DER Documentary

Robert Coles: An Intimate Biographical Interview

by Bruce Baird-Middleton
color, 58 min, 1987




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Dr. Robert Coles is one of the most provocative and articulate social observers in America today. Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at Harvard University, Dr. Coles is recognized around the world for his social anthropological work with children. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, he has written 38 books and hundreds of articles.

The videotape presents a comprehensive overview of Dr. Coles’s work and thought; while having a life of its own, the tape provides an essential complement to his written works. It focuses not only on the rewards and fulfillments, but also on the difficulties and disappointments of a remarkably full life. The format of the interview is that of a sustained, intimate conversation between Dr. Coles and one of his students and teaching fellows, Bruce Baird-Middleton.

The tape offers a unique opportunity to see and hear at length a teacher of singular inspiration, capturing Dr. Coles’s noted ability to supply the idealism of his students with nourishment and support.

Coles shares a lifetime of impassioned inquiry with interviewer Baird-Middleton. The Harvard Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities reveals the spiritual, moral, and ethical impetus that lead to a career spent studying the poor, distraught, and burdened among society. This work lead to a number of publications, most notably the Pulitzer prize-winning five-volume series Children of Crisis. In this insightful discussion, Coles traces his educational development and subsequent research interests, interspersed with intimate family stories, and provides anecdotes about his influences and mentors: William Carlos Williams, Robert F. Kennedy, Eric Ericson, and Dorothy Day. Humble and contemplative, Coles cites literature, medicine, and travel as inspiring his psychological and sociological inquiries and finds fault with institutional thinking inherent to the academy.

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