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ouN c ., NN. \\4,. Boo. CHILDREN’ OF CRISIS, VOL. V . \\. Prtvtleged Ones: The Well-Off at the Rich in America By R bert Coles Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1978. $15.00 By Chandler Davidson Houston Today we know a good deal about the rich: the extent and nature of their ownership of productive and financial wealth, the institutions through which they exercise control of this wealth, and their channels to political power. We know much less about their private lives, their personal relations with family and servants, the way class consciousness is fostered in their children. The rich are jealous of their privacy. Consequently, while many studies are available of the subculture of the poor and middle classes, there are almost none of the subculture of affluence. In Privileged Ones, Robert Coles presents the findings of such a study. It is well worth reading. The book is the fifth and last volume of his series, “Children of Crisis” \(Obs., based largely on interviews with children from different social classes and ethnic groups throughout the country, is a pioneering contribution to the subject of childhood socialization. The crisis in question is the upheaval brought on by Southern school desegregation in the 1950s and its national aftermath. By broadening the scope of his inquiry in this series to include not only “abnormal” children and those from affluent homesthe traditional subjects of psychiatric investigationand by moving beyond the traditional issues of psychoanalytically-oriented studies which are primarily confined to the sexual realm, Coles has contributed significantly to the founding of the modern discipline of social psychiatry. The purpose of Privileged Ones in elucidating the social and political development of “rich and well-to-do” children, Coles tells us, is to reveal “what kind of country migrants \(or other vulstruggle to make sense of.” The enterprise is potentially a radical one, for it presupposes that the behavior of rich people directly affects the fate of poor ones. It is noteworthy that Coles was urged to study the rich by blacks and poor whites on whom he initially focused his attention during the school desegregation crisis. “Go see the rich folks and find out what’s on their minds, so we’ll know what’s going to be on ours next week,” a white New Orleans factory worker told him. A black lawyer added: “When you tell me that you’re trying to talk with the white people, because the way they think affects the way black people live, then I have to ask you: which white people? I think you’re going to the wrong people talk with the people who own us, the people we work for, the people who tell us what to door else. And those people aren’t the ones who are shouting ‘nigger’ at our children on the way to school.” Coles took their advice, and over the next several years, during his peregrinations around the country, he included terviewees. The results are 14 case studies of children in families whose wealth ranges from many millions of dollars to the “comfortable” wherewithal of the upper middle class. There are a number of problems of method in Coles’s book which make interpretation difficult, but I shall only mention one because of space constraints. The “children” depicted in the case studies, Coles tells us, are sometimes composites of actual interview subjects. And to guarantee anonymity, he has altered some factual data. Consequently, we are not meant to take the portraits of the children too literally, nor are we to assume that they are truly representative of the American upper class. In spite of this and other difficulties, I suspect that Coles’s findings present a fairly undistorted picture of the childhood of many rich people in America today. In any event, the richness of detail at least partly compensates for his problematic methods. For me, the most interesting thing to emerge from the case studiesthe one which I will concentrate on in this reviewis the fact that with few exceptions, Coles’s children went through a period between the ages of about four and 12, apparently, in which questions of social equality and justice percolated through their consciousness. The questions were voiced in ways which sometimes made the children sound like little grammar-school socialists, and if they persisted in asking them, they scared hell out of their parents, particularly the fathers. The descriptions of parents’ reactions to these queries constitute some of the most dramatic and poignant passages in any of Coles’s books. We are given, in other words, an account of the processes whereby the upper class educates its children to accept their inherited station in life as both natural and right. If Coles’s data are to be believed, these involve a tacit conspiracy among parents, servants, family doctors, ministers, and private school teachers to discourage the young from thinking long or seriously about questions of inequality; to persuade them that people in other social classes are “differ ent” and inferior; to instill in them fear bordering on paranoia of labor unions, “big government,” and a hoi polloi bent on stealing and destroying the property of the rich; and, finally, to nurture a sense of what Coles calls “entitlement,” the be’ief that an abundance of prestige, wealth, and future power is fully and unquestionably deserved. Along with the sense of entitlement is inculcated the principle of noblesse oblige which, precisely because it conveys an obligation, however limited, of the affluent toward their social and economic inferiors, serves to rationalize the prerogatives of the rich. All privilege and no obligation makes Jack a suspect boy in society’s eyes and, more serious, in his own; the upper-class adult who has doubts about his entitlements may very well turn out to be a failure or, worse yet, a class traitor. Events in the home, usually involving a maid or other employee, typically trig ger a child’s subversive ideas, although certain television programs also seem to provoke them. The most telling account of this train of events is contained in the chapter entitled “Tamed Rebel.” The rebel is “Larry,” the son of “one of Florida’s leading growers,” a boy who from age six began worrying his parents by asking “why some children of his age were working in the fields, helping their parents pick the crops, while he was doing nothing of the kind.” The father explained in terms that any open-minded person should understand and accept: he owned the land, and paid money to the workers in exchange for their labor. Larry, however, was not persuaded, and his questions became more pointed once the enormity of his father’s treatment of the laborers dawned on him. Larry’s problem, it seems, stemmed from his friendship with Fred, the son of the maid, Anita. \(She was the sister of a migrant worker crippled for life by an ents look back on that circumstance [having Fred as a playmate] as one of the more harmful psychological experiences of their son’s childhood,” writes Coles. Well they might. Larry’s sympathy for migrantsthe product of his ties to Fredproved invulnerable to the father’s sternest and most reasoned lectures. The parents finally told Anita, on pain of firing, to keep Fred away from the house. But it was to no avail. Larry became obsessed with the migrants’ situation in comparison with his own. As in other families studied by Coles where maids or employees provoked feelings of guilt and sympathy, the children made the connection: their worry was not simply an abstract concern that some people were well off and others were not. They perceived a direct relation between their parents’ activities and the workers’ deprivation. 16 JUNE 9, 1978