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SOME ADVICE ON MENCKEN’S CHILD-REARING ADVICE

SHARE SOME ADVICE ON MENCKEN’S CHILD-REARING ADVICE

Newspaper writer H.L. Mencken's 1910 book, "What You Ought to Know About Your Baby," is being reissued in November with present-day commentary being offered by Dr. Frank Oski.

Here are examples of Mencken's advice, with Oski's comments:Mencken on mothers' vs. doctors' care:

"On the face of it, of course, it seems reasonable to maintain that a woman who has brought up eight children of her own, and watched by the bedsides of perhaps a dozen others, should know something about the art. But this conclusion is based upon faulty logic.

"The fact that grandma's eight children lived shows only that they were sturdy and lucky - that their natural recuperative powers enabled them to survive her blunders or that they were rescued by some hard-working family doctor. . . . Because she once, or twice, or eight times observed that a certain procedure seemed to be followed by a certain result, she maintains, today, as an uncontrovertible proposition, that that same procedure will be followed by the same result inevitably and always.

"The doctor is a mere man, and it may be he has no babies of his own, but his knowledge of babies, even accepting the grandmother's test, is infinitely greater than her own. He has walked the hospitals for five years and he has seen and studied not eight babies, but eight hundred or a thousand. He has read books; he has listened to the great physicians. He has given his days and nights to the investigation of human maladies - their cause and their cure . . . is it not reasonable to set up his authority against that of the grandmother whose eight babies were lucky and so faced these perils unslain, if not scathed?"

Oski's commentary:

"Mothers are urged to rely upon the counsel of the doctor. . . . As a physician, Hirshberg obviously had a vested interest in such advice. However, Mencken, too, believed wholeheartedly in expert medical advice and treatment."

Mencken on breast-feeding:

"The best possible food for a baby is mother's milk, and that is what it should get whenever possible. The mother who permits social `duties,' laziness or any other such excuse or motive to interfere with her highest of privilege is a woman unfit to bring human beings into the world."

Oski's commentary:

"Few pediatricians would presume to judge a mothers' fitness `to bring human beings into the world' based upon the method she chooses to feed her child, as Mencken bombastically states. . . ."

Mencken on school:

"The healthy boy of six displays little or no inclination to dally with books. His thirst for knowledge is satisfied by the accumulation of a vast store of baseball lore. . . He eats plain wholesome food, and he spends at least 10 hours of the 24 in sleep. Between meals he is in the open air, galloping, marauding and fighting his fellows. He is a savage, true enough - but that touch of savagery will be worth more to him than Greek in the years to come . . . for the young child the classroom holds out few advantages. . . . But it is always the way of headache, anemia, lassitude, nervousness, hysteria and broken health."

Oski's commentary:

" `What You Ought to Know About Your Schools' is consistent with Mencken's strong bias against formal education. . . . Trying to explain Mencken's arcane opinions . . . would serve no purpose. Instead, we shall let the essay speak for itself. . . ."