Program Particulars: The Inner Lives of Children

January 01, 2009

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

(01:00) Early Program with Robert Coles

One of our earliest programs called "Children and God" featured interviews with oncologist Diane Komp, educator Carol Dittberner, and a much briefer excerpt of Krista's conversation with psychiatrist Robert Coles.

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(02:57–04:12) Music Element

"Arrozana (Through the Window)" from Lost Songs of Palestine, performed by Edward Hines Music

(03:14) Ruby Bridges

In the spring of 1960, a federal court order forced New Orleans schools to desegregate. African-American kindergarten students across the city were asked to take a test to determine who among them would be admitted into an integrated school the following school year. Ruby Bridges was one of the children to pass the test.

On November 14, 1960, six children who had passed the test were to matriculate at an integrated school — the parents of two children decided to keep the children in their previous school and three other children were assigned to attend McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School. Ruby Bridges, however, was the only student assigned to William Frantz Elementary School. Under escort by federal marshals, the six-year-old was met by a crowd of protestors; many white parents pulled their children from school. Ruby's teacher, Mrs. Henry, however, remained in class and began to teach Ruby.

Over the next few months, Robert Coles, then head of a New Orleans psychiatric ward, volunteered to counsel Ruby. He later wrote a children's book about Ruby Bridges.

(04:00) Anna Freud

The last of Sigmund Freud's six children, Anna Freud (1895-1982) was a psychoanalyst who focused on "the systematic study of the emotional and mental life of the child and elaborated it in 50 years of observation, discussion and writing." Part of her work also included expanding Sigmund Freud's theories of the stages of childhood development.

Robert Coles is mentioned briefly in her obituary in the October 10, 1982, edition of The New York Times:

Dr. Robert Coles of Harvard was among many who credited Miss Freud with proving one of her father's basic hypotheses; but there were others who doubted that her proofs were more than self-serving, or who challenged Freudianism altogether. Even doubters, however, seemed willing to agree that Miss Freud had indeed contributed to an understanding of the ways children find to get along with their parents, siblings and friends. Two of her books are counted essential for those who work with children: The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Children and Psychoanalysis for Teachers and Parents. Both were published in the late 1920s and were written with what Dr. Coles called "a modesty of spirit."

In 1992, Robert Coles published a biography about her, Anna Freud: The Dream of Psychoanalysis.

(09:32) Prophetic Figures

In the Abrahamic faiths — Christianity, Judaism, Islam — the term "prophet" has a meaning rooted in the Hebrew Bible. These stories feature a series of enigmatic figures such as Elijah, Jeremiah, and others who were representatives of God delivering stark warnings to the societies around them. A prophet was a kind of spiritual whistle blower whose aim was the realignment of society toward ethical (or often monotheistic) goals.

Modern civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel have carried on the tradition of prophetic preaching. Said Heschel, "When I see an act of evil, I am not accommodated — I don't accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I'm still surprised. That's why I'm against it; why I can fight against it. We must learn how to be surprised, not to adjust ourselves. I am the most maladjusted person in society."

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(11:55–12:53) Music Element

"Danse Profane" from Skala Kanga and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Orchestra - Harp Works, performed by Claude Debussy

(12:29) Flannery O'Connor's Letters and the Task of the Novelist

In a 1993 article in Christian Century, Robert Coles elaborates upon a quote from the letters of 20th-century American writer Flannery O'Connor, which he mentions in his interview with Krista:

If you read novels carefully and take them to heart you learn to look at the world upside down at any moment. What I had to do is leave the realm of social science, which strives for predictability, consistency and theoretical amplification. George Eliot described Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch by saying her mind was "theoretic." Anyone who has gone through the years that I went through of psychiatry, child psychiatry and psychoanalysis develops a theoretic mind. While I've had to hold on to some of those virtues, I've also had to leave behind much of that way of thinking in order to turn toward what I think stories offer us — an appreciation of complexity, irony, ambiguity, inconsistency, fate, luck, chance, circumstance. All of this is best summarized by a wonderful remark that Flannery O'Connor made when she said that "the task of the novelist is to deepen mystery." She then went on to add, lest some of us fail to grasp how trenchant she was aiming to be, "…and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." When she added those words I think she had in mind individuals like myself who have become, unfortunately, secular ministers or priests to a society which in so many ways, despite its official espousal of religion, places its faith in one or another form of materialism, and in the various forms of social science, which has become a form of secular Authority — and unfortunately so, for all too many ministers, I might add.

A collection of Flannery O'Connor's letters can be found in the book The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, and through this online archive.

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(14:55–15:37) Music Element

"Sérénade, op. 30 - III. Presto" from Skala Kanga and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Orchestra, performed by Albert Roussel

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(22:52–23:09) Music Element

"Seamstress Extraordinaire" from Helium, performed by Tin Hat Trio

(23:37) Kierkegaard and the Story of Abraham

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard used the story of Abraham and the binding of Isaac as starting point for his classic 1843 work Fear and Trembling. In the prelude, he reimagines the story in four different ways, which you can read on our companion site for the program, "Children of Abraham.

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(24:47–27:22) Music Element

"Jack Irons - Attention Dimension" from Attention Dimension, performed by Jack Irons

(35:11) Pictures of God

In the book Conversations with Robert Coles, Coles talks about the pictures children drew of God with Peter Costa of the Harvard University Gazette:

Peter Costa: You asked many of the children to draw or paint God. Did most of the children portray God as a smiling, bearded deity?

Coles: No. God varies in many ways by the background of the child. I noticed when I was working in Europe that God was blondish with blue eyes in Sweden, and slowly the hair color and the eye color changed as I moved down through Hungary toward Italy. Then when I crossed the Mediterranean Sea I started talking with children in Israel. In Tunisia, God had a distinctly different coloration among those children who were willing to draw God. Of course, Jewish and Islamic children do not draw pictures of the deity.

Costa: You never asked a child of Jewish or Islamic faith to draw a picture of God.

Coles: I could have gotten into some of the difficulties that Salman Rushdie got into. Some of these children were prepared to violate some of these tenets because they were tempted to and had in their own minds picture God, regardless of the injunctions that they not do so in an engraving sense by drawing or painting. Some of them even wanted to draw a little circle to represent God, at least in a geometric sense. But they were willing and anxious to draw pictures of Moses and other Hebrew prophets and of Jesus and his comrades. But the child's racial background, religious background, even socioeconomic background, and the child's personal life definitely influenced the way the child thinks of God and will picture God. Christian children were very anxious to draw pictures of Jesus and, indeed, of God. There was a great deal of variation depending on where they lived and what their neighborhood was like and who they usually see and therefore what colors come naturally to them as they pick up their pencils and the crayons and the paints.

In a recent production trip to New York City, we came across a stunning collection of children's drawings made following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

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(35:18–35:47) Music Element

"Sérénade, op. 30 - I. Allegro" from Harp Works, performed by Skala Kanga and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Orchestra

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(37:22–38:09) Music Element

"Another Momentary Suspension of Doubt" from History, Mystery, performed by Bill Frisell

(42:19) Catholic Social Activist Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was a bohemian writer and social agitator who founded The Catholic Worker newspaper, shelter, and soup kitchen in New York. Based on the French Catholic Peter Maurin's program of social reconstruction, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 with the intent of uniting workers and intellectuals in joint activities such as communal farming and housing and feeding the urban poor in New York City. As part of that outreach, the Catholic Worker, a radical monthly newspaper supporting pacifism during World War II, was published with Day serving as editor until her death in 1980. "Our rule is the works of mercy," said Dorothy Day. "It is the way of sacrifice, worship, a sense of reverence."

In our program, "Faith Fired by Literature," author Paul Elie talks about his discovery of Dorothy Day and explains to Krista her relation to some of the great Catholic writers of the 20th century, including Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O'Connor:

Ms. Tippett: And when I think — yeah, Dorothy Day sort of immersed herself in humanity, but also I remember there was a line — was it Peter Maurin, her companion, her cofounder of Catholic Worker, who said that they needed to create a place where it would be easy to be good.

Mr. Elie: Or easier to be good.

Ms. Tippett: Easier to be good.

Mr. Elie: Which gives a good sense of the realism of the Catholic Worker. Just a little easier to be good. And this--as you say, they had an incredible sense of how society could be ordered a little differently than it was. And this connects to what I was saying earlier. Their expectations were so high they weren't content to just rest in their alienation and sense of disappointment with life. They really — it sounds cliché to say they sought to do something about it, but they had an incredible imagination for the way in which, in their small fashion, they could make the world different and make it a place where it was a little easier to be good.

Ms. Tippett: I need to ask you, because there may be people who listen who don't know Dorothy Day — I'm sure there will be. I mean, tell the story of what she did, what she created, she and Peter Maurin there.

Mr. Elie: So Day, who was from New York, lived in California and Chicago, lived the bohemian life of artists in New York, in Staten Island, and also lived as a radical, a member of radical political groups, but none of them spoke to her deepest instincts, which she said were religious. And she thought they talked more about solidarity and friendship with the poor than actually enacting it. The poor were in the Catholic Church at that time. She felt she wanted, in the most physical way possible, to be joined to the poor; and the way for that to happen was for her to become a Catholic. I'm not giving a full sense of the religious implication of this. She didn't just, you know, want to be among them for an hour a week, she wanted to be joined to them. So she became a Catholic around the time her daughter was baptized, but she still had all her radical instincts.

Ms. Tippett: And let's just remind that she had this daughter, this was a daughter who was born out of wedlock, right?

Mr. Elie: That's right. And I'm skipping the most interesting parts of the story, I guess. She was living with an anarchist, philosopher-type man named Forster, and because she'd had an abortion in the teens and because of how it was performed, she thought that she would not be able to have another child. So when she became pregnant, she was joyful beyond measure. She was determined to have the child baptized. She didn't even quite understand this instinct, but she knew that it had to be so. Well, her husband — he was a common-law husband, so I guess it's correct to say the child was born out of wedlock — wouldn't have anything of religion, so baptizing the child, that ended the marriage. Dorothy Day then took the natural next step, which was to become a Catholic herself.

Then she looked around. The world is still broken, she's still eager as ever to fix things and make the world a better place. She's a talented journalist and organizer. What is she going to do with this very strong religious faith that makes her more than ever want to see justice in society? She's not sure. But one day this man named Peter Maurin, recommended by a mutual friend, shows up on her doorsteps and just starts talking this philosophy of communal Catholic life. They put their heads together and a few months later they put out a newspaper, The Catholic Worker, May 1st, 1933. Then, in the way she describes in the excerpt, people just started hanging around the office and then wanting to sleep there and eat there. It was the middle of the depression and the Catholic workers said to themselves, 'Well, we got to practice what we preach, so let's feed them, and cloth them and shelter them.' And the rest is history.

Ms. Tippett: Publisher and author Paul Elie. He's written about a vivid and influential American Catholic tradition of literary pilgrimage. Dorothy Day's 1952 memoir of her spiritual journey, The Long Loneliness, is still widely read and admired today.

Ms. Tippett: Of course, Dorothy Day is someone who — of these four, maybe Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton are more famous in our time. I'm not sure that I had a memory — I know of her as the saint working with the poor. I didn't have such a memory of her as this wild bohemian who lived with several men, who had an abortion and then was a single mother.

Mr. Elie: She left a lot of that out and it's told very elliptically in The Long Loneliness. She has an almost Victorian reticence. She does say at one point, 'About the next few years, there is little to say.' That's when she was off being married and traveling around Europe with her husband and…

Ms. Tippett: Oh, right, I forgot about that marriage, yeah, that brief marriage.

Mr. Elie: Well, she wasn't dishonest. It was — there's a headmistress sternness about her sometimes where she'll just insist, 'I'm not going to go into this,' and she doesn't. But we now know a good deal more about just how complex her bohemian life was.

Ms. Tippett: You identify with all of these people. I think in each of them there is one sort of vital religious question or yearning around which their pilgrimage hinged. What would you say that is in Dorothy Day?

Mr. Elie: Well, she's the person who could always imagine society better than it is. It stemmed from her experience in the San Francisco earthquake. She was an eight-year-old girl. She lived in Oakland. She stood on the street watching for the next few days as the people of Oakland helped each other and helped the people of San Francisco who were coming across the bay in boats. And for the rest of her life, she just thought, 'People helped each other. Why can't we just keep doing that? Why can't society be organized so that we can help each other a little more, so that that stranger who asks for food, that I actually recognize that that person is a brother or sister to me in a way?' So she had a reformer's imagination of how the world might be other than it is.

Ms. Tippett: You know, what's so interesting to me about that image of her standing before the San Francisco earthquake, seeing how people could love each other and help one another, you can dismiss that, you can say, 'Well, that's one of those extreme moments in life, we've all seen that. There's crisis and then it passes.' But then what she went on to do is to create communities of that same kind of crisis and intensity on a day-to-day basis with the poor.

Mr. Elie: Well, that's right, and it's partly out of the recognition that it doesn't have to be merely the crisis moments that call forth that love in us, and also the recognition that, at some moment, everyone is having a crisis of that magnitude.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, that the crisis is among us all the time.

Mr. Elie: Yeah. And that you have to be there when the person is having his or her crisis, and not wait for the city to burn down.

Ms. Tippett: So here's this reading from the postscript. She says: "We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, 'We need bread.' We could not say, 'Go, be thou filled.' If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded. We were just sitting there talking and someone said, 'Let's all go live on a farm.' It was as casual as all that, I often think. It just came about. It just happened. I found myself, a barren woman, the joyful mother of children. It is not easy always to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight. The most significant thing about the Catholic Worker is poverty, some say. The most significant thing is community, others say. We are not alone any more. But the final word is love. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on."

Why did you send me that piece of hers?

Mr. Elie: Well, it's one of the most powerfully written things that she did, and as the postscript to her autobiography, it's one that obviously she considered important and representative. But what it really gets at is something that I think you were pointing toward in all the remarks of the past few minutes. She thought it possible for society to be different than it is because she thought that we're naturally oriented toward love, we're made to love one another. That's natural, and strife and war are a deformity of that. But what we're created for is to love one another, and to love one another in community. So she was trying to make clear in that passage that though she was a radical and formidable organizer, it was not a programmatic effort that got the Catholic Worker going. It was people doing what came naturally, which was loving one another in community and talking about it.

Robert Coles has written about Day in his biography of her, Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion:

Dorothy Day was constantly noticing people, constantly ready to engage with them and let them become, even for a few moments, part of her life. This unusual quality, which I watched at work in her, would not yield even to old age, a time when so many of us are inclined to put more and more barriers between ourselves and others, impelled to do so by nature itself: the way aging can isolate us, restricting both our mental and physical capacities.

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(43:16–43:55) Music Element

"Granias" from Quiet Mob EP, performed by Spaghetti Western String Co.

(43:57) The Old Ones of New Mexico

In 1973, Robert Coles published The Old Ones of New Mexico, a book of photographs by Alex Harris and profiles of "old-line" Americans of Spanish descent who live in remote parts of northern New Mexico.

During the 1960s, Dr. Coles had spent a large amount of time speaking with Spanish-speaking children and migrant farmworkers who traveled from Florida to Maine as the harvesting seasons dictated. Many of the people he talked to being from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Mexico, he moved there to do more research for Children of Crisis: Migrants, Sharecroppers, Mountaineers. While there, many mothers encouraged him to learn about "a 'different' kind of Spanish-speaking person":

You should talk with the children's grandparents. You should tell the Anglos about our old men and women. With us the grandfather and the grandmother are very important. I see on television how the Anglos treat their old people: to the garbage heap they go. For me my parents and my husband's parents are the most important people in the world — along with our priest, of course."

Coles also spoke with many of these local priests. One priest, in particular, emphatically stated the connection between children and their elders and how the Hispanic view of life offers a distinctive experience with these rural communities:

If you want to know about the children, you must first speak with the old people; what they believe, the child soon believes. The parents are go-betweens, I often think: they are very close to their parents, and hand down beliefs from the very old to the very young.

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(49:15–51:10) Music Element

"Danse Profane" from Skala Kanga and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Orchestra, performed by Claude Debussy

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(49:15–51:10) Music Element

"Sérénade, op. 30 - I. Allegro" from Harp Works, performed by Albert Roussel

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is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at Harvard Medical School. He's the author of many books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning series Children of Crisis and The Moral Intelligence of Children and The Spiritual Intelligence of Children