Values Expressed in American Children’s Readers: 1800–1950
Students of cultural change within the United States seem to have reached some agreement as to a trend observable within the last century. This trend, which deals with some of the basic values of our culture, may be seen as a change from what Weber (1930) called “the Protestant ethic” to what has been called the “social ethic” (Whyte, 1956). Specifically, the dominant value of individual salvation through hard work, thrift, and competition is seen as being replaced by “a belief in the group as the source of creativity; a belief in ‘belongingness’ as the ultimate need of the individual; and a belief in the application of science to achieve the belongingness” (Whyte, 1956, p. 7). In Riesman’s (Riesman, Glazer, & Denney, 1950) terminology the basic trend is from inner-direction to other-direction. Actually this process is circular in the sense that the cultural change is probably accompanied by a change in values which starts a new cycle. The psychologist likes to conceive of the basic variables in human behavior as being internally determined and thus breaks this circle and concentrates on motives as basic. The aim of the present paper is to investigate psychological variables which it seems logical to predict will be associated with the cultural changes observed in the United States over the last century and a half. McClelland (1955) has noted striking similarity between his concept of the person with high achievement motivation and Riesman’s inner-directed character type. McClelland defines achievement motivation as “success in competition with a standard of excellence” (p. 43). According to Riesman et al. (1950) “the drive instilled in the child is to live up to ideals and to test his ability to be on his own by continuous experiments in self-mastery” (p. 59). For the other-directed person “making good becomes almost equivalent to making friends” (Riesman et al., 1950, p. 66). This sounds very much like the person with high affiliation motivation. Atkinson (1958) defines affiliation motivation as “concern . . . over establishing, maintaining, or restoring a positive affective relationship with another person. This relationship is most adequately described by the word friendship” (p. 206). Assuming that achievement motivation is a basic component of the innerdirected character type, and that affiliation motivation is a basic component of the other-directed character type, in the context of Riesman’s cultural change thesis, one would predict a decline in over-all achievement motivation and an increase in affiliation motivation in the last century of United States history. Strauss and Houghton (1960) have found evidence giving some support to these hypotheses in the period since 1924 in a study of 4-H club journals. A meaningful relationship should also be found between achievement orientation and economic and technological change according to McClelland (1955). A further aspect of Riesman’s thesis is that the stage of inner-direction is preceded by a stage of tradition-direction. During this stage strict moral codes demand behavioral conformity of the individual. The change from a tradition-
directed society to an inner-directed society involves a secularization in the sense that the individual must prove himself worthy as in Weber’s (1930) Protestant ethic, rather than be told what to do by categorical imperatives. One might thus predict more reliance on moral teaching early in the history of the United States. The objective measurement of cultural orientations or values is always difficult, especially if an attempt is to be made to tap the values of the past. An intriguing attempt to measure the motives of an ancient culture has been reported by McClelland (1958). He has developed a method of assessing achievement motivation in a culture by content analysis of literary products of the culture. Using this tool he found striking confirmation for his hypothesis that achievement motivation preceded the economic and technological development of Athenian civilization in classical Greece, a culture also discussed by Riesman. McClelland’s measure of motivation was developed originally to assess the motives of individuals (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953). The extension of it to apply to cultures raises questions as to what is being measured. McClelland (1958) has argued that his content analysis of documents produced by the culture will give a measure of the level of specific types of motivation within the culture if the documents are carefully selected to reduce effects of other obviously important variables. The best support for this argument derives from a study which demonstrated that content analysis of American Indian folk tales relates to content analysis of stories obtained from individuals in the manner used originally to validate the measure for studying individual motives (McClelland & Friedman, 1952). It is obvious that a measure which has been shown to be related to individual motives would be expected to reflect the motives of the writer of any document chosen from a culture. In order to use such a measure as an indication of cultural orientation one does not have to assume that the motive score of an individual author is a measure of the cultural orientation alone. One must, however, assume that a portion of the score is a measure of the cultural orientation. The problem of reducing idiosyncratic components in the measure of cultural orientation becomes one of (a) sampling randomly many authors (b) under as similar conditions as possible (i.e., writing similar material) and (c) choosing materials which should place few restrictions on the author’s fantasy. All of the above advantages can be obtained by careful sampling of stories written for children’s readers. In addition, the stories are actually written to be used in transmitting cultural values, and information on how widely they have been used gives at once some indication of cultural acceptance of the values contained in the book and of the extent of its influence. An example of the use of children’s readers to assess values in many cultures has been presented by McClelland (1961). The schema presented above predicts a relationship between cultural achievement orientation and behavior of the members of the culture which would lead to technological advance. Just as one might predict that an
individual with high achievement motivation might strive for some unique accomplishment, one might also predict that a culture with strong achievement orientation would produce many inventions. A measure of the inventiveness of the culture at various periods in history might be obtained from the number of patents issued per population, and one could predict a relationship between this and a measure of cultural achievement orientation.