opening chapter by Dale on parent-child hate too uncritically adopt psychodynamic perspectives from Freud and Klein which regard both infant and parental hate as intrinsically natural, a perspective not really in keeping with psychological thinking from, for example, Stern, or the attachment theorists such as Ainsworth and Main. These latter are unfortunately not given any consideration, which is a serious weakness of the book overall. Attachment theorists would not deny that parental hate can exist, of course, but they would see it and its expression in child abuse as indications of insecure attachment, not of normal development. As it is, the only discussion of attachment theory approaches comes in Frude's chapter on hatred between children, but this discussion is only brief, since the main thrust of his chapter, reasonably enough, is on peer rejection, aggression and bullying.

Dwivedi tackles the topic of child abuse and hatred. This is again the longest chapter in the book, though again no summary is provided and the chapter ends in mid-flow, so to speak. This is, however, a more focused contribution than in the other book, and it does include some discussion of systems theory (though nothing on attachment). Really, systems theory should have been discussed explicitly in Dare's chapter on scapegoating, which is of interest but lacks this theoretical background. Two chapters, by Mane and by Maxime, tackle the important issues of racial identity, prejudice and hatred. Mane gives a short but useful review of racism and its transmission to children. Maxime starts off with a straightforward review of approaches to racial identity, but then, via an account of her own experiences and clinical work, goes on to show the complexity of the issues and the stages of positive change in black identity.

Bobcock's analysis of religion and hatred is disappointing, being too focused uncritically upon the work of Freud and Lacan. Some sociologists seem to have an unexpected predilection for Freudian theories. Epps & Hollin tackle what might be a related area of authority and hate, but they mainly discuss moral reasoning and parenting styles. Jones & Barrett and Barrett & Jones consider issues of class and gender, respectively. These are interesting discussions of differences and conflicts due to class and gender, although the links to hatred are more tenuous, with 'child sexual abuse' tacked on as one page to the gender chapter, which is mainly about models of gender development. Finally, Sinason gives her consideration to people with 'mental handicap'; her case studies are illuminating examples of the strong feelings of discrimination, frustration and anger that may be experienced by these people and their caters.

PETER K. SMITH (University of Sheffield)
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Author:Smith, Peter K.
Publication:British Journal of Psychology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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