Available at dogsection.org
[Dog Section Press/Active Distribution]
Available at dogsection.org
[Dog Section Press/Active Distribution]
Condemned and Hated
Adults have consistently ignored young opinions and voices forever. It’s taught to us that we should respect our elders, because they’re old, and not speak unless spoken to by an adults. They constantly fail to protect and help us. The history of our world is filled with young people and children being failed by adults and losing their rights. From birth, we’re told that we are inherently inferior. Year after year, young people’s ideas are shot down by older relatives, older siblings, teachers, professors, leaders, bosses, etc. Our ambitious, often progressive, ideals and values are instantly invalid because we’re “young and inexperienced”, full of “idealism”, or told older people “know better”. Love, compassion, inclusivity, and ideas of acceptance are laughed off by adults.
We’re compared to communists, socialists, “feminists” (with very negative denotations), “hippies”, “SJWs” (whatever that means to them), and oppressed by systematic, visible, active values older people have against the young. We’re constantly told that change has to be incremental and slow; almost-like how the U.S. government allowed states to adjust, meaning it took years for schools, mostly in the South, to desegregate. Incremental change is inefficient and never-enough for the most ignored people in this world. I am absolutely tired of waiting for older people to catch up with our always changing, diverse planet and inhabitants. We cannot allow older, ignorant actions and opinions to blind us from the humanity of others. I don’t have any patience for adults’ failings, stale, failures to acknowledge oppression, and absolutist ways. I am tired of having to respect people older than me without ever knowing their actions or inactions. Too many adults in my life have failed me to let me allow this to continue. I, for one, refuse to give in the oppressive, stagnant actions and views elders and adults have against us. As if we’re not educated, socially aware, smart, and worthy of respect. I’m tired of being yelled at because “not everything is about race”, or how “unrealistic” my ideas are.
Children and teenagers have rights, just as every human does. We cannot be made silenced or ignored due to older peoples’ unchanging values. Just because they lived in the 60s or 70s are alive doesn’t make me respect, and or like them. I do not care for people that think I should like them because they’re older than me. I judge others by their character, actions, and views, not age. I like and respect people for their actions, inactions, attitudes, ethics, and ways of thinking. I don’t like or respect others when they oppress/harm children, and then actively allowed for their generation to destroy that which is around us, promoted hawkish ideals and inhumane actions. My snarl will vicious and my voice louder when I’m discounted just because of my age. As if my years and experiences on Earth confirm my ideas and views.
Age discrimination against young individuals is called “adultism” and is currently defined as “positive bias toward adults, addictions to adults, and discrimination toward the young”. At the heart of most conversations and actions between adults and youth have positive adult bias. Education, youth work, business, schools, government organizations, or elsewhere, adultism is motivation behind behavior. It is present in attitudes, cultures, systems, physical places, and much more. Adultism also goes hand-in-hand with ephebiphobia, the fear of youth. This phobia is full-blown in modern media. Academics, government agencies, educators, and youth advocacy organization describe ephbiphobia as “any loathing, paranoia, or fear of young people, or the time of life called ‘youth’”. This widespread feeling among adults affects everything, and it’s a legitimate issue. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Denying young people their right to vote and representation, creating policies, laws, and structures excluding youth voices very well might be ephebiphobia. Along with legislation, agencies and libraries that exclude or deny youth participation as an outreach method is an act of discrimination. This applies to police, government personnel and administrators that act in overbearing or misguided ways.
Ephebiphobia, unfortunately, has a large affect on politics. Once young individuals connect with their community through forms of civic engagement like volunteering and activism, they’re far more likely to be become and remain active voters for the rest of their lives. Fear of youth has led legislators and voting organizations to ignore young peoples’ concerns and enthusiasm to influence the world around them. In culture, media networks and publishers often demonize young people’s interests, activities, and ideas. Through this, we feel ashamed to be involved with our own peers and communities. To add onto that — young PoC are neglected by youth leadership programs, and are then locked up in juvenile detention centers, making their experiences of racism and sexism much worse. This reinforces stereotypes of minorities, meanwhile forcing young PoC to silence themselves and their cultures in fear of being persecuted.
June Jordan, a Caribbean-American feminist poet and activist, in her book Passion, a set of poems from 1977 – 1980, said this about hippies in the 1970s: “When we heard about the hippies, the barely more than boys and girls who decided to try something different … we laughed at them. We condemned them, our children, for seeking a different future. We hated them for their flowers, for their love, and for their unmistakable rejection of every hideous, mistaken compromise that we had made throughout our hollow, money-bitten, frightened, adult lives…” Does this not ring true about current socially and politically aware teenagers and young adults? We’re condemned for dreaming about better and different futures filled with acceptance, love, and new values, free of any discrimination. Why is that a bad thing? Why must we be so hated for thinking forward about our own future and the children that will inhabit it? Why is positive progress suddenly so appalling that we’re shamed for even thinking about it? Does democracy not apply to us too?
Ephebiphobia and adultism have existed for thousands of years. Plato once remarked, “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Versions of this are continually echoed throughout time. Hatred of young people is very real and very damaging. Because of our continually risk-adverse culture, most children’s behaviors are constrained and restricted by their parents. We’re raised and educated, then kept “safe” due to our parents’ own anxieties, which are fueled by stories and images of violent, aggressive crimes. Young people are labeled as “troublemakers” and “failures” because societies fail to even notice our bright, and sometimes hidden, potentials.
These fears of youth culture and prejudices against us lessen the chances of the youngest generations to succeed in the future. I despair for my fellow minors everyday. A violent, aggressive, antisocial minority, one that’s always existed, causes us to be viewed through slanted lenses. This view is so distorted, young people face a self-fulfilling prophecy: why even bother to try when you’re told that you’re a failure? Why try to strive when your very existence is seen as an annoying nuisance? Adult paternalism wants to protect young people, and if this process curtails freedoms, damages potential, and destroys civil liberties, it’s viewed as merely incidental. Most of the old do not care about us, or our experiences. We’re barely human at all to them, just naive children who don’t learn or think.
My message to other young people: rebel, liberate yourselves and peers. Do not allow adults or elders to treat you as sub-human. You are your own being, with your own thoughts, feelings, values, and ideas. Do your best and fight against a society that was not made for you. Be fair, kind, compassionate, and accepting of those different than you. Please don’t be ashamed to be who you are. You are valuable and just as human as your parents, teachers, or anyone else. We, like every other person, deserve to be respected and only judged by our character, not by our age, race, religion, nationality, etc. Being a “special snowflake” isn’t a bad thing. Shed the ugly labels those who’re older than you embedded in your skin. Aspire to be better than the generations before us. Don’t let oppression remain in your homes. We have the potential to make the world a better place, so we will. We are the future, after all, and we know the world is better when we work together. Show hateful adults what the future looks like.
Saying No Is Enough
Akilah S. Richards
I often hear people talk about pregnancy from a space of gratitude – and sometimes excitement. Though I agree that the journey is incredible and enriching, there is another, perhaps less embraced aspect: For me, pregnancy was also full of moments of intense vulnerability, fear, and at times, anger. I felt fearful about my own safety, it being so inextricably linked with the safety of the person growing in my belly.
Inadvertent pushes from someone who stood in a line behind me, an overly-ambitious driver who darted across me at an intersection, a woman who threatened me because she (wrongly) assumed I stole her parking spot – all those instances of intense vulnerability and primal fear, stemming from my need to protect my future child. Even more unnerving were the instances where physical contact with my belly wasn’t just implied, it was accomplished. This is where my anger would rise to the surface – I’d get angry at the people who felt completely within their rights to touch my belly, to touch my baby. Whether from an elderly man or a woman who was also a mother, I resented them for feeling okay with touching my child without permission, even when she was in utero. For sure, I felt uncomfortable with them trying to touch my body – and all that that says about being a woman in public space. But more than that, it clued me in to many adults’ idea that they don’t need children’s permission to touch them – or to require that they touch someone else.
Today, my daughters are twelve and ten, and I still feel the need to protect them physically – and to advocate for their right to govern their own bodies. But I have to do more than advocate for them. In a world that constantly sends messages to women about connecting their value with their physicality and desirability, I need to help them operate with an awareness of their right to reject or accept physical touch, or any act that affects their personal space or feeling of safety, from any adult or child. And that means I have to be honest about the ways that I, myself, might infringe on their personal boundaries, and I have to facilitate these conversations with the adults around me. And I don’t just mean conversations about what we can do to protect children, but what we must do to help children understand their options for protecting their physical and emotional selves.
One way we can approach this goal is to explore some of the common mistakes we adults make when it comes to helping children practice bodily autonomy, which is at the root of consent culture for children. Otherwise, we will continue to do the things that compromise the self-confidence, the sense of safety/ bodily autonomy, and the mental wellness of the children we love. Because the reality is that children are coerced into situations where their bodies are treated as the property of their parents. The instances vary from making them hug a family member to trading their body for sex, drugs, or even food. All of these instances can send a message to children that their bodies are not their own. They also blur the lines between safe and unsafe touch, or consent versus coercion, and make it difficult for many children to identify when they’re being inappropriately or uncomfortably touched by an adult or another child. Many of us send messages that lessen their ability to recognize and trust what feels safe and uncomfortable for them, as well as how to confidently communicate with an adult that they trust when their personal boundaries are violated by anyone, including an adult or child they know and trust.
Statistically, the percentages are wildly unnerving: 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way, and 68% are abused by family members. What’s more staggering is that 90% are abused by someone they know, love, or trust, and that 20% of child sexual abuse victims are under the age of eight. Most of them don’t tell until they become adults. One of the reasons for this is that as children, they didn’t have language around those feelings. No one was talking to them about their right to feel safe in their own bodies – to have and assert personal boundaries as a way of protecting themselves.
Consent culture is often confined to the topic of consensual sex or intimacy among adults, and that it should extend toward all behaviors and to children. Similarly, the term bodily autonomy tends to be more widely recognized under a specific topic: reproductive justice advocacy – and more specifically, the pro-choice movement among abortion rights. So as to extend these important concepts beyond the scope of sex and reproduction, let’s look how parents’ mistakes around bodily autonomy can contradict the practice of consent culture among children. Because when children don’t feel sure about inappropriate touch, we must look at the narratives around body ownership and consent. For this reason, we must look at confident body autonomy for all people, even before they become adults, and outside of the context of sex.
Teaching Children to Ignore Personal Boundaries
In the US, we have a subtle history of showing children that their bodies are owned by their parents. Forced physical contact with relatives reinforce the dangerously wrong message that relatives can’t be abusers. “Grandpa just wants to hug you – don’t back away,” or other similar verbal prompts, tell children to ignore their feelings about a person (whether based on intuition or past experience) and listen to what an adult says instead. As well-meaning observers, we adults often infringe on personal boundaries within children’s interactions. Coercing a reserved child to hold hands and dance around with an outgoing child may feel like we’re helping that child develop good social skills. But what we may actually do is teach them that it’s okay for other people to force them to do what makes them (or other people) comfortable.
In later years, that can cause some children to feel that they need to be forced to do things, or that their natural tendency is somehow not okay. This can also have long-term negative effects on their social skills because self-esteem and authentic friendships are difficult to form and maintain when a person isn’t okay with who and how they innately are. Also, many children who endure sexual abuse in particular don’t tell because they’re afraid of being blamed for being complicit in the abuse. This tells us that children don’t understand abuse. That’s in part because we, the adults, don’t give them the language to name these experiences, and to feel safe coming to us about them.
Difficult aspects of personal boundary violation, particularly peer-to-peer abuse, make it extra complicated for adults to feel clear on how to broach the topic with children. But children need to know that other children can be abusers and that they can abuse another child by touching them without permission, even if that child told them yes in the past. Whether subtle or overt, the effects of childhood body violations are that we don’t feel that we own ourselves. I know this from personal experience. We feel uncomfortable, unsure, or even afraid about asserting dominion over our own bodies. And again, it’s important to realize that our bodies and our boundaries exist outside of sex, and consent is required for anything having to do with our bodies.
A solution to the blurred lines of personal boundaries is to practice parenting without coercion. Consent culture should start with children – and when children grow up believing that all people have the right to control and protect their own bodies, then they’re likely to respect other people’s boundaries, and to speak up when boundaries – whether their own or those of others – are being violated.
Reinforcing Shame or Silence Around Body-Related Feelings
Instead of starting positive, developmentally appropriate conversation about bodies, sex, and intimacy in general, many parents tend to omit those terms when conversing with their children. But getting comfortable with saying penis, vagina, anus, or even the more popular (and maybe less easy to hear from a child) slang terms like butthole, for example, can lessen the feeling of shame around talking about private body parts or body-related feelings.
These same types of conversations can also help children feel equipped to communicate with someone they trust if they are being sexually violated, for example. This way, we’re not just giving them language about what’s happening with them, we’re also helping them express what’s happening to them. If they’re comfortable naming them, then they have language to utilize when those body parts are affected by anyone in any way.
Another word that often goes unspoken among parents to children in healthy ways is masturbation. It’s normal for children’s curiosity to include their own bodies, sometimes showing up as self-pleasuring. Labeling that form of self-exploration as bad, or avoiding the topic with your child altogether, can make it difficult for a child to feel comfortable with their own bodies and physical feelings. As caring adults, one way we can nurture safe space for children is to educate ourselves on taboo topics like masturbation and children, particularly prepubescent children. Some of us may have incorrect ideas about masturbation based on our parents’ perspectives or other aspects of our own introduction to sexuality. But our children are not us, and though they are our responsibility, their bodies and experiences are their own. In support of that, we can read, discuss, and watch our way towards a sex-positive approach to parenting so that our children feel safe asking questions, and knowing (from experience) that they can discuss any aspect of their bodies with us, including sensations and thoughts that they may find pleasurable.
Personally, I address masturbation with my daughters in part because I don’t ever want to set the precedent that anyone (not even their mother) needs to validate how to explore aspects of their sexuality. My intention is to avoid making masturbation an issue of morality or appropriateness, and instead focus on what is socially safe and personally hygienic. In other words, as Lea Grover so perfectly stated, “We don’t play with our vulvas at the table.”
Neglecting to Teach Your Child the Importance of Their Intuition
Intuition is not exclusive to adulthood, and it can play a very helpful role in helping a child develop a healthy sense of bodily autonomy. At any age, we have feelings in our bellies or chests, for example, that are directly triggered by feelings of safety or lack thereof. Help children to name and acknowledge those feelings – and to trust them.
One way I practice nurturing intuition is to help children understand what intuition does. For my girls, I like the simple definition of intuition as a kind of internal safety alarm. I give them specific examples of times that I listened to my intuition and kept myself safe, and times that I ignored my intuition, and wasn’t sure how to protect myself when I faced danger. I’m not always sure if this is effective, but it helps me be sure that I’m practicing what I believe will work, and what has worked with them in prior instances. Asking them how intuition feels for them is good, too. That way, they’ve verbalized the feelings and can more easily recognize and even share them when they show up.
Some parents tend to direct their child on how they should interact with a new adult, instead of watching and seeing how their child responds to them and going from there. That’s an example of intuitive interference. In order for a child to develop a sense of trust in their own intuition, we as parents have to respect their choices, and decide on a safe place and time to discuss the interaction and see if our child has questions. This is where we parents can be advocates and allies for our children.
For example, if I meet up with a friend who has an outgoing child and I have my bona fide introvert in tow, I tell that parent know that my daughter may or may not play with their child. Or that she may not hug them, nor participate in any well-meaning small talk. I often bring books, games, and even art supplies along so that my daughter can feel comfortable in that setting (where she’s accompanying me somewhere) without feeling pushed to engage with anyone, child or adult, unless she chooses to do so. We can also tell them about your own experiences with intuition and encourage them to talk, write about, or act out moments when they recognized intuitive feelings. When we parent without addressing intuitive feelings and how to express them, we can miss opportunities to convey the importance of words like “no” and “stop,” or phrases like “I don’t want to” or “I don’t like that.”
If a child is playing with someone whose body language or verbal cues lead a child to start feeling uncomfortable, we can tell them that an uneasy feeling in their belly or chest is enough to warrant them saying “no,” “stop,” or “I don’t like that,” because their bodies are their own, and they get to choose what is done to it. And more than that, they get to express their choice through consent or refusal. Also tell them that it’s important they stop whatever they’re doing to someone else’s body when that person uses those key terms. This way, we help children to start exploring the reality that they may not agree with or understand why someone is saying “no” to them, and that the person does not need to explain whatever they’re declining. Saying “no” is enough.
There are examples among children in all parts of the world that stem from lack of consent where children are concerned. Certainly, this includes sexual abuse, as is the normal conversation around consent culture, but it includes more. It also includes non-sexual activities and daily occurrences that offer opportunity to practice consent culture in all aspects of living. The point here is to become much more proactive about preventing sexual and other forms of physical abuse by adults to children, and among children as well.
We may not be able to prevent all instances, but if we raise young people who are clear about personal boundaries and armed with the language and clarity about their feelings and bodily rights, then we can minimize these instances, as well as the harm done by them. And we can stop the cycle of children who become adults wrestling with unresolved pain and trauma from their bodies not being treated as their own property.
As a Trans Boy
Sometimes when I read crappy articles, I like to go through them and make sure I understand why they’re so crappy.
Daycare Workers Fired for Not Acknowledging 6-Year-Old as Transgender Boy: At what age should a child be allowed to express themselves as transgendered?
This phrasing implies that children should be punished until a certain age for behaviours that are manifestations of transgenderism. That’s worked out really well for gayness, has it not? Maybe the way parents respond to manifestations of transgenderism might differ based on the child’s age, but you can’t get away from the fact that “disallowing” transgender expression is oppression.
That is the question surrounding a wrongful termination lawsuit in Katy, TX over a six-year-old girl whose parents now wants to be recognized as a transgendered boy.
Their six-year-old trans boy who wants to be recognized as a boy. It’s cissexism privilege that lets the writer think he knows better than the boy (and his parents) and state that this story is about a girl.
The privately-owned learning center that the child attended for over four months as a girl disagrees. Until recently, all interaction with her was as a young girl.
It’s a common misconception, I think, that trans people are one sex until we one day decide to be another. Just like cis people, trans people are one sex their entire lives. What changes is the ability to recognize and manifest this. The point is that even if he attended the daycare presenting as a girl, his experience there was still different than that of cis girls. It’s inaccurate to say that he attended “as a girl”. He attended as a trans boy presenting as a girl.
In recent weeks, the child’s appearance changed, including a short boyish haircut, and the parents told the daycare staff to now treat her as a boy because she was transgendered.
The order of this sentence is telling. The writer seems to think the change in appearance is more important than the declaration of identity. Of course this serves to trivialize transgenderism and frame it as something artificial. While the external changes that come with a transition are important for many reasons, they’re also technically irrelevant. The kid would be a boy whether or not his hair was short.
This included a name masculine change.
I can see how someone might see this as trivial as well. It’s like when you take a foreign language class in elementary school and everyone picks a “Spanish” name. It’s gender class and everyone gets to choose a boy name. In reality, choosing a name is about acknowledging that the medical industrial complex coercively assigns sex at birth, and one of the clearest and most symbolic ways it does this is by demanding that infants be given gendered names before their genders can even be determined. Working through this and choosing a new name, it seems to me, is an important part of understanding cissexism and coming to terms with transgender identity.
Two members of the Children’s Lighthouse Learning Center’s staff disagreed with this.
They’ve been taught simplistic messages about what sex and gender are and what purposes they serve, and they’ve been told that transgenderism is a unecessary and possibly harmful denial of those messages. Their privilege protects them from the need to examine those messages. And privilege always makes the beholder think they have an objective view on the marginalized position. It’s some impressive cissexist ignorance and arrogance to think that it’s any of their business or in any way their place to even have an opinion about this boy’s identity.
The manager of the daycare, Madeline Kirkse, and worker Akesha Wyatt refused the parent’s request.
It’s also some impressive arrogance that they think they know better than the parents how to take care of the child. Of course, we’re not exactly getting the whole story here, but one would think there would have been a discussion wherein the parents request that the caretakers respect the boy’s identity. And when the parents are informed that the caretakers refuse to do this, it seems like a very logical that the parents should withdraw him from their care. You have to be pretty full of yourself to think that you know so much better than the parents (and your employer) that you bring a suit.
Both women voiced concerns about possible bullying from other children and parents towards the child because of the sudden turn of events.
Bullying that it would have been their responsibility to call out. It’s some backwards bullshit to put the onus on the kid for being oppressed rather than on the oppressors for oppressing.
Additionally, Kirske opposed the request due to religious beliefs.
I know the pope hates trans people, but I still call bullshit. If your religions requires you to oppress people, then your religion is bullshit. Oops my atheism.
Both were terminated and are now suing the daycare for wrongful termination, represented by noted attorney Houston attorney Andy Taylor.
It occurs to me that the cause and effect alluded to in the title of this piece isn’t really accurate. They were fired for being privileged bigots and they’re suing their employers because their privilege tells them they have the right to be privileged bigots. The boy is almost beside the point. Whether or not the suit is successful, those two women aren’t going to be looking after this child. Trying to blame this kid’s parents (or his transgenderism at large) for these women being fired is a gross oversimplification of the situation.
According to Taylor, “This case involves a little 6-year-old girl who has been attending a private school in Katy, Texas for the last four months as a little girl. She has parents who are a same-sex couple, two men, who decided that she was transgender. On Friday, that little girl left school. I’m not going to use names, but (she was) known to everybody as ‘Sally,’ and on Monday, this little girl returns to school calling herself ‘Johnny.’” But according to Dr. Johanna Olson, Adolescent Medicine, Assistant Professor, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, just because a child exhibits behaviors of the opposite sex does not necessarily mean a child is transgendered.
But? This statement is in line with everything else written so far. Where do you get off saying but?
In an article for Human Rights Campaign, Dr. Olson states “I think you have to follow the affirmative approach to care – so what does that child need to feel safest and to feel the most whole in that moment in time? And, the biggest question is do you support a child going through a social transition in early childhood? The reality about these kids who are asking to live as gender different than their assigned sex at birth is that they usually have immense amounts of gender dysphoria. We do know that kids who are more gender dysphonic in childhood are more likely to have trans-identities as adolescents and adults.”
I suppose it’s good that the writer felt the need to include some sort of counterpoint, but some vague quote from a cis person parading around as an expert on trans people’s needs is the opposite of useful. It’s more of privileged cis people acting as if they have the objective view on our experience. Fuck off.
Here’s the thing, if the world weren’t so fucking cissexist, it wouldn’t matter. Especially for such young children who aren’t doing hormone therapy or surgical intervention. Children should be able to experiment with their hair and their clothes and their names and their pronouns. They should be safe to figure out how gender works and how they fit within that structure without having to worry about bullying and bigots and lawsuits. Because seriously, who cares whether this kid is a boy or not. It has no impact on anyone except him. It’s no one else’s business.
No Homes on Our Horizon (Excerpt: XenoFeminism)
.. From the street to the home, domestic space too must not escape our tentacles. So profoundly ingrained, domestic space has been deemed impossible to disembed, where the home as norm has been conflated with home as fact, as an un-remakeable given. Stultifying ‘domestic realism’ has no home on our horizon. Let us set sights on augmented homes of shared laboratories, of communal media and technical facilities. The home is ripe for spatial transformation as an integral component in any process of feminist futurity. But this cannot stop at the garden gates. We see too well that reinventions of family structure and domestic life are currently only possible at the cost of either withdrawing from the economic sphere — the way of the commune — or bearing its burdens manyfold — the way of the single parent. If we want to break the inertia that has kept the moribund figure of the nuclear family unit in place, which has stubbornly worked to isolate women from the public sphere, and men from the lives of their children, while penalizing those who stray from it, we must overhaul the material infrastructure and break the economic cycles that lock it in place.
As soon as you got any “bigger” health problem, you’re basically in trouble, not only by the things you’re facing by your condition, but actually the opinion is far harder. Today it is better to be some picture perfect child, young person or adult, as otherwise, you will be looked down upon by others. The silly of it is the fact no one is picture perfect, everyone who seems this way, it is just an act.
Myself, I have epilepsy, it always has been a problem, basically because I have to hide it every single day. If you have epilepsy, you better have the version of seizures most know, tonic-clonic seizures, even while it probably is horrible to have them, people at least understand it. I don’t, I have 2 types of seizures, ones most ever will rarely notice, atypical absence seizures, and much more obvious ones, atonic seizures. Most around me will know, friends and family, and yet, I am in actual fact not open about it at all. Yes, very often it is better to not tell people then to actually tell people there is something “wrong” with you, as while it is not really wrong, people will see you as actual wrong.
And in too many ways that is stupid, fact is that I should be open about it, as otherwise bad things could in fact happen, and yet by the stigma people create, I wouldn’t even want to do so. Yet, that is not even all, as I have to take medication because of my condition, and the only thing you will think of when doing so, is how people will react, as too often it is not nice. Still, it actually gets worse by the fact adults should protect children and youth who are in these situations, yet most often they will just join in the bullying that happens if you have any health problem.
It is an obvious problem, adults bullying children and youth over health problems, and it happens very often. The silly fact is that it happens even at schools, teachers who will bully or just treat children and youth differently because they don’t are the same according to the teacher’s eyes. Ending up in many children and youth getting into depression and even committing suicide, with the actual cause being teachers. As if the life isn’t hard enough if you have any health problem, if you are a child or youth, you will get the added horror called school. While school should be the place of education, and getting to a bright and happy future, it is in many ways an hell on earth, and to a huge amount of children and youth, the most dreaded thing of the day.
It is actually also one of the biggest reasons of children and youth dropping out of schools, being bullied at school. While most parents try to look at the reasons and quite often get blamed when a child drops out of school, it is almost always the school that is the actual problem. And that is problematic, yet, far too often still ignored, and you can get this happening even without any health condition. The crazy thing is that children and youth are far too often already in very troubled situations, we get thrown the troubles of school on top of it, and if you got a health problem, it only gets unbearable. And eventually, it never actually stops, instead of searching for solutions, it all gets stigmata dropped upon it, it is a disgrace to ever openly talk about these problems. No, instead the problems continue and continue, and as noted for far too long now, suicide ratings at children and youth are only increasing and increasing, and adults basically keep searching for the problem, while it always has been right in front of them.
All children and youth are stigmatized in ways, we are all an disgrace to a part of the adult society, and as the years go on, it seems to only get worse and worse. Instead of us being seen for who we are, which always is different, we are rather seen as ways of campaigns to help adults, while all this time, our problems, the things we really would like to be solved, they are overlooked, not important enough, as basically, we are not important enough to adults, even while they think they are showing this by certain statements.
Independence or Respect for Elders
One of the reasons that Donald Trump has flummoxed pollsters and political analysts is that his supporters seem to have nothing in common. He appeals to evangelical and secular voters, conservative and moderate Republicans, independents and even some Democrats. Many of his supporters are white and don’t have a college degree, but he also does well with some highly educated voters, too.
What’s bringing all these different people together, new research shows, is a shared type of personality — a personality that in many ways has nothing to do with politics. Indeed, it turns out that your views on raising children better predict whether you support Trump than just about anything else about you.
Matthew MacWilliams, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, conducted a poll in which Republicans were asked four questions about child-rearing. With each question, respondents were asked which of two traits were more important in children:
– independence or respect for their elders
– curiosity or good manners
– self-reliance or obedience
– being considerate or being well-behaved
Psychologists use these questions to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call “authoritarianism.” That many of Trump’s supporters share this trait helps explain the success of his unconventional candidacy and suggests that his rivals will have a hard time winning over his adherents. When it comes to politics, authoritarians tend to prefer clarity and unity to ambiguity and difference. They’re amenable to restricting the rights of foreigners, members of a political party in the minority and anyone whose culture or lifestyle deviates from their own community’s.
“For authoritarians, things are black and white,” MacWilliams said. “Authoritarians obey.” While some scholars have argued that authoritarianism is associated with conservatism, there are certainly authoritarians in both parties. And MacWilliams found that the likelihood that participants in his poll supported Trump had little to do with how conservative they were — no surprise, as Trump’s positions on many issues are relatively moderate. Trump also appealed more or less equally to the likely Republican primary voters in MacWilliams’s sample regardless of their age or sex, income and level of education. Regular churchgoers and evangelicals were no more or less likely to support Trump, either.
Those with authoritarian views on raising children were, however. Among Republicans who are otherwise similar, authoritarians — those who chose the second option in each of the four questions above — have nearly 50-50 odds of supporting Trump. The odds are much lower for those who chose the first option on all four questions: Assuming they were similar in other respects to the authoritarians, the chance that Republicans in this group supported Trump were just 1 in 6. By contrast, how respondents answered the questions about child-rearing had little or nothing to do with their likelihood of supporting one of Trump’s rivals. The authoritarians were somewhat more likely to support Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) but not by much.
Now, you might think that how a parent raises a child has little to do with how they vote. After all, roughly half of the people with authoritarian views on all four questions did not support Trump. So MacWilliams checked to make sure that his questions about child-rearing were in fact predictive of authoritarian political attitudes. In the poll, respondents were also asked whether they thought that it is sometimes necessary to keep other groups in their place, whether opposition from the political minority sometimes needs to be circumscribed, and whether they think the minority’s rights must be protected from the majority’s power. Trump’s supporters were much more likely to oppose protections for the minority, while the other candidates’ supporters didn’t have strong opinions one way or another. For example, the chance that a Republican who agreed that other groups sometimes need to be put in place also supported Trump was about 3 in 5.
MacWilliams also found that respondents who said they felt threatened by terrorism were also significantly more likely to support Trump, and polling by The Washington Post has found that opposition to immigration is something else that unites many of his supporters. Authoritarians, given their aversion to outsiders, are more likely both to perceive threats from terrorism and to oppose immigration. That Trump’s support is based partly on personality rather than policy helps explain why his supporters are so enthusiastic about some of his most widely mocked ideas — such as banning all Muslims from entering the country, a proposal that his opponent Jeb Bush called “unhinged.” “This is in people’s guts, not their brains,” said Marc Hetherington, a political scientist and an expert on authoritarianism at Vanderbilt University. “This is much more primal.”
And the findings are bad news for the other contenders in the GOP primary, since authoritarians tend to be set in their ways. What they have in common is an aversion to new kinds of experiences. “Some people eat at Thai and Indian restaurants, and some people eat at steak houses,” Hetherington said. That aversion could also extend to politicians they don’t know as well as Trump. “It’s not worth it to attack him,” said MacWilliams, who spent many years as a progressive political consultant before going to graduate school. “A large segment of his base is like ‘granite,’” MacWilliams added, quoting an anonymous adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who was interviewed by Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times. Analysts have conventionally divided the Republican primary race into “lanes” — candidates who appeal to evangelicals run in the “evangelical lane,” for example. There might also be an “establishment lane” and a “libertarian lane.” Some have argued that Trump is taking up all of the lanes at once.
“Maybe the future of the GOP is this one wide, luxurious lane, allowing the Trump steamroller easy passage,” wrote The Washington Post’s Philip Bump. Another interpretation is just that Trump has discovered a new lane — the authoritarian lane — that other candidates might seek to exploit in the future. “Does that become an activated part of the party moving forward or not?” MacWilliams asked. “I think that is a key question. Is it specific to his ability to speak to them and activate them, or not?” Authoritarianism isn’t always a negative trait, noted Vanderbilt’s Hetherington. Authoritarians can be more direct and decisive when the situation calls for it. “There’s this notion that all the nuanced navel gazing that liberals do is superior,” he said. “Not always.” Nonetheless, research on authoritarianism is extremely sensitive, since it began after World War II, when psychologists and social scientists wanted to understand how so many people could support repressive, homicidal dictatorships in Europe and elsewhere. “I’m not saying they’re fascists,” MacWilliams said of Trump’s supporters, “but authoritarians obey.”
Taking Anarchism Seriously
One of the greatest breakthroughs in anarchist theory and practice first appeared six years ago, and hardly any anarchists even know of its existence. Not only that, but most of the anarchists who do know of its existence either disregard it or dismiss it with comments containing hierarchical and authoritarian language. I am referring to the philosophy and practice known as Taking Children Seriously or TCS.
Taking Children Seriously is an educational and parenting philosophy which uses Karl Popper’s views on epistemology, critical rationalism and a belief in fallibilism to reach a conclusion that coercion of any form is bad for the growth of knowledge and psychologically damaging to people, especially children. From this conclusion, Taking Children Seriously creates the framework for a methodology through which parents can cooperate with their children to find mutually preferable solutions to problems and disagreements that arise between them. The TCS movement has over a thousand participants all over the world, has produced two books and maintains a journal and a number of active e-mail discussion lists.
TCS takes parenting, a subject which is hardly ever discussed or thought about in anarchist circles, and provides an approach to it which is consistent with anarchist principles that oppose hierarchy and domination. TCS also lends a sharply critical eye towards contemporary authoritarian parenting philosophies and practices. The lack of such a critical approach to parenting, as well as the lack of an alternative parenting methodology consistent with anarchist principles, creates one of the most discouraging situations within the anarchist movement. Namely, anarchists end up inexplicably conveying messages to their children of acceptance of the “necessity” of relationships of domination.
TCS combines educational philosophy, epistemology and parenting and transforms them into a unified and inter-dependent system. This is of great value to anarchists, since most anarchists strive for a holistic outlook and approach towards people and society, and tend to shun laundry lists of forms of oppression and anarchist principles. Along with providing a holistic approach to child-raising, TCS provides a rational approach, as well as an emphasis on peoples innate fallibility. Given the fact that many defenders of authority often use the inequality of knowledge as a justification for those with the greater knowledge to assume positions of authority, TCS sees the explicit recognition of ones own fallibility as being essential for preventing one from becoming an authority over children. TCS also sees this as vital for the growth of knowledge, since if one realizes that one may be making a mistake, one is left more open to new and better ideas which can be of more use for both parent and child alike.
Most people, anarchists included, unconsciously view children as being products in the process of being assembled. Schooling, parental advice, life experience and sometimes religious indoctrination are supposed to supply the product with the appropriate software necessary for functioning, while parental control and “discipline” are supposed to ensure that the product does not damage itself or leave the factory during the assembly process. This view of children comes about from a lack of faith in the abilities of children to use reason or make their own decisions. Instead of this, the TCS approach contends that every action that one does comes from an individual choice, either explicitly or implicitly. The choice one chooses may or may not be the right one, but it is through the use of one’s abilities to reason that one is able to eventually find the choice that works best for them at the moment, and as a result create or grow their own knowledge.
TCS says that children can and should live outside the factory/product paradigm of childhood. TCS sees authority of any kind as being detrimental to the growth of knowledge by discouraging one to think for themselves, since such activity is futile under authority. With no certain or secure environment through which one could put ones thoughts into practice and test out the validity of one’s ideas, one has no safe grounds on which to grow one’s knowledge. Furthermore, any “education” or “advice” given by an authority figure to a child has no deep value for the child, other than that of being a tool through which the child can appease the authority or use to score points to gain some reward (psychological or tangible) which is offered as an “incentive” by the authority. Outside of the social construct of the parent/child or school relationships, the “knowledge” or behaviors one is supposed to carry out no longer has any apparent use-value to the child, and therefore can be forgotten without any negative consequences. These behaviors or “knowledge” were never something which the child used to satisfy their own curiosities or interests, and therefore have no personal significance to them.
TCS’ conception of the ideal role that a parent should play is in many ways similar to that of many anarchists conceptions of the role that anarchists should play in society. TCS believes that parental advice can still be very useful to children and that parents should offer their advice and useful information to the child whenever the child is willing to receive it. TCS sees the role of parents as being that of a “helper” for the child. The parent is not supposed to be a “guide” or set an example, but instead should be a supplier of good ideas, useful information, resources, and materials. Parents should also actively work to make sure that their child does not become trapped in a coercive situation that they do not want to be in and to make sure that their children are well-informed of any potentially coercive situation that they could become involved with, so that the child does not stumble onto a coercive situation without warning. Parents are not necessarily “protectors” of their children, but rather people who use their special advantages of being a parent to help their children live in as open and free an environment as possible. This will probably mean that the parent may end up playing the role of the “protector”, but it would only be done so at the expressed (verbally or otherwise) desire of the child for protection.
Now, some people may look at this and think that TCS asks for the parent to be an amazing, always-working, self-sacrificing saint. TCS is actually very much against that idea. TCS is opposed to parents sacrificing themselves for their children, and sees the desires and preferences of both the parent and the child as being of equal importance. TCS instead posits that great effort should be made to find mutually preferred solutions to problems and disagreements. With authority damaging a lot of our current abilities for independent and creative thought, the potential for common preference finding may seem small to none. However TCS contends that with lots of practice and discovering what practical and self-imposed barriers exist within ourselves, we can eventually discover how to be creative and be more effective at finding common preferences. The trick is to always honestly strive to find common preferences between parents and children, and not give into the authority-based myths that it is “impossible”.
One of the major failings of anarchism is that it has so far overwhelmingly examined and analyzed big picture things like institutions, class, civilization, and society, and has paid next to no attention to smaller scale things, like psychology, epistemology, inter-personal relations and face-to-face interactions. One of the major failings of TCS is that it has had the exact opposite problem. An example of this problem is the fact that TCS considers parental authority to be something which could be eliminated by the parent simply thinking and behaving differently. This outlook pays no attention to the fact that parental authority is also an institutional creation. With the State using laws that force every child to live under the dictates of a legal guardian, a police force that will find and bring back every “runaway” child, and an economic system that forces every child to be materially dependent upon a parent, a parent will have authority over their child regardless of what parenting style they practice. With this being the case, a child can not genuinely trust a parent to be non-authoritarian with them, for at any time and for any reason the parent could impose rules upon them and have the full force of the State to back them up. To truly abolish authority, it needs to be simultaneously eliminated at an institutional and social level as well as at an inter-personal and psychological level.
Another example of TCS’ lack of social consciousness, is that it pays no attention to how race, class, patriarchy and other forms of social oppression coerce and dominate children. If one truly wants to eliminate coercion from children’s lives, and from the practice of parenting, one needs to have a clear analysis of how all the various spheres of life effect and relate to the lives of children and parents. Taking this into account, it could be said that race, class and patriarchy coerce children just as much as the State and schools do, and that parents actions are just as guided by considerations of race, class and patriarchy as they are by the dictates of the State.
Unlearn. Resist. Escape. Imagine.
School teaches us a lot of crap. Not just in boring textbook lessons, but in its day to day activities. It teaches obedience and submission to authority. It teaches that academic intelligence is more important than our passion in life, that getting a job and having an income is more important than building and nurturing a healthy community. Difference in economic class is also a large factor in the quality of a learning environment. But regardless of wealth or poverty, mass education based on compulsion and competition will never result in self-empowered, and cooperative people. We need to get the schoolin’ mentality outta our heads!
Challenging authority can be very empowering. In a society where alienation and frustration often lead people to find release in drug abuse or misdirected aggression, we need to seek ways to channel our rage and attack the root causes of our problems. Rebellion is healthy, now let’s make it strategic, too. Get with a group of trusted friends or work alone. Make an underground newsletter. Write inspiring graffiti. Play pranks. Hand out flyers. Make posters. Plan walkouts or skip days. Do phone/fax jams to the administration office. Just be aware of who you are affecting and play safe!
What are our options? What would we do without schools?!? Look around, kids everywhere are leaving the school institution and taking education back into their own hands. There are tons of home school groups around. Many are conservative, but often they have tools and resources that may help you start a more radical unschooling support group. If it is the question of pleasing the parents, check out the GED option, or a structured mail-in homeschool course. If they won’t be satisfied with your decision then maybe you should look into legal emancipation. Parents abuse their authority, it is what they’ve learned to do all their lives. They need some unlearning of their own, but in the meantime don’t endure any sort of abuse. We have to find ways out of these self-perpetuating cycles.
Imagine what the world would be like if kids were free to pursue their own interests, instead of being locked up in a school all day, for 12 years, and force fed ‘knowledge.’ School doesn’t only affect youth, it affects anyone who has hope for the future. School is the breeding ground for the domination, competition, and violence in society. Getting out of school and fighting it is a big step in the direction of freedom and equality. We need to challenge authority and social privilege wherever it is found. Youth have a strong tradition of igniting movements. The potential for a new world lives inside you…
Adult Education (TED Transcript)
Now, I want to start with a question: When was the last time you were called “childish”? For kids like me, being called childish can be a frequent occurrence. Every time we make irrational demands, exhibit irresponsible behavior, or display any other signs of being normal American citizens, we are called childish. Which really bothers me. After all, take a look at these events: Imperialism and colonization, world wars, George W. Bush. Ask yourself, who’s responsible? Adults.
Now, what have kids done? Well, Anne Frank touched millions with her powerful account of the Holocaust. Ruby Bridges helped to end segregation in the United States. And, most recently, Charlie Simpson helped to raise 120,000 pounds for Haiti, on his little bike. So as you can see evidenced by such examples, age has absolutely nothing to do with it. The traits the word “childish” addresses are seen so often in adults, that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word, when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking.
Then again, who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs? Maybe you’ve had grand plans before, but stopped yourself, thinking, “That’s impossible,” or “That costs too much,” or “That won’t benefit me.” For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things. Kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking, like my wish that no one went hungry, or that everything were free, a kind of utopia. How many of you still dream like that, and believe in the possibilities? Sometimes a knowledge of history and the past failures of Utopian ideals can be a burden, because you know that if everything were free, then the food stocks would become depleted and scarce and lead to chaos. On the other hand, we kids still dream about perfection. And that’s a good thing, because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first.
In many ways, our audacity to imagine helps push the boundaries of possibility. For instance, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, my home state, has a program called Kids Design Glass, and kids draw their own ideas for glass art. The resident artist said they got some of their best ideas from the program, because kids don’t think about the limitations of how hard it can be to blow glass into certain shapes, they just think of good ideas. Now, when you think of glass, you might think of colorful Chihuly designs, or maybe Italian vases, but kids challenge glass artists to go beyond that, into the realm of brokenhearted snakes and bacon boys, who you can see has meat vision.
Now, our inherent wisdom doesn’t have to be insider’s knowledge. Kids already do a lot of learning from adults, and we have a lot to share. I think that adults should start learning from kids. Now, I do most of my speaking in front of an education crowd — teachers and students, and I like this analogy: It shouldn’t be a teacher at the head of the class, telling students, “Do this, do that.” The students should teach their teachers. Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it. Now, if you don’t trust someone, you place restrictions on them, right? If I doubt my older sister’s ability to pay back the 10 percent interest I established on her last loan, I’m going to withhold her ability to get more money from me, until she pays it back. True story, by the way.
Now, adults seem to have a prevalently restrictive attitude towards kids, from every “Don’t do that, don’t do this” in the school handbook, to restrictions on school Internet use. As history points out, regimes become oppressive when they’re fearful about keeping control. And although adults may not be quite at the level of totalitarian regimes, kids have no or very little say in making the rules, when really, the attitude should be reciprocal, meaning that the adult population should learn and take into account the wishes of the younger population. Now, what’s even worse than restriction, is that adults often underestimate kids’ abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them. My own parents had anything but low expectations for me and my sister. Okay, so they didn’t tell us to become doctors or lawyers or anything like that, but my dad did read to us about Aristotle and pioneer germ-fighters, when lots of other kids were hearing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” Well, we heard that one too, but “Pioneer Germ Fighters” totally rules.
I loved to write from the age of four, and when I was six, my mom bought me my own laptop equipped with Microsoft Word. Thank you, Bill Gates, and thank you, Ma. I wrote over 300 short stories on that little laptop, and I wanted to get published. Instead of just scoffing at this heresy that a kid wanted to get published, or saying wait until you’re older, my parents were really supportive. Many publishers were not quite so encouraging. One large children’s publisher ironically said that they didn’t work with children. Children’s publisher not working with children? I don’t know, you’re kind of alienating a large client there. One publisher, Action Publishing, was willing to take that leap and trust me, and to listen to what I had to say. They published my first book, “Flying Fingers,” you see it here. And from there on, it’s gone to speaking at hundreds of schools, keynoting to thousands of educators, and finally, today, speaking to you.
I appreciate your attention today, because to show that you truly care, you listen. But there’s a problem with this rosy picture of kids being so much better than adults. Kids grow up and become adults just like you. Or just like you? Really? The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather, better adults than you have been, which may be a little challenging, considering your guys’ credentials. But the way progress happens, is because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It’s the reason we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children, so that we can grow up to blow you away.
Adults and fellow TEDsters, you need to listen and learn from kids, and trust us and expect more from us. You must lend an ear today, because we are the leaders of tomorrow, which means we’re going to take care of you when you’re old and senile. No, just kidding. No, really, we are going to be the next generation, the ones who will bring this world forward. And in case you don’t think that this really has meaning for you, remember that cloning is possible, and that involves going through childhood again, in which case you’ll want to be heard, just like my generation. Now, the world needs opportunities for new leaders and new ideas. Kids need opportunities to lead and succeed. Are you ready to make the match? Because the world’s problems shouldn’t be the human family’s heirloom.
A Class Dismissed (Excerpt: Sex, Race and Class)
If the relation of caste to class where women are concerned presents itself in a hidden, mystified form, this mystification is not unique to women. The least powerful in the society are our children, also unwaged in a wage labour society. They were once accepted as an integral part of the productive activity of the community. The work they did was part of the total social labour and was acknowledged as such. Where capital is extending or has extended its rule, children are taken away from others in the community and forced to go to schools, against which the number of rebels is growing daily. Is their powerlessness a class question? Is their struggle against school the class struggle? We believe it is. Schools are institutions organized by capital to achieve its purpose through and against the child.
Capital sent them to school not only because they are in the way of others’ more “productive” labour or only to indoctrinate them. The rule of capital through the wage compels every ablebodied person to function, under the law of division of labour, and to function in ways that are if not immediately, then ultimately profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital. That, fundamentally, is the meaning of school. Where children are concerned, their labour appears to be learning for their own benefit.
So here are two sections of the working class whose activities, one in the home, the other in the school, appear to be outside of the capitalist wage labour relation because the workers themselves are wageless. In reality, their activities are facets of capitalist production and its division of labour. One, housewives, are involved in the production and reproduction of workers, what Marx calls labour power. They service those who are daily destroyed by working for wages and who need to be daily renewed; and they care for and discipline those who are being prepared to work when they grow up. The other, children, are those who from birth are the objects of this care and discipline, who are trained in homes, in schools and in front of the telly to be future workers.
But this has two aspects. In the first place, for labour power to be reproduced in the form of children, these children must be coerced into accepting discipline and especially the discipline of working, of being exploited in order to be able to eat. In addition, however, they must be disciplined and trained to perform a certain kind of work. The labour that capital wants done is divided and each category parceled out internationally as the life work, the destiny, the identity of specific sets of workers.
Power, Patriarchy and Parenting
Feminist focus on children was a central component of contemporary radical feminist movement. By raising children without sexism women hoped to create a future world where there would be no need for an anti-sexist movement. Initially the focus on children primarily highlighted sexist sex roles and the way in which they were imposed on children from birth on. Feminist attention to children almost always focused on girl children, on attacking sexist biases and promoting alternative images. Now and then feminists would call attention to the need to raise boys in an anti-sexist manner but for the most part the critique of male patriarchy, the insistence that all men had it better than all women, trickled down. The assumption that boys always had more privilege and power than girls fueled feminists prioritizing a focus on girls.
One of the primary difficulties feminist thinkers faced when confronting sexism within families was that more often than not female parents were the transmitters of sexist thinking. Even in households where no adult male parental caregiver was present, women taught and teach children sexist thinking. Ironically, many people assume that any female-headed household is automatically matriarchal. In actuality women who head households in patriarchal society often feel guilty about the absence of a male figure and are hypervigilant about imparting sexist values to children, especially males. In recent times mainstream conservative pundits have responded to a wellspring of violent acts by young males of all classes and races by suggesting that single women cannot possible raise a healthy male child. This is just simply not true. The facts show that some of the most loving and powerful men in our society were raised by single mothers. Again it must be reiterated that most people assume that a woman raising children alone, especially sons, will fail to teach a male child how to become a patriarchal male. This is simply not the case.
Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchal cultures of domination, children do not have rights. Feminist movement was the first movement for social justice in this society to call attention to the fact that ours is a culture that does not love children, that continues to see children as the property of parents to do with as they will. Adult violence against children is a norm in our society. Problematically, for the most part feminist thinkers have never wanted to call attention to the reality that women are often the primary culprits in everyday violence against children simply because they are the primary parental caregivers. While it was crucial and revolutionary that feminist movement called attention to the fact that male domination in the home often creates an autocracy where men sexually abuse children, the fact is that masses of children are daily abused verbally and physically by women and men. Maternal sadism often leads women to emotionally abuse children, and feminist theory has not yet offered both feminist critique and feminist intervention when the issue is adult female violence against children.
In a culture of domination where children have no civil rights, those who are powerful, adult males and females, can exert autocratic rule of children. All the medical facts show that children are violently abused daily in this society. Much of that abuse is life threatening. Many children die. Women perpetuate this violence as much as men if not more. A serious gap in feminist thinking and practice has been the refusal of the movement to confront head-on adult female violence against children. Emphasizing male domination makes it easy for women, including feminist thinkers, to ignore the ways women abuse children because we have all been socialized to embrace patriarchal thinking, to embrace an ethics of domination which says the powerful have the right to rule over the powerless and can use any means to subordinate them. In the hierarchies of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, male domination of females is condoned, but so is adult domination of children. And no one really wants to call attention to mothers who abuse.
Often I tell the story of being at a fancy dinner party where a woman is describing the way she disciplines her young son by pinching him hard, clamping down on his little flesh for as long as it takes to control him. And how everyone applauded her willingness to be a disciplinarian. I shared the awareness that her behavior was abusive, that she was potentially planting the seeds for this male child to grow up and be abusive to women. Significantly, I told the audience of listeners that if we had heard a man telling us how he just clamps down on a woman’s flesh, pinching her hard to control her behavior it would have been immediately acknowledged as abusive. Yet when a child is being hurt this form of negative domination is condoned. This is not an isolated incident – much more severe violence against children is enacted daily by mothers and fathers.
Indeed the crisis the children of this nation face is that patriarchal thinking clashing with feminist changes is making the family even more of a war zone than it was when male domination was the norm in every household. Feminist movement served as the catalyst, uncovering and revealing the grave extent to which male sexual abuse of children has been and is taking place in the patriarchal family. It started with grown women in feminist movement receiving therapeutic care acknowledging that they were abuse survivors and bringing this acknowledgment out of the private realm of therapy into public discourse. These revelations created the positive ethical and moral context for children to confront abuse taking place in the present. However, simply calling attention to male sexual abuse of children has not created the climate where masses of people understand that this abuse is linked to male domination, that it will end only when patriarchy is eliminated. Male sexual abuse of children happens more often and is reported more often than female abuse, but female sexual coercion of children must be seen as just as horrendous as male abuse. And feminist movement must critique women who abuse as harshly as we critique male abuse. Beyond the realm of sexual abuse, violence against children takes many forms; the most commonplace forms are acts of verbal and psychological abuse.
Abusive shaming lays the foundation for other forms of abuse. Male children are often subjected to abuse when their behavior does not conform to sexist notions of masculinity. They are often shamed by sexist adults (particularly mothers) and other children. When male parental caregivers embody anti-sexist thought and behavior boys and girls have the opportunity to see feminism in action. When feminist thinkers and activists provide children with educational arenas where anti-sexist biases are not the standards used to judge behavior, boys and girls are able to develop healthy self-esteem. One of the most positive interventions feminist movement made on behalf of children was to create greater cultural awareness of the need for men to participate equally in parenting not just to create gender equity but to build better relationships with children. Future feminist studies will document all the ways anti-sexist male parenting enhances the lives of children. Concurrently, we need to know more about feminist parenting in general, about the practical ways one can raise a child in an anti-sexist environment, and most importantly we need to know more about what type of people the children who are raised in these homes become.
Visionary feminist activists have never denied the importance and value of male parental caregivers even as we continually work to create greater cultural appreciation of motherhood and the work done by women who mother. A disservice is done to all females when praise for male participation in parenting leads to disparagement and devaluation of the positive job of mothering women do. At the beginning of feminist movement feminists were harsh critics of mothering, pitting that task against careers which were deemed more liberating, more self-affirming. However, as early as the mid-’80s some feminist thinkers were challenging feminist devaluation of motherhood and the overvaluation of work outside the home. Writing on this subject in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center I made the point that:
Working within a social context where sexism is still the norm, where there is unnecessary competition promoting envy, distrust, antagonism, and malice between individuals, makes work stressful, frustrating, and often totally unsatisfying … many women who like and enjoy the wage work they do feel that it takes too much of their time, leaving little space for other satisfying pursuits. While work may help women gain a degree of financial independence or even financial self-sufficiency, for most women it has not adequately fulfilled human needs. As a consequence women’s search for fulfilling labor done in an environment of care has led to reemphasizing the importance of family and the positive aspects of motherhood.
Ironically just when feminist thinkers had worked to create a more balanced portrait of mothering patriarchal mainstream culture launched a vicious critique of single-parent, female-headed households. That critique was most harsh when it came to the question of welfare. Ignoring all the data which shows how skillfully loving single mothers parent with very little income whether they receive state assistance or work for a wage, patriarchal critiques call attention to dysfunctional female-headed households, act as though these are the norm, then suggest the problem can be solved if men were in the picture as patriarchal providers and heads of households.
No anti-feminist backlash has been as detrimental to the well-being of children as societal disparagement of single mothers. In a culture which holds the two-parent patriarchal family in higher esteem than any other arrangement, all children feel emotionally insecure when their family does not measure up to the standard. A utopian vision of the patriarchal family remains intact despite all the evidence which proves that the well-being of children is no more secure in the dysfunctional male-headed household than in the dysfunctional female-headed household. Children need to be raised in loving environments. Whenever domination is present love is lacking. Loving parents, be they single or coupled, gay or straight, headed by females or males, are more likely to raise healthy, happy children with sound self-esteem. In future feminist movement we need to work harder to show parents the ways ending sexism positively changes family life. Feminist movement is pro-family. Ending patriarchal domination of children, by men or women, is the only way to make the family a place where children can be safe, where they can be free, where they can know love.
Note: This is very US-centric. So to be clear, I know that what I write is not universal.
This is a fucked up notion for many reasons. First. Privilege is not about whose life is better. Privilege is SYSTEMIC POWER, which adults DO possess. Parents exercise control over every aspect of their children’s lives. Think about it: the entire premise of a punishments/rewards relationship, of a “stern love,” of “parenting” in general, is CONTROL. Young people are regularly stripped of our autonomy–to move, communicate, and interact on our own terms–by adults. (Not just parents, but also the state, private institutions, and adult society at large). Adult privilege IS the power to violate our autonomy which every adult posses. Adult privilege is NOT having an easier life.
Second. “Having everything provided for” is NOT a justification for control. It’s benevolent abuse. Which is, you know. Not actually benevolent. Adult abusers regularly use the economic dependence of their children as justification for controlling them. I’ve also heard this gem: “Children are a protected class.” Protected from what, exactly? From abuse? By giving adults absolute and exclusive control over kids’ lives, you are enabling abuse. End of discussion.
Third. All of these so-called “adult responsibilities” stem from capitalism. If you actually have a problem with the stress and uncertainty that come with trying to survive in a capitalist society, you should turn your attention toward capitalism. Do NOT weaponize your situation against youth. Being oppressed (or just affected) on the axis of capitalism does NOT negate your social power as an adult. And it’s not like capitalism doesn’t affect youth. Being born into a poor family? Affects one’s quality of life. Significantly. Even without “adult responsibilities.” (I am middle-class myself and not speaking from lived experience… but this seems like common sense. Correct me if I’m wrong.) And then schools are becoming increasingly neoliberal… you see third grade test scores being used by private contractors to predict the number of prisons they need to build. (To be clear, I know this doesn’t affect me as a white person. The prison industrial complex is anti-Black at its core.)
To summarize. “Adult responsibilities” are real. They do not entitle you to violate our autonomy. Fuck you. IMPORTANT P.S.: cw: pedophilia. I haven’t seen this on tumblr (yet) but inevitably some dickwads will find this post and latch onto to the idea of “full personhood” / “full autonomy” as an excuse for their pedophilia. FUCK THOSE PEOPLE.
Adulthood as Oppressor Identity
Adultism could not exist without the social classes of “child” and “adult.” John Holt suggests that to end the dehumanization of children, we abolish “the institution of childhood”–i.e., we focus on ending the situation of children. But this ignores the people who actually put children in that situation. I suggest that we instead abolish adulthood.
Adulthood is a mindset. It is constructed at the individual level. While there are institutional factors that encourage its construction, it is ultimately not an institution in and of itself. Children are stereotyped as self-centered, irrational, unreasonable, entitled, manipulative, untrustworthy; while adults are thought to be empathetic, rational, reasonable, honest, trustworthy. The qualities ascribed to children suggest that they need to be controlled, while those ascribed to adults suggest their ability to control children. Adulthood is thus constructed in opposition to childhood.
These stereotypes are perpetuated by mass media as much as–perhaps even more than–by individuals. But this cannot obscure the fact that the internalization of these stereotypes is individual. The individual grows up surrounded by the message “adults good, children bad.” Unable to claim adulthood, they construct a specific notion of childhood that excludes themself. “I’m not an adult…but at least I’m not a child!”
The toddler insists “I’m not a baby, I’m a big boy!”; the 11th grade student avoids the stigma of hanging out with a 10th-grader. (S Bonnischen)
The individual enters adulthood having constantly constructed and re-constructed childhood in this way. Their entry into adulthood completes the oppositional child/adult construction because they (the individual) no longer occupy an ambiguous middle ground. “Not child”, always synonymous with “me”, is now also synonymous with “adult”. There is another more potent construction of adulthood, which also happens at the individual level.
Stepping into [the role of “the adult”] grants privilege and prestige – but it’s dependent on wielding power over one or more actual young people. […] Interacting [with their children on an] equal basis is a threat to parents’ sense of their own adulthood. Many parents are deeply invested in being a “good mother” or “good father” – putting that identity in jeopardy strikes at the very heart of who they see themselves as. To be a good parent, to be “the adult” at all, requires that they feel they are actively supervising / guiding / controlling their children’s lives. (S Bonnischen)
Thus adulthood is constructed both as the opposite of childhood (being “an adult”), and as the power-wielder in an unequal relationship with a young person (being “the adult”). Both constructions of adulthood feed into a mentality of superiority and control which only harms young people. Therefore, they need abolishing. I emphasize the individual nature of adulthood because I believe its abolition begins when young people recognize its construction within themselves.
There Is a Better Way
The pressures and pace of modern life has made parents and children stressed and miserable. With the rise of dual-earning families, mothers, and increasingly, fathers are struggling with work-life issues, forcing many to lean in or opt out. But is it truly modern life that’s at fault or is it our expectation that two people – whether hetero or same-sex – can do it alone and do it well? Is the nuclear family all it’s cracked up to be?
Despite the belief that monogamous male-female bonding is how mothers and children were supported and thrived, the anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and others believe it was actually female cooperative breeding, or alloparenting – ‘sharing and caring derived from the pooled energy’ of a network of ‘grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, distantly related kin, and non-kin’ – that shaped our evolution. Shared parenting is likely in our genes. It works. So why do we cling to the idea that the nuclear family is the best way to raise children?
The nuclear family can be extraordinarily dangerous for children. Some – often children of educated and privileged families – are buckling under pressure to succeed and are committing suicide at alarming rates. Those in the United States who experience parental divorce are overwhelmingly being raised in poverty, which has lifelong ramifications on their health, wealth and education. At the extreme, some 500 children a year are murdered by their parents in the US, and millions more are abused and neglected, with inadequate systems to help them until damage is done. But even in so-called ‘normal’ families, children can’t escape some sort of dysfunction, whether they’re being raised by a parent who is depressed, adulterous, emotionally cold, smothering, absent, angry, passive-aggressive, narcissistic or addicted. The moral philosophers Samantha Brennan and Bill Cameron suggest that love-based marriage, with the ‘instability, tension, and even violence that too often forms a central part of romantic conflict,’ doesn’t always offer children the stability and security they need.
Parents, too, struggle. It is a lonely, isolating and exhausting business, especially for mothers, who still typically do the bulk of childcare. They pay a huge price for it. Not only do many forsake career opportunities and income, but they also are subject to societal idealisation of motherhood and then shamed and blamed for any perceived failings, most often by their own children.
With all that, can we raise children better? Yes. Rather than leave childrearing solely in the hands of one or two people, it would help everyone if we approached it more along the lines of the old African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ We should take alloparenting to the next level: quality and trained caregiving that is shared, continuous and, most important, mandatory. For the philosopher Anca Gheaus, communal childrearing makes a lot of sense. In a series of papers, Gheaus explores what childrearing ideally would look like based on children’s rights and emotional needs. While acknowledging that some parental power and decision-making is essential until children can care for themselves, parents often use their power arbitrarily and in their own best interest – not necessarily their child’s. Being a parent shouldn’t automatically give someone a ‘monopoly of care’ over a child, she says, especially since anyone can become a parent without having any training or undergoing any testing to see if he or she’s up for the job. Which is why Gheaus suggests that some non-parental care should be mandatory. If childrearing became more of a communal obligation, all children, whether subject to disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds or just bad parenting, would benefit. More people would be invested in their lives, and the children would be exposed to a variety of opinions and lifestyles that would enhance their budding autonomy. Having numerous caregivers would expose bad parenting earlier, too, and help to mitigate it. And as they grew into adulthood, children would be more likely to be compassionate – or at least open-minded – toward people whose beliefs and values differed from their parents’. But how to make that happen?
The collective childrearing on Israel’s kibbutzim has been lauded for giving children high-quality care in a supportive environment, despite problems with its approach to communal sleeping in its early years. While many parents might not opt to live in a communal setting, there are other ways to provide children with a network of people, ideally not related, who care for them. It could take the form of formalised, but non-religious godparenting, in which children are assigned caregivers who live outside the family home and are willing and able to help care for them several hours a week while they are young, and then become trusted confidantes as they age. There are many men and women who either don’t have children or whose children are grown – or perhaps disenfranchised – but still want to make a difference in a child’s life. Allowing more people to be involved with the lives of children would create a real, communal investment in the future.
It’s easy to see how parents would benefit. Having a trusted, loving network of caregivers would give moms and dads a much-needed break to spend time with each other or alone. They would feel less overwhelmed, especially if they have children with learning challenges or physical disabilities, or have erratic work schedules. It would also help them better manage the ambivalent feelings that parenting elicits, which is ‘inevitably accompanied by anger, frustration, and occasionally even hatred,’ Gheaus writes.
In some ways, we are already doing a form of alloparenting. Many children are raised with multiple parents, whether through same-sex coupling, divorce, open adoption, polyamory or reproductive technology. The sociologist Karen Hansen notes that dual-employed parents rely on friends, paid caregivers and relatives to help. Teachers, coaches, tutors and mentors often fill in the gaps. But many come and go. And that’s the problem. Children can be cut off from loving caregivers, often because of parental needs or whims. Sometimes they lose access to relatives after a divorce, or to beloved neighbours because of moves or rifts; long-term nannies or babysitters are fired with no regard to a child’s desire to continue the relationship. Parents have no moral right to do that.
Besides helping children and parents, alloparents would benefit, too; they’d have richer, deeper relationships with more younger people who just might be more inclined to care for their caregivers as they age. It would, of course, require a revolution in childrearing, Gheaus admits. And parents would have to get over the jealousy they often feel when their child loves someone else. But as parents struggle with work-life issues and the divide between the haves and have-nots grows, who is truly keeping our children’s best interests in mind? Alloparenting is the best way for both children and parents to flourish.
Schooling as Genocide
In the late summer, as villages began the preparation for winter, the trucks would tour the villages. They knew where to go and what to say. The man from the government would explain the children were being removed, taken away from their homes and their families and given a place at a residential school. If anyone complained or protested, they were told they were blocking what was best for the child. If that didn’t stop the words of dissent, they were warned they’d be arrested and they could spend the year in jail. So the children left, with tears in their eyes and confusion at what they had done and where they were going.
Across Canada, for more than 100 years, children of the indigenous population, or First Nation as they are known here, were taken away as part of the policy of “aggressive assimilation”, or as one survivor put it, “They tried to beat the Indian out of us.” The idea was simple. The government would provide the money and the church would provide the education. Children were easier to mould, and the education they received would prepare them for life in Canadian society. Their traditions, their language and the heritage would be ignored. “I said hi in my local language to a priest as I walked into the school on my first day. He lifted me by the ears and beat me unconscious. I was six,” said one survivor. Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald, believed the system was the future: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages.”
The abuse was rampant. Children were raped. Children were abused physically and emotionally. Children were tortured. And children were unloved. In one school, there was even a crudely put together an electric chair where “unruly” boys were made to sit and a current was sent shocking through their body. One man choking back the tears said: “I used to look at the sky and know my parents were looking at the same stars. But I felt alone in the world.” Another said “the priest told us we were uncivilised. Then he would take us into a back room and rape us”.
The final school closed in 1996. More than 150,000 children had been forced to attend. It’s thought up to 6,000 children died during that time. It may be more. Record-keeping was poor and the guilty could hide their secrets. Finally, the survivors as they called themselves realised they had been the victims of abuse. They banded together and took the government to court and won. They received a settlement, the largest of its kind in the world. But they also won the right to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission where they could tell their stories.
For more than five years, the Commission travelled all over the country, gathering evidence and hearing testimony. In a packed function room in a hotel in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, many of those who’d been abused gathered to hear the report. Among them was Annie Johnston. She was sent to a school near her home in British Columbia at the age of five “but it could have been on the moon, I was so removed from my family”. The abuse was constant, the humiliation unforgiving. “My brother was at the same school on the boys side. We were forbidden to talk to one another,” she told me, her eyes welling with tears. “The messages that they gave, that we were heathens, we were pagans, my way of life was no good. At five years old you believe everything.” It’s 50 years since Annie left the school but every day she remembers something; a moment, a smell or a sound and she returns. She said she fed her experiences to her children. “I didn’t know how to be a mother, how could I?” And so another generation felt the pain and the anger.
Justice Murray Sinclair – himself from the First Nations – chaired the commission. As he stood and acknowledged Canada was guilty of cultural genocide, those in the room rose with a roar. Their hurt, their anger, their pain had finally been acknowledged. The standing ovation lasted for minutes. People cried, perhaps unable to absorb the history of the moment. “It was nothing less than the systematic and concerted attempt to extinguish the spirit of the aboriginal peoples,”, Sinclair continued. “But as the survivors have shown us, they have survived.”
Beside me a woman rocked back and forth. “Thank you, thank you,” she said almost silently. “Too long, too long.” The commission has made 94 recommendations. This, it believes, will help redress the problems the residential school problems have caused, will begin to make amends for past evils, and aid the reconciliation so desperately needed. “It’s time to start a new chapter in Canada where everyone is treated equally,” said Justice Sinclair. “This is not an aboriginal issue, it’s a Canadian issue.” The government has said it will look at the findings of the commission, which is short of accepting what needs to be changed.
But for many who made the journey to Ottawa, the report is not the end of the process. It is merely a beginning. For them, for their people and for the country which has always been their home.
The power of a parent does not come from telling a child what to do, or from having “possession” of a child. And it surely does not manifest itself in the form of hitting a child in order to “discipline” him by instilling fear. It is not having “control” over children, but rather, knowing what characteristics and actions will, when combined, be the perfect recipe for helping a child grow into a good, contributing citizen.
All too often, parents desire to have “power over” young people. Have you even been in a job situation in which a person misused his power and always nagged you, made you do things you didn’t want to do, or constantly looked over your shoulder? Annoying, right? What was your feeling? What did you really want to say to him? What did you want to do to him? The behavior he displayed did not make you more powerful. His behavior was disempowering, because it showed lack of confidence in your abilities. It demonstrated a lack of trust. Overall, it made you resent him. Hmmm, does that boss’ behavior sound similar to anything a child might experience?
At the top of my concern list is the route parents take when they say they’re “pushed to the limit.” I have heard it referred to as “the last resort,” when a parent feels she has to show her power by yelling at or hitting her child to discipline him. Parents say things like, “I have to talk to them five and six times!” or “He thinks just because he’s getting older, he can talk to me any old kind of way?” Yes, parents, I hear you. But there’s a reason behind a child blocking out your communication, and there’s a way to make sure he doesn’t block you out — and it doesn’t involve hitting.
Think of it like this: there are people you genuinely like speaking to, because they have things to say that you like to hear, while there are others who may be less appealing to speak to, because they either can’t relate to you, or they’re saying things that are adverse to your beliefs. Nonetheless, as an adult, you have the power to tune a person out, or cut communication all together. Unfortunately, children can seldom do that with their parents. Just imagine always being questioned by someone, always having someone tell you what to do, always having someone suggesting her way is the best way, and invalidating your point of view. That’s a demonstration of being spoken TO or AT. Being spoken WITH feels much different. There’s an actual exchange of communication in the latter. If more adults had conversations WITH children, both parties would benefit from the understanding that would result.
The communication we have with children does not always have to be about jurisdiction, giving orders, implications, inspection, and other “adult interest” topics. Children don’t always have the same concerns adults have. Cleaning up the house and finishing homework may be really important topics for adults to address, but it’s not about addressing them. It’s about being wise enough to cater to a child’s interest by finding out what is important to him, and talking about that for a change. The busy schedule and life challenges of a parent cannot supersede the importance of her children’s interests. If adults don’t lend importance to what children say and think, children will quickly lose interest in what adults say and think. Getting the respect and trust of children cannot be forced. Those values develop out of their experiences with and observations of adults. Children’s ideas count, and their viewpoints are valid. Adults only have to listen, watch, and use their wisdom to direct the paths of children.
During a recent book discussion, a wise gentleman likened babies to little suns. He said that when children are born, they shine brightly, and life experiences tend to dim those lights over time. “That’s it!” I thought. Can we, as parents and educators, motivate and cultivate children so that those rays KEEP shining brightly, well into their teen years? Can we give them enough tools and happiness to shine brightly as adults? During that discussion, I think everyone involved realized that we could be doing more to foster more growth in these little lights. Hitting a child to discipline him dims the lights. Yelling at a child dims the lights. Invalidating the efforts of a child dims the lights. We only have to think of the things in our lives that make us feel bright. Once we do that, then we can look at whether or not we give out the behavior we’d like to take in.
Many adults rationalize the spankings they got as children and say, “Well, those spankings did OK by me — I turned out to be a better person because of them.” The idea here is that being hit by their parents kept them from doing harmful things. But, people, was the decision to not repeat the harmful acts done out of fear, or out of reason? Children will only make good decisions if they have the ability to REASON — to think or argue logically. A parent who does not take the time to give a child thinking and negotiating skills will raise a child who will become a less powerful adult. Think about it: not being able to reason and negotiate as an adult will cost the adult a job and a good relationship — all because the parent took more time to discipline the child and make him STOP things, rather than taking the time to allow the child to experience and explore things. Granting a child freedom has nothing to do with letting him run all over the place, it means helping the child feel liberated with the ability to eliminate life’s barriers — with the skills you give him.
Those in power lead easier lives. There is nothing wrong with granting children easier lives. Whether you envision others having all the power, or whether you equip your child with the ability to harness his power, and use it, is only a decision. Power, when displayed, shapes and molds the way one thinks, sees or acts. Power inspires. It lends vision and fortifies faith. Dig deep and find your power. It’s that stuff that makes you creative, confident, able, and loved by others. Then, look at your child, and REALLY observe the power he was born with, and find ways to strengthen what you discover. Put a new twist on the power exerted in your home. Don’t let it be about your control over anyone. Let it be about how much light all of you can muster up and give out to the rest of the world.
Psychiatry and Resistance
The mass media equates anarchism with chaos and violence. However, the social philosophy of anarchism rejects authoritarian government, opposes coercion, strives for greatest freedom, works toward “mutual aid” and voluntary cooperation, and maintains that people organizing themselves without hierarchies creates the most satisfying social arrangement. Many anarchists adhere to the principle of nonviolence (though the question of violence has historically divided anarchists in their battle to eliminate authoritarianism). Nonviolent anarchists have energized the Occupy Movement and other struggles for economic justice and freedom.
In practice, anarchism is not a dogmatic system. So for example, “practical anarchist” parents will use their authority to grab their child who has begun to run out into traffic. However, practical anarchists strongly believe that all authorities have the burden of proof to justify control, and that most authorities in modern society cannot bear that burden and are thus illegitimate—and should be eliminated and replaced by noncoercive, freely participating relationships.
My experience as a clinical psychologist for almost three decades is that many young people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses are essentially anarchists in spirit who are pained, anxious, depressed, and angered by coercion, unnecessary rules, and illegitimate authority. An often used psychiatric diagnosis for children and adolescents is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD); its symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”
Among young people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading ADHD authorities, says that they have deficits in “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. A frequently used research tool that distinguishes alcohol/drug abuser personalities was developed by Craig MacAndrew (commonly called the MAC scale), and it reveals that the most significant “addictive personality type” have discipline problems at school, are less tolerant of boredom, are less compliant with authorities and some laws, and engage in more disapproved sexual practices.
I have encountered many people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychoses, and who are now politically conscious anarchists, including Sascha Altman DuBrul, author of Maps to the Other Side: The Adventures of a Bipolar Cartographer. DuBrul, several times diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has lived in rebel communities in Mexico, Central America, and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, worked on community farms, participated in Earth First! road blockades, demonstrated on the streets in the Battle for Seattle, and he reports that many of his anti-authoritarian friends also have been diagnosed with mental illness. Teenagers, as evidenced by their musical tastes, often have an affinity for anti-authoritarianism, but most do not act on their beliefs in a manner that would make them vulnerable to violent reprisals by authorities. However, I have found that many young people diagnosed with mental disorders—perhaps owing to some combination of integrity, fearlessness, and naïvity—have acted on their beliefs in ways that threaten authorities. Historically in American society, there is often a steep price paid by those who have this combination of integrity, fearlessness, and naïvity.
While DuBrul and his friends have political consciousness, my experience is that most rebellious young people diagnosed with mental disorders do not, and so they become excited to hear that there is actual political ideology that encompasses their point of view. They immediately become more whole after they discover that answering “yes” to the following questions does not mean that they suffer from a mental disorder but instead have a certain social philosophy:
Do you hate coercion and domination?
Do you love freedom?
Are you willing to risk punishments to gain freedom?
Do you instinctively distrust large, impersonal, and distant authorities?
Do you think people should organize themselves rather than submit to authorities?
Do you dislike being either an employer or an employee?
Do you smile after reading the Walt Whitman quote “Obey little, resist much”?
Young people who oppose inequality and exploitation, reject a capitalist economy, and aim for a society based on cooperative, mutually-owned enterprise are essentially left-anarchists—perhaps calling themselves “anarcho-syndicalists” or “anarcho-communitarians.” When they discover what Noam Chomsky, Peter Kropotkin, Kirkpatrick Sale, or Emma Goldman have to say, they may identify with them. These young people have a strong moral streak of egalitarianism and a desire for social and economic justice. Not only are they not mentally ill but, from my perspective, they are the hope of society.
There is another group of freedom-loving young people who hate the coercion of parents, schools, and the state but lack an egalitarian moral streak, and are very much into money and capitalism. Some of them may have been dragged into the mental health system after having been caught drug dealing, and are labeled with conduct disorder and/or a personality disorder. While these young people rebel against they themselves being controlled and exploited, many of them are not averse to controlling and exploiting others, and so are not anarchists, but some have spiritual transformations and become so.
There are at least two ways that mental health professionals can join the resistance: (1) speak out about the political role of mental health institutions in maintaining the status quo in society, (2) depathologize and repoliticize rebellion in one’s clinical practice, which includes helping young anarchists navigate an authoritarian society without becoming self-destructive or destructive to others, and helping families build respectful, non-coercive relationships. If a nonviolent anarcho-communitarian (politically conscious or otherwise) is dragged by parents into my office for failing to take school seriously but is otherwise pleasant and excited by learning, I tell parents that I do not believe that there is anything essentially “disordered” with their child. This sometimes gets me fired, but not all that often. It is my experience that most parents may think that believing a society can function without coercion is naive but they agree that it’s not a mental illness, and they’re open to suggestions that will create greater harmony and joy within their family.
I work hard with parents to have them understand that their attempt to coerce their child to take school seriously not only has failed—that’s why they’re in my office—but will likely continue to fail. And increasingly, the pain of their failed coercion will be compounded by the pain of their child’s resentment, which will destroy their relationship with their child and create even more family pain. Many parents acknowledge that this resentment already exists. I ask liberal parents, for example, if they would try to coerce a homosexual child into being heterosexual or vice versa, and most say, “Of course not!” And so they begin to see that temperamentally anarchist children cannot be similarly coerced without great resentment.
It has been my experience that many rebellious young people labeled with psychiatric disorders and substance abuse don’t reject all authorities, simply those they’ve assessed to be illegitimate ones, which just happens to be a great deal of society’s authorities. Often, these young people are craving a relationship with mutual respect in which they can receive help navigating the authoritarian society around them.
DAVID: A younger version of myself waits for the bus after school. My friend starts to tell me some of the jokes about “illegals” he knows. I look visibly uncomfortable and he acknowledges it: “You shouldn’t take it personally” he says with a smirk, “I mean, unless you’re ‘illegal.’ “ I freeze and then fumble to change the subject. His reasoning is perfectly sound. Why would I be offended unless I was “illegal”? I take the bus home thinking what a close call that was, and I start to plan how I’ll make it so that this never happens again. I become super-conscious of the potential trajectory of conversations. I try to avoid anything that can lead to someone asking me about my status, and in my mind everything leads there.
“Illegal is illegal” is straightforward logic to a kid, and at 12 it had paralyzed me. It held me back and kept me isolated from others. Yes, I’ve done all the work and I want to go on our school trip, but “illegal is illegal.” Yes, I’m a high achieving student and I want to go to a good school, but “illegal is illegal.” My parents have sacrificed everything for me and I love them and I want to love them, but “illegal is illegal.” That word was the afterthought of everything that I did, and it degraded anything positive in my life. The i-word created a wall between my human dignity and myself. The criminalizing language didn’t respect me and didn’t allow me to respect myself.
Last year on March 10, those of us forced to sit in the shadow of that wall of disrespect stood up and confronted the slur. Along with immigrant youth across the nation, led by the Immigrant Youth Justice League, I declared that I am undocumented, and I am no longer afraid to defend my dignity. This year I continue to do so without apologies. By coming out, we’re taking a hammer to the wall of ignorance that is confining us to the shadows. We’re changing the popular narrative surrounding undocumented immigrants, and today as “illegal is illegal” fuels in more than a dozen states, it is more important for us to be out. You can help by making where you live a safer place for us to live with dignity. Help us make America a safer place for immigrant youth to share our stories. Help us drop the i-word.
TONY: I found out I was undocumented when I was about 13 years old. I used to play soccer and my coach at the time had informed me about these tryouts that were being held in Queens, to form a team that would go to Italy to compete. My coach insisted that I should go try out and I did. Tryouts were held for about two weeks and I made the final list. In my mind, I was going to Italy. I was so excited. All I could think of was to run home and tell my mother the great news. I got home and ran up the stairs calling out for mom. I told her the big news. She looked at me with this face that I will never forget.
Everything around me froze; time ceased to exist. It was just my mother and I in the living room staring at each other. She suddenly began to cry. She sat me down and explained that I was not going to be able to go because of my status in this country. I was confused. Status? She said we were not here legally in this country. I was more confused, “illegal”? She told me that life was not going to be easy for me. She told me that it was going to be hard to get into college, to find a job, to be able to get a driver’s license, to travel. I always dreamed of getting into college, since no one in my family had ever graduated from high school let alone gone to college. I figured I would be the first, yet what she was telling me made my goal seem near impossible. My dream was to get into college and I sure wasn’t going to let people tell me I couldn’t get in. In high school I worked hard and got excellent grades. I was part of the soccer team and senior year I was offered four scholarships to universities based on my achievements in soccer and for my good grades. I had to decline because of my status did not allow me to get the funding.
Reality hit me in the face. I always reminded myself why my parents brought me here; all their hard work and sacrifice would not go in vain. I refused to give up and quit. I applied to colleges and finally I was accepted to John Jay College here in New York City, and was able to attend without a scholarship. But I still think of the words that blocked my scholarships: We don’t give scholarships or monetary help to people who are “illegal.” That word made me feel like dirt and made me feel worthless. I began to ask, how can humans be “illegal”? Why would media, society, and politicians use the i-word? They made it seem like we were a sickness that people should stay away from. The i-word is a terrible word that should not be used. It is a huge step back and we need to move forward. We are made to live in fear.
I no longer want to live in fear, no longer in the shadows. I exist. My dreams, my voice counts. We are no different from anyone else, we are not better than anyone, and no one is better than we are. Nine dumb numbers do not define us. We are people who have grown up here all our lives. This is our home. We can do something about creating a better future. It’s time to make a change and to break all these racial barriers and learn to understand each other learn to accept our differences and live free. Today, I come out publicly undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic and now I am FREE.
SONIA: Many times, when I am asked who I am, I respond with “I am undocumented.” I haven’t always identified as undocumented. When I was little my parents left me in the care of my grandparents, they migrated to the United States. I was too little to understand why my parents were not there to share birthdays with me, did not understand why they were not there walking me to school. I did not understand why phone calls where the vehicle in which my parents were able to express their love for me. Calling card after calling card, I asked them when will I be with them.
No one actually prefers to risk their life crossing the border, leaving behind memories and childhoods, leaving behind their mothers and fathers and leaving behind their children. No one comes to this country because they want to be exploited, and treated less than human. No one migrates to this country and wants to identify as “illegal”. Their decision is not done out of thin air, there have been structures and policies that have pushed many to migrate (NAFTA, Bracero Program, Imperialism, privatization). My parents migrated to the United States because they wanted a better life for their children. My mom worked in factories, and my dad worked as a cook. They paid taxes (still do), hired lawyers, paid fines, got robbed by lawyers. But most of all, they lost many nights of tucking me to bed, many nights of reading me books, and combing my hair and seeing me walk for the first time. They sacrificed those nights for a better future for me. They are not illegals, they are my parents. They are strong courageous and admirable.
I remember the time I was reunited with my parents; I was about 5 years old. I arrived in Harlem. They pushed me to be the best I can be; making sure education was a priority, motivating me to always be honor roll. And that is what I did, I excelled in school. I hoped time would soften the difference between others and me. I always knew that I was undocumented, but I trusted there was a fair system that would fix that up. My dad promised me my status would soon change, lawyers promised him that too. But no results. I knew my undocumented status put me on a different path than those friends I hung out with. There would be no Cornell University, no going away, no trips abroad, no teaching, no career, no fraternities, and no peaceful nights that did not consist of thinking of “deportation” or “illegal”. I am undocumented. I do not speak on behalf of undocumented youth across the country. I speak of my experience, a similar experience shared across states.
When I say I am undocumented, I own my liberation, I own my humanity and the power I have. I stand with the undocumented youth across the states because we are beautiful amazing leaders. I am not the “model dreamer.” I am undocumented. I stand with youth that are not high honor roll in Harvard. I stand with youth who are marginalized out as not fitting what the “American Dream” looks like. I stand with my brothers and sisters who organize 24/7 with no pay, who are about community and not politicians. I stand with my mother and father because they are not the reason that I am undocumented. They and I are not “illegals”. I am undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.
Eight days after my daughter was born, I sent this message to the organizing committee members of the Seattle Solidarity Network:
“I wanted to let you all know that I need to take a few week hiatus from coming to SeaSol meetings…. Baby is doing well, we just need to clear the decks while I recover and while we figure out this whole nursing thing. Thanks for understanding, and we’ll see you in a few weeks! (I’d estimate three.)”
Four months later, I had still not returned to SeaSol meetings more than a handful of times. I was an I.W.W. member and had been organizing with SeaSol since our first fight in 2008. I was the only female-identified person to consistently attend SeaSol meetings for our entire first year and for several more years for the IWW branch in Seattle. Both groups planned to pay for childcare, and I was committed to continuing my activism after giving birth, but somehow I was not managing to make it happen. What was the problem?
What follows are some reflections on becoming a mom while trying to continue work as a class warrior. Because my daughter is only six months old now, I can only base my reflections on these first months of parenthood. While I will mostly present ideas about how to make our organizing “baby friendly,” I’m sure there are many more topics to come about becoming “kid friendly”. The following suggestions are also influenced by the fact that while my partner is on baby duty from 10am to 4pm, I am on duty from 4pm to 10pm every day. This system of “watches” is how we both manage to keep our sanity and our part-time jobs, but it also means that I am responsible for the bulk of childcare during prime meeting times. This advice is for other individuals who would like to help support new parents in organizations such as SeaSol and the IWW, as well as newly expecting parents who might appreciate some suggestions to help smooth the transition from activist to parent + activist.
Step One Childcare in meetings. Childcare is obviously an important part of helping any organization become parent- and baby-friendly. However, I’m not a believer in the “build it and they will come” style of organization building. If you start offering childcare in meetings, I wouldn’t expect moms, dads, babies and kids to just appear out of the woodwork. In SeaSol and the Seattle IWW branch we started providing childcare after four very active members of both organizations became parents within weeks of each other. That is, we based our actions on a current, felt need in the organizations rather than a hypothetical future need. (If anyone does the opposite and finds out that parent activists do come out of the woodwork, please let me know. That would be great!)
We also decided to do advance fundraising in order to pay for childcare. While several members (often women) volunteered to do the childcare for free, we didn’t want to lose out on the possibility of having those people participate in the meetings. We need everyone we can to do the organizing work of SeaSol and the IWW, so we decided it would be better to have the childcare done by someone who would not otherwise be involved with our organizations.
This is all well and good, but unfortunately, childcare isn’t really what I needed to come back to organizing. I’ve come to believe there’s a difference between being truly baby-friendly in meetings and simply providing childcare (however important that is). What I needed as a new mom was not just someone to hand the baby off to so that I could participate in meetings in a “normal” way. What I needed and still need is support for my new normal, which involves being in an extremely dependent and time-consuming nutritional and emotional relationship with a tiny human. Steps Two through Six are about supporting this new normal.
Step Two Help with meals. It’s really hard finding time to cook any kind of meal, let alone a healthy one, while taking care of an infant. I mean, impossibly hard. Add to that the fact that our meetings are right at dinner time and you have me between a rock (hungry baby) and a hard place (hungry mama).
One of the best things helpers can do for new parents is to have food waiting for them at meetings. This would probably work best as a shift system where interested individuals could sign up to bring a dinner for one or two hungry mamas or papas per meeting. Shifts would not be as logistically challenging as providing food for everyone at the meeting, but I guarantee it would make it far more likely that your new mamas could attend meetings. (The breastfeeding ones are extra hungry, too!) We have not tried this in SeaSol, but we do have a monthly potluck meeting with food provided, and I am much more likely to attend those meetings.
Step Three Help with rides or packing. I have a car but am still daunted by all the logistical challenges of getting out of the house with a baby. This includes everything from making sure she is fed and changed to visiting with her in the car seat so she doesn’t scream her head off on the way to the meeting. I also sometimes bring a giant exercise ball to meetings for bouncing her to sleep, a baby carrier, and so much other stuff that I feel like a pack mule trying to make my way into meetings. Helpers can offer rides and/or offer to show up early to help the parents gather things together. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fabulous SeaSol organizer helping me out with these sorts of pre-meeting preparations.
Step Four Have supplies on hand at meetings. Parents and helpers can keep supplies on hand to help reduce the burden of packing before meetings. These care packages should contain extra diapers in several sizes, wipes, a couple of toys, and a few changes of clothing. There should also be snacks for emergency parent feeding as well. A very motivated helper could even show up at the parents’ house to help them pack such a bag.
Step Five Volunteer to do childcare for events other than meetings. Meetings aren’t the only events that new parents want to attend. Often the help I most need is just an extra pair of hands, or someone to sit beside me and entertain the baby during an event. My baby never wants to be banished off to some “kid room” with just herself and a non-parental adult – she wants to be where the action is! A helper can simply offer to sit by a parent and entertain their kid for a little while, if needed.
Step Six Don’t push it. It’s an understatement to say that new parents are “adjusting” to their new role. For me, especially for the first several months, it felt like my new life was a Picasso painting of my old life – there were many recognizable elements, but they were all mashed up and weird looking. I’m now figuring out how to weave activities I value back into my life, but there’s no going “back to normal.” I’m not going to be able to participate in exactly the same way I did before I became a mom. For example, I used to facilitate meetings regularly. Now, I will absolutely abandon that duty for a crying baby with no qualms whatsoever. But I can contribute in other ways that are meaningful and useful for the organization, such as writing, graphic design, and other activities that I can do during nap times or off duty. This is all to say – don’t feel too disappointed if your new parents can’t contribute to your organizing in their old way – hopefully they can find new ways that suit their new schedules and responsibilities.
In the first months of motherhood, I was too discombobulated to think of any of these suggestions. As a potential helper, you may find that new parents are too overwhelmed to think of these things or ask you for them. But if you offer, they will sometimes take you up on it. I can guarantee you it’s worth the effort. I might be biased, but I think during a tense moment in a meeting, there’s hardly anything better than having a baby go, “Fffppppttt!”
Neurodivergence and Kindergarten
In August of 2012, as many families prepared for the start of a new school year, the editorial team of the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism blog contacted a few Autistic people who’d survived the public school system, and a few non-autistic parents who’d worked hard to help their Autistic children survive the public school system. What, they asked us, did we wish that we had known, back when we (or our kids) were first starting school?
There’s a lot that I learned later on, in adolescence and adulthood, that I wish I’d known in kindergarten and elementary school. I wish I’d known the things that I later learned through aikido training: the self-regulation and self-defense skills; the ability to both inwardly access and outwardly convey calm centeredness and physical confidence.
And I wish I’d known that I wasn’t alone, that I would eventually find more and more people like me. By this I mean not only the Autistic community, and the friends I made as a teenager and adult who weren’t Autistic but to whom I could relate in other ways. I also mean that I wish I’d known there were others out there who’d seen what I was seeing and experiencing: the dynamics of institutionalized oppression, privilege, marginalization, injustice, and abuse; the fact that school was clearly constructed to brutalize children into soulless conformity and unquestioning compliance, and to crush, rather than cultivate, genuine creativity and curiosity.
I could see all of this clearly, but I had no words for it, and the fact that I didn’t have the words for it and that no one else seemed to be seeing it left me feeling alienated and furious; the frustration ate at me every day, throughout my elementary school years.
I wish someone had said to me, back then, “Yes, what you’re witnessing and experiencing is institutionalized social injustice; it’s everywhere in the world and it follows the same basic patterns that it has followed throughout history. There are other people who’ve seen it for what it is, who’ve come up with words for it and written about it. These systems of injustice dominate human society, and yes, most people are largely oblivious and complicit. But some people have woken up, and more people will; you’re not alone.” I wish someone had said all of that to me on my first day of kindergarten.
Never assume a that child isn’t ready to understand such things. Especially not an Autistic or otherwise neurodivergent child (not because we’re necessarily any smarter than neurotypical children, but because there are more likely to be unpredictable discrepancies between what we know and what we’re capable of communicating that we know). To quote one of the common maxims of the Neurodiversity Movement: presume competence. Sometimes what’s causing meltdowns and rages and “behavior issues” is that a child really does understand.
The Boy Who Is Free
Fifteen years after the uprising, a child named Diego was born in Zapatista territory. He was the youngest member of the household where I was staying, and during my week with the family, he was always up to something. He agitated the chickens, peeked his head through the window to surprise his father at the breakfast table, and amused the family by telling me long stories in Ch’ol that I couldn’t possibly understand. He also, unknowingly, defied the government’s claim that he does not exist.
Diego is part of the first generation of Zapatista children whose births are registered by one of the organization’s own civil judges. In the eyes of his father, he is one of the first fully independent human beings. He was born in Zapatista territory, attends a Zapatista school, lives on unregistered land, and his body is free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Adding to his autonomy is the fact that nothing about him—not his name, weight, eye color, or birth date—is officially registered with the Mexican government. His family does not receive a peso of government aid, nor does it pay a peso worth of taxes. Not even the name of Diego’s town appears on any official map. By first-world standards, this autonomy comes at a steep price: some serious poverty. Diego’s home has electricity but no running water or indoor plumbing. The outhouse is a hole in the ground concealed by waist-high tarp walls. The bathtub is the small stream in the backyard. Their chickens often free-range it right through their one-room, dirt-floor house. Eating them is considered a luxury.
The population of the town is split between Zapatistas and government loyalists, whom the Zapatistas call “priistas” in reference to Mexico’s ruling political party, the PRI. To discern who is who, all you have to do is check whether or not a family’s roof sports a satellite dish. Then again, the Zapatistas aren’t focused on accumulating wealth, but on living with dignity. Most of the movement’s work over the last two decades has involved patiently building autonomous structures for Diego and his generation. Today, children like him grow up in a community with its own Zapatista schools; communal businesses; banks; hospitals; clinics; judicial processes; birth, death, and marriage certificates; annual censuses; transportation systems; sports teams; musical bands; art collectives; and a three-tiered system of government. There are no prisons. Students learn both Spanish and their own indigenous language in school. An operation in the autonomous hospital can cost one-tenth that in an official hospital. Members of the Zapatista government, elected through town assemblies, serve without receiving any monetary compensation.
Economic independence is considered the cornerstone of autonomy—especially for a movement that opposes the dominant global model of neoliberal capitalism. In Diego’s town, the Zapatista families have organized a handful of small collectives: a pig-raising operation, a bakery, a shared field for farming, and a chicken coop. The twenty-odd chickens had all been sold just before Christmas, so the coop was empty when we visited. The three women who ran the collective explained, somewhat bashfully, that they would soon purchase more chicks to raise. As they spoke in the outdoor chicken coop, there were squealing noises beneath a nearby table. A tangled cluster of four newly born puppies, eyes still crusted shut against the light, were squirming to stay warm. Their mother was nowhere in sight, and the whole world was new and cold, and everything was unknown. I watched them for a moment and thought about how, although it seemed impossible, they would undoubtedly survive and grow.
Unlike Diego, the majority of young children on the planet today are born into densely packed cities without access to land, animals, crops, or almost any of the natural resources that are required to sustain human life. Instead, we city dwellers often need a ridiculous amount of money simply to meet our basic needs. My first apartment in New York City, a studio smaller than my host family’s thatched-roof house, cost more per month than the family has likely spent in Diego’s entire lifetime. As a result, many wonder if the example of the Zapatistas has anything to offer an urbanized planet in search of change. Then again, this movement resisted defeat by the military of a modern state and built its own school, medical, and governmental systems for the next generation without even having the convenience of running water. So perhaps a more appropriate question is: What’s the rest of the world waiting for?
Around six o’clock, when night falls in Oventic, the music for the celebration begins. On stage, a band of guitar-strumming men wear hats that look like lampshades with brightly colored tassels. Younger boys perform Spanish rap. Women, probably from the nearby state of Veracruz, play son jarocho, a type of folk music featuring miniature guitar-like instruments. It’s raining gently in the open field. The mist clings to shawls and skirts and pasamontañas, the face-covering ski masks that have become iconic imagery for the Zapatistas. “We cover our faces so that you can see us” is a famous Zapatista saying. And it’s true: for a group of people often erased by politicians and exploited by global economies, the ski-masks have the curious effect of making previously invisible faces visible. Still, there are many strategies to make dissent disappear, of which the least effective may be violence. The most ingenious is undoubtedly to make the rest of the world—and even the dissenter herself—dismissive of what’s being accomplished. Since curtailing its military offensive, the government has waged a propaganda war focused on convincing the rest of Mexico, the world, and even Zapatista communities themselves that the movement and its vision no longer exists.
But there are just as many strategies for keeping dissent and dissenters going. One way is certainly to invite thousands of outsiders to visit your communities and see firsthand that they are real, that in every way that matters they are thriving, and that they have something to teach the rest of us. As Diego’s father said in an uncharacteristic moment of boastfulness, “I think by now that the whole world has heard of our organization.”
Mistrust and Things
Since the 1950s of Soviet Russia, Lena Alexeevna Nikitina and Boris Pavlovich Nikitin, have been sounding alarm that children’s most vicious enemy is, in fact, adults’ mistrust that begins with holding the child when she walks, helping her up when she falls, forbidding her to climb “dangerous” stairs even on the primitive children’s playgrounds marked “for use between 0–3 years old”, picking up the child and sticking her on the slide, constantly telling her what to do or not, what to wear, eat, feel, know, think, and so on, in other words, exercising total control. Mistrust is also manifested in speaking for the child, putting words in her mouth, branding, evaluating, “helping” and “teaching”. Finally, it takes the form of siding with the institution in the adult endeavor to reconstruct the child from a curious individual to an obedient consumer of things and of instruction.
Protective behaviour on the part of adults may, at first glance, seem harmless, even benign. In the long run, it affects the physical, emotional, and mental development, where the child forfeits her right to learn to trust her own abilities and limitations. The absence of those inner mechanisms of self-regulation creates outright danger and is at the basis of much stress and “failure” of the future-adult. Moreover, mistrust sends children the following message: adults treat anyone smaller and weaker than themselves as frail, handicapped, even insipid (have you heard that baby-talk-intonation?). People call such behaviour “protective”, “caring”, “loving”. Since this is love, many children learn to suppress their frustration and to accept others’ control and their own failure. Later, they reproduce this love, care and protection with younger ones, but also with their own parents by then grown old, child-like and frail and thus continue the cycle.
The Nikitins call for trusting the child, providing her with an emotionally safe and enriching environment rather than limitations and control. Such attitude would raise the curiosity, creativity and confidence levels to the extent that parents would not need consumerism to replace family relations, because an independent child will know how to make toys, invent games or find answers to questions about the self and the world. There is an important distinction to make, though, between trust and neglect or between self-chosen independence or self-reliance and imposed neglect concealed by slaving parent substitutes, vocabulary, and things.
But how could meaning of a child’s freedom to investigate experience and choose her own categories appear in a capitalist setting? For example, Francoise Dolto advises parents to pay children for household chores in order to help them become financially autonomous and concomitantly conscientious workers. Or, at the Childhoods 2005 conference in Oslo, numerous presentations focused on the “positive” aspects of consumerism and called for the participation of children in this sphere — they equated participation in consumerism with “empowerment” and “independence”.
But the problem is that a child who receives a few dollars for washing dishes does not learn independence, rather the contrary: to succumb to the will of others, to do them services in return for a reward set by the more powerful. In this case, the child does not do the dishes because s/he uses them or to participate on an equal footing in family life. The child does them for a materialistic end in order to get something from materialistic parents. It goes without saying that having children do schoolwork for grades and for the promise of material bliss in the “future” is part of the same strategy that markets obedience, consumerism, misery and mistrust, a strategy that shuffles meanings, sells 500ml juice in 750ml bottles, substitutes bright packages of favourite monsters on TV with yogurt derived from miserable cows and chemical laboratories, and so on, ad infinitum. In all of this, parents, instead of siding with their children and protecting them, end up being the prime vehicles of capitalist meaning.
Rays of Light
In early March I had the privilege of meeting 90 young girls from the outskirts of Malir who had participated in the She Leads Campaign Against Child Marriage. They were trained by Rutgers-WPF, a Dutch NGO, to advocate against child marriage and for girls’ education, amongst their friends and families in Jam Khanda, a rural part of Malir with dismal education rates, where many girls are married while still in their teens. Under the programme, 210 girls in Mohammed Bin Qasim town, Malir and Gadap, and another 250 had been trained in Sanghar; they, along with their teachers, had reached another 9,000 girls and their family members through the simple method of door-to-door visits and conversations.
The girls travelled to a five-star hotel in Karachi to participate in a workshop, receive tablet computers loaded with apps dealing with SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights), and to celebrate having completed the year-long programme. They had prepared short plays and speeches about the disapproval and difficulties they endured when trying to convince the elders of their communities that child marriage is a grave ill in Pakistani society that robs girls of both their health and their futures.
Dressed in school uniforms and bubbling with enthusiasm, these girls struck me by their willingness to put themselves forward as community leaders in order to help other girls in their neighbourhoods. Such is the power of grass-roots action, which is based entirely upon the power of the people. By standing up in this movement, these girls had actually taken the power into their own hands in a society which doesn’t want to give power to young women like them. They were creating a revolution together, a grave threat to people who always wanted to keep young girls under their control by robbing them of the right to choose their own lives.
We heard from Sabr-un-Nissa, a 16-year-old student in Class 10, whose mother had died after giving birth to two stillborn children. Despite her personal pain, or perhaps channeling it in order to help others avoid her mother’s fate, Sabr-un-Nissa joined the campaign and managed to convince her friend Sadia’s family not to get her married off at the age of 15. In Pakistan today, 37pc of its 90 million women are married before the age of 18. And one in 70 out of those young women and girls will die because of early pregnancy, not enough time between pregnancies, and other risks of teenage pregnancy. The risks are especially high for girls who get married and have children before their bodies are fully developed.
Traditionalists, socially conservative and deeply patriarchal, argue in favour of child marriage, asserting that when a girl reaches puberty, she is ready to be married. But her body is still growing, and her brain doesn’t reach full development until she is 18. Pregnancy poses health risks for young girls because the foetus will leach off all the nutrients the girl still needs to achieve her full growth, which can ruin her health for life. Many families will press for a nikah while the girl is still in her mid-teens, promising that the rukhsati will not take place until much later so that she has time to finish her studies. Unfortunately, even if the girl’s family agrees to this arrangement, the boy’s family starts pressuring the girl’s family to pull her out of school, claiming that she won’t need an education once she’s married to their son. The girl’s family gives in to the pressure, fearing the consequences if they don’t agree. In Pakistan, girls are still regarded as property, and once they are contracted in marriage to another family, that family hurries to seize that property and secure in its own possession.
By joining the She Leads campaign against child marriage, each girl declared she was not anyone’s property, but a human being with hopes and dreams and ambitions: a person in her own right, with talents, abilities, and potential. They showed courage in the face of the personal risk they faced by espousing this cause, but they knew they were contributing to a major social change and taking responsibility for removing one of the greatest evils in our society. They were, in a word, unstoppable.
The campaign had given a special name to these girls: Kiran, or ray of light. And in that room in that five-star hotel, only a blind person could have remained unaffected by their radiance. Thrilled with the doors that were opening for them, they rushed around the hall afterwards, posing for photographs with their new tablets. Witnessing their new-found confidence, their sense of purpose, and their happiness, I too felt bright about the future of Pakistan.
Libertarian Child-Rearing (Excerpt)
Even within mainstream circles, the issue of educating children is a contentious one. Given “that it is through the channel of the child that the development of the mature man must go,” in the words of Emma Goldman,this is understandable. The direction in which children develop affects the path they take as adults, and it is instinctive to want to ensure that our children “turn out right.”
But what is “right?” Goldman argued that children should be raised to be “a well-rounded individuality,” and not “a patient work slave, professional automaton, tax-paying citizen, or righteous moralist.” Few anarchists would disagree. But how do we acheive such a thing?
The vital question in the raising of children, citing Goldman again, is whether “the child [is] to be considered as an individuality, or as an object to be moulded according to the whims and fancies of those about it?” The latter, it seems, fits with convention, whilst even basic and liberal attempts at educational reform are slammed as “trendy.”
The TV show Super Nanny is a prime example of “traditional,” authoritarian child rearing. On its website, it offers “why children need discipline.” According to them, “many parents don’t set rules for their kids because they don’t want to be the villain but setting your child limits is vital for teaching him self-control.”
Interestingly, the debate here becomes a microcosm of mainstream political debate on any issue. Many families are “failing to set rules because you don’t want to be too tough on your kids,” but in the process “they’re too soft to enforce boundaries and follow up bad behavior with consequences.” The job of the parent, then, is to be to the child what the state is to the citizen. Just as with law enforcement for citizens, parental discipline “helps your child feel secure and determines what kind of person he’ll grow up to be.” Super Nanny advocates a liberal rather than conservative approach of “see[ing] discipline as a way of teaching your child self-control instead of a way of controlling your child.” However the outcome, namely that the child is “moulded according to the whims and fancies of those about it,” remains the same.
Just as statists are with the concept of anarchy, the Super Nanny team is aghast of cildhood without rules. Rules, they argue, “impact on his academic success – think about how the discipline he learns from you is the basis for his behavior at school – demonstrate that there are consequences to his actions and keep him safe.” To the contrary, anarchists and libertarians would argue that “the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child” is more vital. ” In this way alone can we hope for the free individual and eventually also for a free community, which shall make interference and coercion of human growth impossible.”
Wilhelm Reich, author of Children of the Future, argues that stifling the child’s natural vocal expressions (shouting, screaming, bellowing, crying, etc.) not only affects the child’s psychology but their physical motility;
Small children go through a phase of development characterised by vigorous activity of the voice musculature. The joy the infant derives from loud noises (crying, shrieking, and forming a variety of sounds) is regarded by many parents as pathological aggressiveness. The children are accordingly admonished not to scream, to be ‘still,’ etc. The impulses of the voice apparatus are inhibited, its musculature becomes chronically contracted, and the child becomes quiet, ‘well-brought-up,’ and withdrawn. The effect of such mistreatment is soon manifested in eating disturbances, general apathy, pallor of the face, etc. Speech disturbances and retardation of speech development are presumably caused in this manner. In the adult we see the effects of such mistreatment in the form of spasms of the throat. The automatic constrictions of the glottis and the deep throat musculature, with subsequent inhibition of the aggressive impulses of the head and neck, seems to be particularly characteristic.
The effects of such stifling commands are most damaging on that minority of children who are “hyper active,” and whose urge to move and shout is far harder to suppress. As such, Reich concludes “that small children must be allowed to ‘shout themselves out’ when the shouting is inspired by pleasure. This might be disagreeable to some parents, but questions of education must be decided exclusively in the interests of the child, not in those of the adults.”
As anarchists argue with regards to society, self-regulation is much more effective than enforcement from without. Moreover, in children it is a natural part of their development. According to Reich, “psychoanalysts have failed to distinguish between primary natural and secondary perverse, cruel drives, and they are continuously killing nature in the new-born while they try to extinguish the ‘brutish little animal.’ They are completely ignorant of the fact that it is exactly this killing of the natural principle which creates the secondary perverse and cruel nature, human nature so called, and that these artificial cultural creations in turn make compulsive moralism and brutal laws necessary.” Thus the use of punishment, coercion, threats, moralistic lectures and admonitions, withdrawal of love, etc. to inhibit “bad” behaviours overrides instincts towards self-regulation. Reich asserts that this trend has left virtually all adults in our society with some degree of psychological problem. Rather, without authoritarian measures, socialisation and the restriction of harmful activities occurs naturally;
This close interrelation between biopathic behaviour and authoritarian countermeasures seems to be automatic. Self-regulation appears to have no place in and no influence upon emotions which do not come from the living core directly but only as if through a thick hard wall. Moreover, one has the impression that secondary drives cannot stand self-regulatory conditions of existence. They force sharp discipline on the part of the educator or parent. It is as if a child with an essentially secondary-drive structure feels that it cannot function or exist without disciplinary guidance. This is paralleled by the interlacing of self-regulation in the healthy child with self-regulation in the environment. Here the child cannot function unless it has freedom of decision and movement. It cannot tolerate discipline any more than the armoured child can tolerate freedom.
Further to which, “one cannot mix a bit of self-regulation with a bit of moral demand. Either we trust nature as basically decent and self-regulatory or we do not, and then there is only one way, that of training by compulsion. It is essential to grasp the fact that the two ways of upbringing do not go together.”
A century before Reich, Mikhail Bakunin anticipated him when he argued that children “do not constitute anyone’s property: they are neither the property of the parents nor even of society. They belong only to their own future freedom” and the “rights of the parents shall be confined to loving their children and exercising over them . . . authority [that] does not run counter to their morality, their mental development, or their future freedom.” From this, “it follows that society, the whole future of which depends upon adequate education and upbringing of children. . . , has not only the right but also the duty to watch over them.” Thus, child rearing is not just a parental but a communal process, and “real freedom – that is, the full awareness and the realisation thereof in every individual, pre-eminently based upon a feeling of one’s dignity and upon the genuine respect for someone else’s freedom and dignity, i.e. upon justice – such freedom can develop in children only through the rational development of their minds, character and will.”
Poverty and the Young Brain
The brain’s foundation, frame, and walls are built in the womb. As an embryo grows into a fetus, some of its dividing cells turn into neurons, arranging themselves into layers and forming the first synapses, the organ’s electrical wiring. Four or five months into gestation, the brain’s outermost layer, the cerebral cortex, begins to develop its characteristic wrinkles, which deepen further after birth. It isn’t until a child’s infant and toddler years that the structures underlying higher-level cognition—will power, emotional self-control, decision-making—begin to flourish; some of them continue to be fine-tuned throughout adolescence and into the first decade of adulthood.
Pat Levitt, a developmental neuroscientist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, has spent much of his career studying the setbacks and accidents that can make this construction process go awry. In the nineteen-nineties, during the media panic over “crack babies,” he was among a number of scientists who questioned whether the danger of cocaine exposure in utero was being overstated. (Levitt spent two decades examining the brains of rabbit mothers and their offspring that were dosed with the drug, and says that the alarm was “an exaggeration.”) More recently, as the science director of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, he has become interested in another sort of neurotoxin: poverty.
As it turns out, the conditions that attend poverty—what a National Scientific Council report summarized as “overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence, family turmoil,” and other forms of extreme stress—can be toxic to the developing brain, just like drug or alcohol abuse. These conditions provoke the body to release hormones such as cortisol, which is produced in the adrenal cortex. Brief bursts of cortisol can help a person manage difficult situations, but high stress over the long term can be disastrous. In a pregnant woman, the hormone can “get through the placenta into the fetus,” Levitt told me, potentially influencing her baby’s brain and tampering with its circuitry. Later, as the same child grows up, cortisol from his own body may continue to sabotage the development of his brain.
In March, in the journal Nature Neuroscience, a group of researchers from nine hospitals and universities published a major study of more than a thousand children. They took DNA samples, made MRI scans of the children’s brains, collected data on their families’ income level and educational background, and gave them a series of tests for skills like reading and memory. The DNA samples allowed the scientists to factor out the influence of genetic heritage and look more closely at how socioeconomic status affects a growing brain. The scans focussed on over-all brain surface area, determined partly from the depth of the folds on the cortex, and the size of the hippocampus, a lumpy, curled structure nestled in the middle of the brain that stores memories. As might be expected, more educated families produced children with greater brain surface area and a more voluminous hippocampus. But income had its own distinct effect: living in the lowest bracket left children with up to six per cent less brain surface area than children from high-income families. At the lowest end of the income spectrum, little increases in family earnings could mean larger differences in the brain. At the middle and upper income levels, though, the money-brain curve flattened. In other words, wealth can’t necessarily buy a better brain, but deprivation can result in a weakened one.
A person whose brain has been undermined in this way can suffer long-term behavioral and cognitive difficulties. In March, a study appeared in the journal Acta Paediatrica showing eerie ultrasound images of fetuses that more frequently moved their mouths and touched their faces when their mothers were either stressed out or, even more so, when they smoked cigarettes—likely a sign of delayed nervous-system development. In a longer-term study published two years ago, neuroscientists at four universities scanned the brains of a group of twenty-four-year-olds and found that, in those who had lived in poverty at age nine, the brain’s centers of negative emotion were more frequently buzzing with activity, whereas the areas that could rein in such emotions were quieter. Elsewhere, stress in childhood has been shown to make people prone to depression, heart disease, and addiction in adulthood.
Over the past decade, the scientific consensus has become clear: poverty perpetuates poverty, generation after generation, by acting on the brain. The National Scientific Council has been working directly with policymakers to support measures that break this cycle, including better prenatal and pediatric care and more accessible preschool education. Levitt and his colleagues have also been advocating for changing laws that criminalize drug abuse during pregnancy, since, as they pointed out in a review paper, arrest and incarceration can also trigger the “maternal stress response system.” The story that science is now telling rearranges the morality of parenting and poverty, making it harder to blame problem children on problem parents. Building a healthy brain, it seems, is an act of barn raising.