The Children of the Counter-Culture

by John Rothchild and Susan Wolf
Doubleday, $7.95
The rebellious children of the sixties are now old enough to be parents. That revelation sent John Rothchild and Susan Wolf off on a four of the nation’s communes and crash pads to discover how the aging kids of the counterculture are raising their own kids and what lessons their alternative methods hold for the rest of us.
The result is a provocative, though in the end unsatisfying, book. One flaw is that the authors (I refer to “authors" though Susan Wolf, with her own two children in tow, seems to be largely a silent partner in the venture) never give us their definition of conventional childrearing, nor do they tell us what they think is wrong with it.
They are equally vague about the values and methods of hip child-raising. Parents get good marks for sending their kids to free schools, for sharing a shower or a joint, though the authors seem unsure about what a parent’s motives for doing so ought to be. For all their talk of nurturing independence and individuality, the quality they seem to admire most in children is docility. The soulless little zombies, children of an authoritarian religious commune, are praised for being well-behaved. A twelve-year-old communard, resourceful as a backwoodsman, captivates the authors by being polite.
Though the book ultimately fails to provide honest answers to the questions it raises, it is nevertheless a fascinating document. A ten-year-old boy already jaded with sex and drugs; children who spout consciousness-raising jargon; kids named Dylan and Treemonisha and Andy Peyote; families who live in buses and tepees; parents who can’t decide whether to teach the baby to say “pig" or “policeman”: absorbing portraits all, even if their larger meaning remains elusive.
—Amanda Heller