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Robert Coles: From Tykes to Tolstoy

Presents an interview with Robert Coles, author of 50 book and a
professor at Both Harvard and Duke Universities, regarding his book about
the moral and spiritual life of kids entitled 'The Moral Intelligence of
Children.' What the book is all about; Reason why Coles become interested
in children; Cole's most admired persons.

Few physicians have written as extensively and eloquently on the
moral andspiritual life of kids as child psychiatrist Robert Coles, M.D.,
whose most recent meditation on the subject was recently Published as The
Moral Intelligence of Children (Random House). Author of more than 50
books, and a professor at both Harvard and Duke Universities, the
67-year-old Coles shows no signs of slowing down: He's just co-authored
yet another book, this time with his three sons.

PT: You've spoken with thousands of kids over the years. Do they
still surprise you?

RC: Hardly a week passes that I don't find myself thinking, "Look
what he said." If you find yourself bored by children, you're not really
observing them.

PT: What's the most common misconception parents have?

RC: A lot of parents underestimate how watchful children are and
how that watchfulness determines their behavior. That's what The Moral
Intelligence of Children is about. If we want our children to be moral,
the first thing we have to do is figure out who we are and what we want
transmitted to the next generation. Because we're going to convey
that--not by what we say, but by how we behave.

PT: How did you become interested in children?

RC: I had planned to become an English teacher. I wrote my college
thesis on the poetry of William Carlos Williams, who was a pediatrician,
and sent him a copy. He invited me to meet him, and I was so taken with
him and his energy as a physician that I decided to go to medical school
and become the kind of doctor he was. I started in pediatrics, but I had
trouble being tough, giving shots. I went to see him and he said, "Why
don't you try working with kids psychologically instead of
medically?"

PT: Why do you think you've been so successful?

RC: People used to ask my wife about how I did my work, and she
would say, "Children feel sorry for him. They're not sure what he's
trying to do, so they try to help him out. The truth is, he doesn't quite
know what he's doing while he's doing it; he's conscientious about
leaving himself open to experience."

PT: Whom do you most admire?

RC: Dr. Williams obviously had a great effect on me. Also [social
activist] Dorothy Day--I worked in her soup kitchen when I was in medical
school. And Walker Percy, another writer-physician. I've written about
all of these people as testimony of my admiration. Anna Freud and Erik
Erikson are the two people in my field I've most admired. Who else? Alec
Wilkinson and Ian Frazier, who are literary journalists, and certain
poets, such as Adam Zagajewski.

PT: I thought that there might be more psychiatrists.

RC: I'm no great fan of academic social science. The kind of social
science I like is that done by people like Erikson and Anna Freud. It's
not only the work they did, but the way they wrote it up. They had the
sensibility of a Leo Tolstoy or George Eliot--they could accommodate
themselves to the complexities and ironies of life.

PT: What are you most looking forward to?

RC: I'm editing a quarterly magazine, Double Take. It's an effort
to render the world around us--as as it is and as it might be--through
good fiction, photography, poetry, and nonfiction. I've poured my mind,
heart and soul into this with my coeditor, Alex Harris.

PT: Speaking of good writing, a colleague of mine insists that the
greatest psychologist of all time was I William Shakespeare.

RC: He's absolutely right. Freud suggested Dostoevski, but
Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Eliot--they'll all do.

Double Take is published by Duke University's Center for
Documentary Studies; for more information call 1-800-964-8301. A one-year
subscription costs $24.

PHOTO (COLOR): Coles at work: "My wife used to say, `Children feel
sorry for him. They're not sure what he's trying to do, so they try to
help him out.'"