Chimps and Children

For models of good motherhood, naturalist Jane Goodall sees more to admire among the chimpanzees of Africa than among many modern humans in economically developed countries. In an interview with journalist Eduardo Punset, Goodall highlights the human relevance of chimpanzee social patterns. In particular, she stresses that humans have much to learn from zoologists who report that “when a mother chimpanzee is kind, caring, and protects her baby, her young tend to be more secure and happier when they are adults.” Among both chimpanzees and humans, Goodall asserts that “early experiences are so important” in determining the future well-being of the young. Unfortunately, however, she concludes that many chimpanzee mothers are providing their young with better early experiences than are many modern human mothers. “When we think about everything our children are exposed to in the Western world that we call ‘civilized’—appalling child-care centers, mothers who work all the time outside the home, broken families—it is no surprise that there are so many teenagers with serious problems.” Goodall’s sobering comments should prompt serious questions among Americans whose social world exposes growing number of young children to greater distress than are chimpanzee babies in the African jungle.  (“Nearly Human: Interview [Conducted by Eduardo Punset] with Jane Goodall,” Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of Our Time, edited by Lynn Margulis [White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2007], pp. 29–30.)
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