Sunday, September 29, 1996
Dick and Jane grown up, in therapy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

My first-grade teacher once scraped mud off my new saddle shoes with a Popsicle stick after I said my dear, gentle mother would ''kill me'' when she saw them. Sympathetic but strict, Mrs. Winegardner carried a pitch pipe, wore sensible shoes and kept her hankie in her brassiere. We carefully averted our eyes when she was searching for it.

It was an innocent time.

We baby boomers were growing up with Smith Brothers cough drops, which were really candy in disguise; Howdy Doody, who was a freckled, wooden boy; and, of course, Dick and Jane, the brother-and-sister act who taught us all to read.

I know that I speak for Dick and Jane when I say they would be shocked to know they have become ''icons of the American culture.'' A new book by Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman, Growing Up with Dick and Jane, ($19.95, HarperCollins) has taken Dick and Jane and Sally and Father and Mother - even Spot, Puff and Tim - and analyzed them, nearly beyond recognition.

Wisdom from the Captain

Bob Keeshan, the former Captain Kangaroo and the first Clarabell Clown on the Howdy Doody Show, wrote the preface:

''With love and security - and an occasional ice cream bar - our children will turn out like Dick and Jane. I'll let you in on a secret. The Dicks and Janes of this world grow into happy human beings.''

As well they might, Captain.

Dick, in one of several beautiful illustrations, poses sturdily, hands in his pockets, looking directly off the page. He is, according to the authors, ''master of a little world that stretches from his screen door, across the green lawn, to a white picket fence.''

When Dick says ''Look,'' everybody does.

Meanwhile, Jane is ''smart and down-to-earth. She hovers on the outskirts of the action - always there if someone needs her.'' And, by the way, this child is a major clotheshorse. According to the book, she traveled through her 40-year career wearing at least 200 different ensembles, always dresses.

She wore a spotless little dress to ride a pony, and ''she's so neat that even Spot and Puff know not to jump on her.'' Spot and Puff were the family pets, a perky springer spaniel and tiny orange kitten. They are completely housebroken.

Sally is the baby, cute, very cute. Mother is a whirlwind of cooking, cleaning and sewing. She never has PMS or a bad-hair day. Father is young, handsome, tall and, we may assume, prosperous.

This family has everything but a last name.

A fool's paradise

Well, no wonder we postwar babies started drinking and taking drugs. No wonder so many of us are in therapy. Reality must have been a terrible disappointment for us. Would we have been better off if we'd been reading books such as Heather Has Two Mommies? I don't know, but I think it's worth discussing.

I hope everybody notices that our kids are not getting their view of life exclusively from the shelves of their school libraries. When they are assigned to read a book at school, at least a teacher is available to help them understand things they find disturbing. Nobody is writing Cliffs Notes for the learning experience of MTV or the mall.

Some parents at Lakota High School want to protect their children from the writing of Maya Angelou. (The best way, of course, would be to demand that they read it.) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which contains a vivid description of the rape of an 8-year-old girl, has been dropped from the reading list at Lakota.

I happen to have the outrageous view that parents have a right - actually, an obligation - to take an interest in their children's schooling, including their books. I don't consider it censorship to challenge and debate the decisions of teachers, librarians and administrators.

After all, don't we want the best possible education for our children? Don't we want to prepare them as best we can to cope with the world that awaits? Dick was never forced to join a gang. Nobody offered heroin to Jane on the playground.

It was, however, an innocent time.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.