Coles, R. (1978). The privileged Ones: Volume V of Children in Crisis. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Robert Coles has written four previous books on children in crisis. While interviewing the poor of the United States, he was challenged to “go talk to the well-off kids” whose families’ influence, decisions, and actions play crucial roles in the lives of the impoverished. The experience motivated him to write The Privileged Ones.
Coles masterfully constructs the “comfortable places”-the environments from which the adolescent isolates and distances him or herself from the world around. Youth are not as fortunate in distancing themselves from the pressures of responsibility, choices about actions, and overdemanding parents. Yet in the face of this turmoil, there is an overriding sense of being able to overcome any obstacle. The privileged have a sense of semi-empathy for those less privileged, but not enough to do anything of significance. Coles claims to attempt to leave his personal biases out of the book, but he fails to omit his condemnation of the social system. Coles shares with readers the profound words of the maid of affluent girl:
And it is a world in which children grow up, come to terms with their ample surroundings, take to them gladly, deal with them anxiously, and show themselves boys and girls who have their own special circumstances to master-a particular way of life to understand and become part of.
Is not their life different from start to finish from that of more ordinary people?
She will settle for the word the children themselves use most often, in these moments of self-recognition she has encouraged in them: again, ‘different.’ And they certainly are that, with respect to most others.’
These people here, they’ve got all that money,…and they still won’t let that little girl just be herself. She’s eight or nine, and she’s got an independent spirit in her, but they’re determined to get rid of it…
She wonders about life, and what it’s about, and what the end of things will be.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- How do affluent kids attempt to deal with pressures put on them?
- Can and should the social class structures be changed? Why? What would be the results?
- How do you think affluent kids feel about being “different”? How about poor kids? Minorities?
- Affluent kids live in a somewhat isolated environment from “most others.” Youth workers need to integrate kids so that life can be lived in the real world.
- Parents need to realize the stress they create for their kids when they make demands upon them to live up to the parental expectations and or achievements.
- Youth workers, parents, and others need to affirm, encourage, and give kids an opportunity to find themselves.
- Youth workers need to go beyond surface issues with kids who on the outside seem fine.
- These kids will never fill their void in life with all the “things” that surround them. All their things will leave them empty and defeated in the end.
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