NO! Issue 13

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Against Parental Rights
(Excerpt: academia.edu/19663920/Against_Parental_Rights)
Samantha Godwin

There is a significant disjunction between child protectionist theory and rhetoric and the extent of parental powers. The extensive deference to parental preference and discretion seems to have little to do with preserving children’s interests and more to do with parental autonomy. We must conclude that only respect for parental autonomy and freedom, rather than child protection, would lead to the belief that parents ought to be granted rights beyond those narrowly derivable from a child’s interests. This is true not only of the particular legally recognized parents’ rights found in American case law, but also more generally for any conception of parental rights of an independent vitality. This raises normative problems for any version of parental rights independent from children’s interests.

When the domain of a person’s freedom is thought to extend beyond their body to include the exclusive control of physical things in the world, we think of those things as being their possessions. For example, someone who owns a car is legally at liberty to do with it things that non-owners are not free to do with the car. Car owners are not necessarily at liberty to do everything physically possible to their car—they cannot legally set it on fire in the middle of a city street or drive it past the speed limit while intoxicated. The car’s owner is, however, legally permitted to drive it (if licensed) and to exert control over it in ways that other people who are not its owner may not. Car owners can do these things because their car belongs to them. It is their car in the sense of it being a possession and not just having a certain relationship to them.

Restricting what an owner can do with their car, or imposing requirements for car ownership, is thought to restrict the car owner’s freedom and autonomy, although such restrictions may be justified in reference to other values. In contrast, if a non-owner is restricted from using the same car without the owner’s permission, their freedom is not thought compromised in the same way, because their unauthorized actions are considered theft, conversion, or vandalism. Such actions are beyond what is thought to constitute the domain of the non-owners freedom with regard to someone else’s car precisely because it belongs to someone else and does not belong to them.

Parents’ prerogatives with regard to their own children that adults do not generally have with regard to someone else’s children are construed in a parallel manner. Just as the most basic and general rule of property is that owners may exert exclusive control over that which is their property, the basic attitude of most adults towards children is that it is not right to tell someone how to raise their own child or to try to do it for them. Just as a car thief violates the rights of the owner and not the car, the non-parent acting in deference to parental authority typically understands this deference as respecting the parent.

Relatively few in the political mainstream today speak of parents as the owners of their children, but the implied logic of parental rights suggests a type of ownership or quasi-property interest in children. In many regards, this allocation of powers to parents functions as a sort of ownership, and some (though not all) of the putative legal interests that parents have in their children can be compared to property interests. For example, that the religious education of a particular parent’s child is purportedly a matter of that parent’s freedom, but the religious education of someone else’s child is not, makes sense only if one accepts that in some way children belong to their parents as possessions that the scope of their freedom extends over. The idea that parents can impose on their child what others cannot, because that child is their child and belongs to them, and not to others, amounts to a belief that parents are functionally related to their children as car owners are to their cars. This is of course not to say that quasi-ownership is the only dimension of how parents relate to children legally or socially, but that it is a significant element in the function and legitimacy of parent-child power dynamics.

People often speak in possessive terms about people who are not their children—for example, “my friend,” “my niece,” “my dentist,” “my employer”—without implying a possessory interest to control the friend, niece, dentist, or employer. Parental possessory interests, however, are much more than linguistic conventions. It is never thought to be a matter of an aunt’s freedom that she should be able to compel her niece to visit a disliked family friend or to forbid her niece from associating with a child whom she distrusts. To do so would be thought to trespass on the niece’s parent’s rights to make choices for the niece. This is closely parallel to the way that using someone’s chattel property without their permission would be a trespass against the owner’s property rights. In both instances the actual interests of the possession in question does not directly enter into the equation—even if the aunt were acting in the niece’s best interests, she would have no defense to violating the parents’ interests in their child.

John Holt aptly observed that:

the family was not invented, nor has it evolved, to make children happy or to provide a secure emotional and psychological background to grow up in.

If it just so happened that families based on parental domination over children were in fact the optimal legal arrangement for children, it would be a coincidence. Parents generally, and fathers in particular, have held dominion over their children for far longer than the “best interests of the child” rhetoric has been at the fore of legal and political discourse around children. Under ancient Roman law, fathers had the right to kill their children, and in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, children could be put to death for disobeying their parents under laws informed by a belief that children are born in sin and must therefore submit to adult authority.

Rather than viewing children within a protectionist framework, at least prior to the 17th century, children were regarded as the property of their fathers. In the 15th century, it was typical in England for fathers to contract out their children into indentured servitude in other adult’s homes from the age of seven or nine until they were between fourteen and eighteen. Widely-cited historian of childhood Philippe Aries noted these arrangements in the Middle Ages were not thought to have anything to do with ensuring children’s best interests, welfare, or optimal psychological development. Instead, adults could receive better service from children if they sent their own children to work for other adults while taking in others’ children to work for them.

Contemporary parental rights—though no longer expressly articulated as property rights—continue to function much the same although diminished in scope. Unlike in the 17th century, given that it is now seen as morally abhorrent to regard people as chattel, the rhetoric and justificatory framework has changed completely while the scope of parents’ pseudo-property rights in their children has been only modestly curtailed. In other words, parental rights were property rights and remain functionally property rights, but it has become so taboo to speak of them as such, so that the way parental power actually functions has become obscure.

Many rights given to parents are especially property-like. Just as coverture laws historically held that a married woman’s rights were subsumed into her husband’s, such that her property belonged to her husband, in the U.S., parents have a “right to the child’s services and earnings” in 47 of 50 states. Barnett and Spradlin have pointed out that being able to order a child to work and then seizing their earnings is in effect a type of economic slavery. The procedure for a child to be rid of parental custody is called emancipation, not coincidentally the term used to describe freeing slaves. Emancipation frequently requires that the parents have effectively abandoned their child or that the child has married with parental permission, reflecting very anachronistic notions of patriarchal property and power.

Although there is no free market in the sale of children, commercial gestational surrogacy is a lawful transaction in some U.S. states (such as California). The official understanding in many states is that surrogates are paid for their services, but in effect surrogates are paid to produce and surrender babies to someone else.

Richard Posner has argued that understanding surrogacy as a form of “baby selling” is mere “argumentation by epithet” and that what a surrogate sells “is not the baby but her parental rights.” When one person sells her property to another, the sale legally transfers not the item itself (possession of which might be physically transferred without a sale, through theft or lending), but rather the legal property rights concerning the item.

Property ownership of chattel is not mere possession, but the legal right to control it, use it within the bounds of the law, and exclude others from using it without permission, and it is this bundle of legal rights that is transferred by sale. Likewise, parental rights include the right to control a child and to exclude others from accessing that child. In this regard, arguing that commercial surrogacy sells not children but parental rights makes little sense: selling parental rights is selling the legal right to control a child, just as selling chattel property is selling the legal right to control the chattel property.

Even in states that prohibit surrogacy, parents are permitted other means of transferring rights over their children in a property-like fashion. Parents can “give up a child” for adoption by an adult of their choice, demonstrating a right similar to the right to alienate property through a gift (though not a sale). Children have no parallel right to claim adoption by a preferred potential parent. Parents can even decide who should “inherit” their children if they die while their children are minors by naming guardians in their wills, just as they can name beneficiaries to receive their personal property.

Although it is uncommon to expressly consider children as “property,” it is not uncommon to think of children as possessions. Malfrid Grude Flekkoy argued:

Many adults, some on the basis of teachings of their religion, others in spite of intellectual acceptance of the opposite, feel that they have the same right of possession to the child-product as to other products, or that the ownership right to their child is stronger than other rights of possession, even comparing these rights with the legal rights connected with some other products.

There was substantial discussion in the popular media in 2013 of whether or not children “belong to their parents” after MSNBC news anchor Melissa Harris-Perry stated in a promotional that “we have to break though our private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.” Although describing children as belonging to the community is also problematic in that it objectifies children as common resources, conservative media figures reacted with outrage of a different sort, believing that children do in fact belong to their parents. More recently, libertarian Senator Rand Paul made this point explicitly by making the statement that “the state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children.”

That parents’ legal interests in children function as property rights does not of course imply that children are property as a matter of law on a formal level. There are also numerous ways in which children’s status is not analogous to most forms of property. For example, although parents have some rights to transfer their child to another guardian, most property can be expressly sold, and few forms of property place nearly such substantial legal duties on owners as child custody places on parents. It is also of vital social relevance that while parents are often possessive of their children, they do not tend to conceptualize children literally as property and most would likely find terming them as such objectionable. Children also have legal claims on their parents. Nonetheless, to the extent that parental legal rights are in effect possessory interests or quasi-property rights, this ought to be a basis for regarding them as illegitimate and unwarranted.

 

Play and Mathematics
Luba Vangelova

The familiar, hierarchical sequence of math instruction starts with counting, followed by addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division. The computational set expands to include bigger and bigger numbers, and at some point, fractions enter the picture, too. Then in early adolescence, students are introduced to patterns of numbers and letters, in the entirely new subject of algebra. A minority of students then wend their way through geometry, trigonometry and, finally, calculus, which is considered the pinnacle of high-school-level math.

But this progression actually “has nothing to do with how people think, how children grow and learn, or how mathematics is built,” says pioneering math educator and curriculum designer Maria Droujkova. She echoes a number of voices from around the world that want to revolutionize the way math is taught, bringing it more in line with these principles. The current sequence is merely an entrenched historical accident that strips much of the fun out of what she describes as the “playful universe” of mathematics, with its more than 60 top-level disciplines, and its manifestations in everything from weaving to building, nature, music and art. Worse, the standard curriculum starts with arithmetic, which Droujkova says is much harder for young children than playful activities based on supposedly more advanced fields of mathematics.

“Calculations kids are forced to do are often so developmentally inappropriate, the experience amounts to torture,” she says. They also miss the essential point—that mathematics is fundamentally about patterns and structures, rather than “little manipulations of numbers,” as she puts it. It’s akin to budding filmmakers learning first about costumes, lighting and other technical aspects, rather than about crafting meaningful stories. This turns many children off to math from an early age. It also prevents many others from learning math as efficiently or deeply as they might otherwise. Droujkova and her colleagues have noticed that most of the adults they meet have “math grief stories,” as she describes them. They recall how a single course—or even a single topic, such as fractions—derailed them from the sequential track. She herself has watched more than a few grown-ups “burst out crying during interviews, reliving the anxieties and lost hopes of their young selves.”

Droujkova, who earned her PhD in math education in the United States after immigrating here from Ukraine, advocates a more holistic approach she calls “natural math,” which she teaches to children as young as toddlers, and their parents. This approach, covered in the book she co-authored with Yelena McManaman, “Moebius Noodles: Adventurous math for the playground crowd,” hinges on harnessing students’ powerful and surprisingly productive instincts for playful exploration to guide them on a personal journey through the subject. Says Droujkova: “Studies have shown that games or free play are efficient ways for children to learn, and they enjoy them. They also lead the way into the more structured and even more creative work of noticing, remixing and building mathematical patterns.”

Finding an appropriate path hinges on appreciating an often-overlooked fact—that “the complexity of the idea and the difficulty of doing it are separate, independent dimensions,” she says. “Unfortunately a lot of what little children are offered is simple but hard—primitive ideas that are hard for humans to implement,” because they readily tax the limits of working memory, attention, precision and other cognitive functions. Examples of activities that fall into the “simple but hard” quadrant: Building a trench with a spoon (a military punishment that involves many small, repetitive tasks, akin to doing 100 two-digit addition problems on a typical worksheet, as Droujkova points out), or memorizing multiplication tables as individual facts rather than patterns. Far better, she says, to start by creating rich and social mathematical experiences that are complex (allowing them to be taken in many different directions) yet easy (making them conducive to immediate play). Activities that fall into this quadrant: building a house with LEGO blocks, doing origami or snowflake cut-outs, or using a pretend “function box” that transforms objects (and can also be used in combination with a second machine to compose functions, or backwards to invert a function, and so on). “You can take any branch of mathematics and find things that are both complex and easy in it,” Droujkova says. “My quest, with several colleagues around the world, is to take the treasure of mathematics and find the accessible ways into all of it.”

She started with algebra and calculus, because they’re “pattern-drafter tools, designer tools, maker tools—they support cool free play.” So “Moebius Noodles” includes activities such as making fractals (to foster an appreciation of the ideas of recursion and infinitesimals) and “mirror books” (mirrors that are taped to each other like the covers of a book and can be angled in different ways around an object to introduce the concepts of infinity and transformations). “It’s not the subject of calculus as formally taught in college,” Droujkova notes. “But before we get there, we want to have hands-on, grounded, metaphoric play. At the free play level, you are learning in a very fundamental way—you really own your concept, mentally, physically, emotionally, culturally.” This approach “gives you deep roots, so the canopy of the high abstraction does not wither. What is learned without play is qualitatively different. It helps with test taking and mundane exercises, but it does nothing for logical thinking and problem solving. These things are separate, and you can’t get here from there.” She doesn’t expect children to be able to solve formal equations at age five, but that’s okay. “There are levels of understanding,” she says. “You don’t want to shackle people into a formal understanding too early.” After the informal level comes the level where students discuss ideas and notice patterns. Then comes the formal level, where students can use abstract words, graphs, and formulas. But ideally, a playful aspect is retained along the entire journey. “This is what mathematicians do—they play with abstract ideas, but they still play.”

Droujkova notes that natural math—whose slogan is “make math your own, to make your own math”—is essentially a “freedom movement.” She explains: “We work toward freedom at many levels—the free play of little kids, the agency of families and local groups in organizing math activities, the autonomy of artists and makers, and even liberty for us curriculum designers. … No single piece of mathematics is right for everyone. People are different, and people need to approach mathematics differently.” For example, in a group learning about the properties of rhombuses, an artistically inclined person might prefer to draw a rhombus, a programmer might code one, a philosopher might discuss the essence of rhombi, and an origami master might fold a paper rhombus. Nor does everyone need to learn any particular piece of mathematics, aside from what’s essential to function in his or her culture. Many people live to a ripe and happy old age without knowing calculus, for example. “At the same time, the world would be better off with a higher literacy for mathematics, and humanity as a whole needs advanced math to make it through the next 100 years, because there are pretty complex problems we’re facing.”

Children need to be exposed to a variety of math styles to find the one that suits them best. But they also need to see meaningful (to them) people doing meaningful things with math and enjoying the experience. Math circles, where people help one another, are growing fast and are one way to achieve this. Math know-how (activities and examples) “must come with communities of practice that help newbies make sense of it,” Droujkova says. “One does not work without the other.” Regardless, if learning is to be as efficient and deep as possible, it’s essential that it be done freely. That means giving children a voice in which activities to participate, for how long, and also the level of mastery they want to achieve. (“This is the biggest clash with traditional curriculum development,” Droujkova notes.)

Adults must be prepared for those times when a child would rather be doing something other than the planned activity. Says Droujkova: “The role of adults is to inspire, by saying things like, ‘Ooh, what a complex shape—have you noticed the curve is made out of straight lines?’ Provide math connections with whatever kids are doing. This is hard to do—it requires both pedagogical and math concept knowledge, but it can be learned. And everyone can easily give general support: ‘How very interesting, I will investigate more.’ You can then look online, or ask on a math circle forum, to find out what it means mathematically.” It’s also helpful to have a variety of interesting materials on hand and to be okay with the idea of kids taking breaks as needed. Droujkova has noticed that in most groups, there are one or two kids do something else, while the rest do the main activity. (The non-participants still absorb a surprising amount, she adds.)

Pushback has come primarily from two very different (and usually opposing) camps. One is the “let kids be kids” cohort, which worries that legitimizing the idea of involving toddlers with algebra and calculus will tempt Tiger Mom types to push their kids into formal abstractions in these subjects at ever younger ages, even though that would completely miss the point. Other critics fall into the “back to basics” camp, which contends that all this play will prevent kids from becoming fluid in traditional calculation skills. Droujkova views these criticisms as indicative of something much bigger: “They reflect rather deep chasms between different philosophies of education, or more broadly, differences in the futures we pave for kids. When we assign a lot of similar exercises, we picture kids in situations that require industrial precision.” Giving children logic puzzles or open projects, on the other hand, indicates aspirations of them growing up to become explorers or designers. “It does not work that directly,” she concedes, “but these beliefs dictate what mathematics education the grown-ups select or make for the kids.”

There are also some who worry about whether this approach is practical for disenfranchised populations. Droujkova says that it can be led by any “somewhat literate” adult; the key is to have the right support network in place. She and her colleagues are striving to empower local networks and enhance accessibility on all fronts: mathematical, cultural and financial. They have made their materials and courses open under Creative Commons, and designed activities that require only readily available materials. “The know-how about making community-centered, open learning available to disenfranchised populations is growing,” Droujkova notes, citing experiments by Sugata Mitra and Dave Eggers. Online hubs can connect like-minded community members, and online courses and support are available to parents, teachers and teenagers who want to lead local groups.

Droujkova says one of the biggest challenges has been the mindsets of the grown-ups. Parents are tempted to replay their “bad old days” of math instruction with their kids, she says. With these calculus and algebra games, though, “parents say they get a fresh start. … They can experience the joy of mathematical play anew, like babies in a new world.”

 

Towards an Anti-Work Education
Nick Ford

I’ve discussed Peter Gray before when I reviewed extrinsic and internal goals. As I said there, some of the research that Gray was using seemed shaky at best. Particularly in merely noting the correlation of various negative things that have happened to children in the last few decades with a lack of play. For example, the increase in depression, suicide attempts and so on can just as easily be attributed to better diagnosing mental illness and taking suicide more seriously and measuring the rate of it better. Neither of these things happening more necessarily has to do with a decrease in play even if the two match up on graphs.

Moreover, Gray’s field of study, evolutionary psychology (EP), has widely been criticized as a science of “just-so” stories that are reductionist in method, restricting in its conclusions, and largely can’t be tested. Now, I’m not an expert on EP and I’m not trying to suggest that the entire field is bunk, as others have. But I just want to stress some amount of caution before we proceed and consider an article Gray wrote back in 2013 on play called The Play Deficit.

Once again, Gray hits on many of my ideological favorite spots. He emphasizes play, he advocates youth empowerment, self-directed learned, lauds the Subury Valley School, and in general, praises cooperation and egalitarian relations over authoritarian ones. So there’s a lot for me to like about Gray’s article. I even like his definition of equality:

The golden rule of social play is not ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Rather, it’s something much more difficult: ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’ To do that, you have to get into other people’s minds and see from their points of view. Children practise that all the time in social play. The equality of play is not the equality of sameness. Rather, it is the equality that comes from respecting individual differences and treating each person’s needs and wishes as equally important. That’s also, I think, the best interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s line that all men are created equal. We’re not all equally strong, equally quick-witted, equally healthy; but we are all equally worthy of respect and of having our needs met.

Now, I’m not sure if I agree with such a broad statement that Gray makes at the end. Some people’s needs do come from a need to dominate others. Though, to be fair, I’m sure Gray would disagree this is a need that is equally worthy of respect. So perhaps I’m guilty of nitpicking here, which would, admittedly, be nothing new. In any case, the fact that Gray thinks to differentiate separate forms of equality, emphasize individuality over sameness and that a certain sort of respect is due to us in so far as we follow the golden rule of social play is a much better form of equality than I usually see advocated. Despite these admirable qualities of Gray’s article he continues to denote possibly spurious correlations:

The decline in opportunity to play has also been accompanied by a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism, both of which have been assessed since the late 1970s with standard questionnaires given to normative samples of college students Empathy refers to the ability and tendency to see from another person’s point of view and experience what that person experiences. Narcissism refers to inflated self-regard, coupled with a lack of concern for others and an inability to connect emotionally with others. A decline of empathy and a rise in narcissism are exactly what we would expect to see in children who have little opportunity to play socially. Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.

So, “normative” samples are a good thing. But not linking to the studies in question isn’t. Further, with any college study, it must be kept in mind that college samples don’t necessarily reflect general populations. They are often small sample size studies that when not repeated (not applicable here though, to be fair) should be taken with a grain of salt, to say the least. Even when they are repeated, I would still stress that Gray’s use of the word “accompanied” is masking the fact that he’s only relying on correlations and studies from one portion of population to say this is the case.

And while, yes, you would expect less empathy and more narcissism from people who grow up less and less around others in the form of play there’s a few issues with this:
1. An expectation does not equal a causation
2. Just because you expect result A from Thing B doesn’t mean Thing B is the only possible thing that could’ve caused this chain of events. There are other causes that may have have roles or inputs in the chain of events you’ve been analyzing.
3. In this example, we could also expect a rise of narcissism and reduction in empathy from kids being around multi-media (TV, smartphones, the internet, etc.) than around other kids and playing with them. But yet, Gray doesn’t seem to make a case that we should limit these things.

Granted, my example in 3. is a superficial correlation at best, but that’s my point. It’s a struggle for me, because there’s much to like about Gray for me, as I’ve said before. But his methods and citations (even when he does give them, as he did in his Psychology Today article) just aren’t solid enough to build his case on. But let’s move on from that and focus on some of his stronger points:

In another branch of my research I’ve studied how children learn at a radically alternative school, the Sudbury Valley School … It’s called a school, but is as different from what we normally think of as ‘school’ as you can imagine. The students — who range in age from four to about 19 — are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. The rules have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order.

…[T]he school has been in existence for 45 years now and has many hundreds of graduates, who are doing just fine in the real world, not because their school taught them anything, but because it allowed them to learn whatever they wanted. And, in line with Groos’s theory, what children in our culture want to learn when they are free turns out to be skills that are valued in our culture and that lead to good jobs and satisfying lives. When they play, these students learn to read, calculate, and use computers with the same playful passion with which hunter-gatherer kids learn to hunt and gather. They don’t necessarily think of themselves as learning. They think of themselves as just playing, or ‘doing things’, but in the process they are learning.

Even more important than specific skills are the attitudes that they learn. They learn to take responsibility for themselves and their community, and they learn that life is fun, even (maybe especially) when it involves doing things that are difficult. I should add that this is not an expensive school; it operates on less than half as much, per student, as the local state schools and far less than most private schools.

I tried to apply to the Sudbury Valley School at one point, to become a staff member. Suffice it to say, it didn’t work out, but I still hold a big spot in my heart for this school and what they do. Gray’s example of Hunter Gatherer’s seems too messy and filled with confounding factors.

But having read a few of Sudbury’s own books (a requirement if you want to apply to a position there so you can understand their philosophy better) I can say with a better sense of judgment that what Gray says here seems true. Both through the philosophy of the school itself and the books that collect the stories of children who went there. The person Gray mentions, Karl Groos, was one of the first researchers on the subject of play. He developed a theory later called “practice theory of play”. That by playing more and more animals become better adaptable to their environment and thus were more easily selected for natural selection in positive ways. I’m not sure how well this translates to humans but Groos apparently was:

He pointed out that humans, having much more to learn than other species, are the most playful of all animals. Human children, unlike the young of other species, must learn different skills depending on the culture in which they are developing. Therefore, he argued, natural selection in humans favoured a strong drive for children to observe the activities of their elders and incorporate those activities into their play. He suggested that children in every culture, when allowed to play freely, play not only at the skills that are valuable to people everywhere (such as two-legged walking and running), but also at the skills that are specific to their culture (such as shooting bows and arrows or herding cattle).

And so too with Sudbury do children learn play as a form of practice from which to live by and adapt to their environments. There’s an interesting way that people justify schools: Test scores. But what good are test scores if you can’t exist outside of tests? The “real test”, as corny as it may sound, is life itself. It’s not the regimented, organized and highly legible experiences of mandatory testing in schools. The tests we face in life are likely to be much more unpredictable and hard to follow then what stares us in the face on our desks. Gray uses China as a particular example:

In an article entitled ‘The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail’ in The Wall Street Journal in December 2010, Jiang Xueqin, a prominent Chinese educator, wrote: ‘The failings of a rote-memorisation system are well known: lack of social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning…. One way we’ll know we’re succeeding in changing China’s schools is when those scores [on standardised tests] come down.’ Meanwhile, Yong Zhao, an American education professor who grew up in China and specialises in comparing the Chinese educational system with the system in the US, notes that a common term used in China to refer to graduates is gaofen dineng, meaning ‘high scores but low ability’. Because students spend nearly all their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, take initiative, or develop physical and social skills: in short, they have little opportunity to play.

I’m tired of the “real world” trope for college students and students. There are plenty of ways that real life (whatever that means) intersects with student life as well. There are ways that student life can be harder than the outside life (consider balancing a job and being a student…well many students likely don’t have to given college debt) and denying these experiences seems nothing but belittling to me. All of that said, as tired as I am of this trope, the structure of college and anything below it are obviously restricted or liberated in high-minded ways by people who think they know better for others. Self-directed learning, here I agree with Gray quite strongly, better prepares children or anyone for the rough things life can throw at us. And what happens when Sudbury graduates move on to the “real world”?:

Graduates were continuing to play the activities they had loved as students, with the same joy, passion, and creativity, but now they were making a living at it. There were professional musicians who had played intensively with music when they were students, and computer programmers who had spent most of their time as students playing with computers. One woman, who was the captain of a cruise ship, had spent much of her time as a student playing on the water, first with toy boats and then with real ones. A man who was a sought-after machinist and inventor had spent his childhood playfully building things and taking things apart to see how they worked.

Free play allowed these children to develop themselves into more than capable adults. Adults who can handle not only the faults in our state-capitalist system but come through looking not too shabby, honestly. They find their passions, they explore them and they take them to the end. Maybe that won’t guarantee them a career as a CEO or mean they’ll not be a bit weirder than other people in some important ways. But it’s my hope that that weirdness will spread.

I’m always looking for excuses to mention my favorite anarchist, Voltairine de Cleyre, and her essay Modern Educational Reform is such an excuse:

The really Ideal School, which would not be a compromise, would be a boarding school built in the country, having a farm attached, and workshops where useful crafts might be learned, in daily connection with intellectual training. It presupposes teachers able to train little children to habits of health, order, and neatness, in the utmost detail, and yet not tyrants or rigid disciplinarians. In free contact with nature, the children would learn to use their limbs as nature meant, feel their intimate relationship with the growing life of other sorts, form a profound respect for work and an estimate of the value of it; wish to become real doers in the world, and not mere gatherers in of other men’s products; and with the respect for work, the appreciation of work, the desire to work, will come the pride of the true workman who will know how to maintain his dignity and the dignity of what he does.

Of course, that may sound like what Sudbury is, but it was written many decades before. Voltairine had other things to go off of however, like Fransisco Ferrer and his Modern Schools which serves as the partial basis for the title of her essay.

This leads me to my final point: I think what Gray, Sudbury and Voltairine all suggest here are great foundations for the building of an anti-work education. An education that builds self-reliance, individuality, versatility and generally speaking, a lack of needing others to meet ones needs. A lack of needing masters, gods, managers, bosses, CEOs, systems, societies, teams and anything else that may or may not interfere with the free action of individuals. Having individuals grow up to be self-reliant means they can work for themselves or freely associate with others on whatever basis gives them pleasure and seems most virtuous. They can depart at any time and in that way associations become a form of play itself. A way for people to practice free and voluntary actions that are meaningful to all participants involved, but are also seen as fun. Association becomes less about irrational biases, social signaling and social status. Instead, they become much more about the mutuality and reciprocity of each others individuality being optimized. About their individuality being respected by the actions of those they choose to associate with, for however long that may be.

An anti-work education would be done on this basis. Perhaps it wouldn’t need schools and we could go farther into the realm of unschooling. Why shouldn’t we dismantle the entire institution of schools itself and let children build their own structures and lead their own lives?

Let them abolish work in their own lives!

NO! Issue 12


Imposed PDF

 

The Psychological Dimension of Revolution (Excerpt)
Ashanti Alston

I had a typical upbringing where the inner-city was Niggertown with all the customs and traditions of racism, sexism and powerlessness. You come into this kind of world ignorant but increasingly learning about people, society, roles and duties. You recognize the supreme authority of the Whites, of the rich and “God,” of the police in the streets. Of the preachers and teachers in the churches and schools, and of the parents and older folks in the home and neighborhood.

Though my first authority figures were my parents (and older brothers and sisters) I soon found out that beyond the world of home, there were others in authoritarian positions over me. But whatever or whoever the authority, the cultural lesson that tied it all together was the one that began in the home: “Respect and obey your parents! Do as we say. we know how to raise you.” Disrespect and disobedience was not to be tolerated. Funny, you didn’t like it as a child, yet you found yourself following the same customs and traditions when you were in the role as parent, as an authority. It made your life as a child miserable in many respects with the roles and chores, the do’s and don’ts and all. But, it was said to be necessary if you were going to fit in and make it in this society.

No child just automatically conforms to such authoritarian raising, such methods. There is naturally rebellion and resistance. But you are just a child, weak and dependent upon those around you to “prepare” you for the real world. So what can you do but eventually submit, conform to their social designs? I am certain that I had to learn through this process of instilling fear in me, to cement each lesson in my soul. Not like I got it much, but I didn’t like to get my butt whooped, didn’t like to be shouted at, threatened, ordered to stay in the house away from friends and games and all. They were upset with my natural wild zest for life and mostly, all of their measures were designed to restrict it, that “wild zest.” I didn’t know but it was obvious that I had ongoing choices to make to please them, whether I liked it or not. Mama knows best – Papa knows best … but I didn’t know a dam thing! Hell, I guess that I was just suppose to go along with the program. It was no question that when I did, it brought more rewards than punishment, and when faced with a choice between the two, man, you get tired of punishment! Without ever fully understanding why, you come to realize that the things you truly want, desire to do, think, say, feel … have got to be repressed, hidden and if done at all, done on the sly. Just can’t be you. Why?

Once those customs and traditions become a part of a person they form a psychological mask quite unknowingly to the person. You come to don that mask reluctantly, as your every physical, mental and emotional fiber resists. But once its fastened on your face, on your soul, it functions just like your heart pumps blood, lungs air, or stomach digest food. You forget about, or repress the memories of, the traumatic experiences which created the mask, and go on through life not even realizing that it governs, influences, pulls and jerks your every physical, emotional and intellectual activity. It effectively cuts you off from being in direct touch with your true feelings, with your spontaneous contact with the outside world, with friends, with your energy, and with your curiosity about life in general.

Poor child has no idea that its dependency upon those who raise him/her is gonna cost him/her that natural, playful, soulful zest for life; its psychic and biological health and development twisted and suffocated by a series of traumatic experiences designed and invoked in the name of God and the American way and good child-rearing practices to produce a powerless, dependent, fearful, self-enslaving, law-abiding citizens (first- and second-class). It’s sad that parents don’t see the real damage they inflect on their children in their rearing methods, but the end-result always show in the inability of people in general to govern their own lives without an authoritarian figure hovering over them; it shows in their apathy, hopelessness and feelings of insignificance.

After the coup d’etat of the family institution over the natural freedom and aliveness of the child, that child is trained into an adulthood in which it will continue to repress freedom (its full human developmental capacities) and continue the whole process anew in its offspring. What was done to your parents in childhood, they did to you, and you, in turn, do it to yours. And so on, never thinking about the harmful consequences of blindly carrying on traditions which distort our humanity. It is here, though, and in this way of words and behavior, that the sexism, racism, capitalism, the religious, intellectual and moral belief systems, as well as the lying, dishonesty, irresponsibility, emotional denial, liberalism, manipulation, egotism, slavishness, etc., are taught and passed on.

In sociology the process itself is called “socialization” or “enculturation.” The object is to “civilize” the child and keep everyone bind to the traps of tradition and belief. But what it amounts to is a vast suppression of the force or fire of life within the child or population in general, because it is that “fire” which rebels against any kind of oppressive socialization which is not in harmony with the free development of a human being’s potential for healthy, satisfying love, work and knowledge. What is wanted is a well-behaved, obedient, productive person who will not disturb nor question the established authoritarian order, but will merely carry on as proscribed and arranged for generations.

Generally, there is one brief period in the human development cycle where we are, relatively, free; when the culture has not yet restricted, twisted, or distorted the natural, spontaneous living expressions of a thinking, feeling and doing human being. This period is from birth to 3, 4 or 5 years old. The child is “born free”. This is when our emotional, physical and mental energies are most delightfully burning, most alive, vibrant, responsive, honest, curious, sensuous, logical rational and crazy. You fear not new things or people; you fear not adventure or trying new activities; you don’t become stuck in anxieties or depressive moods; nor worry about what others think about you. You are open, receptive and geared to nothing else but Life itself and all its pleasure and struggle. You are just a wellspring of energy to love, to learn and to act.

Every day, every minute and every experience in the life of a child is one of curiosity and a powerful drive to learn … about things, people, self. Those eyes are bright, observant. Those hands and arms, legs and feet are moving and touching, reaching. That child, every child – a natural explorer! Eyes, mouth, ears, hands, senses. Not only does s/he learn and do from seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, tasting the objects of its surrounding reality. They also learn about themselves and the use of the capacities of eyes, ears, hands, legs, feet, tongue, muscles, sexual organs, thinking and feeling and the whole “humanimal” range. In other words, they are on the road – naturally – to self-discovery, in its totality and on his/her own terms. Self and surroundings are one. But…

These days or years of “born freedom” are not going to last long in our culture. Our society is not geared nor interested in nurturing human development on the basis of natural freedom. It is geared to develop us on the basis of authority – class, race, sex, age, etc. The need to obey, rather than the need to be, is the over-riding concern. This is what makes “childhood” as we had it imposed on us, an oppressive institution. Good ol’ western, U.S. childrearing is an innocent appearing, good intentioned fire extinguisher used to put out a fine, sweet, bright and wildly burning human flame, in the person of an uncivilized, unadulterated child. And let it be said again and again, so that there’ll be no misunderstanding: The ground-breakers, the spirit-breakers or foundation builders of this pillar of psychological loyalty to the social system is the family. Parents, brothers, sisters and other relevant figures tied to your immediate surroundings.

It is not that the child must not be taught or “raised” – it is the why’s and how’s and what actual characteristics are being produced in us by our addiction to the traditions and beliefs that keep them alive. We are born into a society which has been in existence for several hundred years, complete with its own established way of life, life philosophy and institutions for perpetuating its existence via education and other political power institutions. Its basic ways and beliefs, as in terms of sexual and class relationships – the why’s and how’s – have roots going back 6 to 10 thousand years. One insignificant, tiny baby, coming into the world knowing nothing of it and at the complete mercy of other people to care for it, cannot contend with society’s tremendous and awe-some cultural forces.

Whether conscious of it or not, the person accustomed to, and receptive to , the society’s authoritarian beliefs and traditions, does not normally challenge her/himself to affirm those “anti-social” deeply-felt feelings or longings for unadulterated life. The beliefs and traditions do not challenge the person to consciously allow his/her sexual, emotional, intellectual and physical seeds to develop in a more natural, less culturally oppressive way. And it is rare the person who will allow the rebel fire of life within to be channeled into the human developmental forms that are indicative of personal and social freedom, consciousness, responsibility and happiness. It is even rarer the person who will know how to follow the faintest or strongest inklings and desires to be free or change the circumstances of life as s/he knows or has known it.

The reason why even revolutionaries -or sincere-meaning people who get involved with movements – cannot change their social circumstances is because they do not recognize or just deny the existence of powerful unconscious, self-enslaving emotional habits, thought patterns and defense-mechanisms within them that overwhelms the best and most righteous of intentions and endeavors to change society. This is the inner social dynamic of the mask whose function it is to frustrate and repress the vast potential of each and every human being to be free and wholly alive.

It starts with such seemingly meaningless things as feeding and teaching the child to “cooperate”; cleaning or bathing and teaching the child to be still and “cooperate”; peepeeing and dodoing and potty-training the child; teaching the child one perspective of life – yours; teaching sexist, racist and other shit whose message is to be “loyal” to Authority. It is here that the saying “Action speaks louder than words” is relevant. The overt and subtle messages come across to the memory more through people’s actions, their behavior. For example, parents don’t sit a child down and actually say, “You are the inferior one because of your age, sex, and race.” It is given from the daily behavior of parents and significant others. Again, it is not that the child must not be raised or taught – it is the why and how behind it.

The infant can naturally signal hunger and should have her hunger satisfied then. But Mama, many times, ignores this and forces the baby to comply with what’s convenient for Mama, or with some so-called scientifically worked out time schedule for feeding. When this happens the baby is being put through some heavy trauma. That baby is not “scientific” nor so rigid. S/he is an organism of natural rhythm and needs, of harmonious instincts and pure feelings. The authoritarian manner of forcing a child to comply, to conform, to submit to a rigid schedule instead of its natural rhythm and signaling, or to force him/her to eat when they’re not hungry, or to strap a child to a high-chair and let him sit there until he “learns” how to eat civilized, is cruel punishment. But even in this example, it is done supposedly on the child’s behalf – for the child’s own good.

To teach us to repress ourselves in the name of respect and obedience to authority (parents, preachers, teachers, principals, police, politicians, etc) dehumanizes us. If a child is forbidden to express his/her feelings, explore her/his potentials, s/he will never be able to unfold freely in a rich and joyous life … or in a life of revolution dreaming, creating, destroying, healing, contesting, renewing… the social repression and its learned self-repression is going to negatively affect his/her concept of self and her/his ability to relate positively to self, others and environment with a sense of freedom and responsibility through love, work and critical reflection. The reactions to those traumatic or fearful events in one’s earlier life has armored one’s psychological make-up against the natural, the instinctual. Our self-concept is, and has been, continually bombarded with negative experiences and subliminal messages which leave us with the feelings of insignificance, self-hatred, helplessness, powerlessness, and lifelessness. The way we learn to cope with it is by the mascarade.

We’ll be able to understand, in greater depth, the problems that block revolution in this country when we are more willing and daring to learn about the psychological dimension, or that dynamic aspect of the mask. It is what one perceptive activist referred to as “self-inflicting psychological oppression.” It arose from a discussion of the ways in which people in general, and activists, in spite of their high self-opinions, perpetuate the very society oppressing them by holding on to the ideas, opinions, beliefs, addictions, attitudes, gestures, relationships and established traditions that make this national life powerful and workable for the rich and already powerful. To understand this, to make an honest attempt to understand this, you must step out of the obsession with the masses, or with proving studiousness and loyalty to a particular ideology or belief. For this, you must start by examining your own damn self!

 

Harmful to Minors
Liz Highleyman

Few issues cause as much consternation as the sexual lives of young people, a fact made abundantly clear to author Judith Levine and the University of Minnesota Press upon publication of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. In the furor over the book, most commentators have missed Levine’s main point: “Sex is not ipso facto harmful to minors.” In fact, “America’s drive to protect kids from sex is protecting them from nothing. Instead, often it is harming them.”

Despite what critics contend, Harmful to Minors is not about pedophilia. It tackles a wide range of issues including censorship, statutory rape laws, abstinence-only sex education, abortion, gender, AIDS, and child welfare. The latter issue, which raises questions beyond sexuality about how our society provides for its neediest children, is “the most important one in the book,” Levine told AlterNet, and “the real reason the Right is against me.” But the inflammatory issue of child-adult sex continues to draw the headlines.

Why does the proposition that youth deserves sexual autonomy, pleasure, and privacy seem so radical? In the 1970s, the sexual revolution was in full swing and the idea that children and teens were sexual beings was accepted, at least among progressives. Books such as Heidi Handman and Peter Brennan’s “Sex Handbook: Information and Help for Minors” and Sol Gordon’s “You!” showed respect for young people and their ability to make their own sexual decisions.

For the past two decades, though, the religious right has been winning the war against comprehensive sex education, access to abortion and contraception, and the sexual autonomy of young people. By the late 1980s, Gordon had shifted his advice toward parents with “Raising a Child Conservatively in a Sexually Permissive World,” and child pornography laws made it illegal to even possess a copy of “Show Me!,” an award-winning sex education book for children.

What happened? Levine does not place all the blame on the Right, acknowledging the role cultural feminists played in imposing a regime of overwhelming sexual protectionism. “The Right won, but the mainstream let it,” she says. “Comprehensive sex educators had the upper hand in the 1970s, and starting in the 1980s, they allowed their enemies to seize more and more territory, until the Right controlled the law, the language, and the cultural consensus.” Add to this the fact that the sexual liberationists of yesterday are parents today, facing all the typical parental fears. As the joke goes, a conservative is a liberal with a teenage daughter. Many people feel a pervasive sense of dread about children and sex, but as Levine notes, things are not appreciably worse now than they were in the past. Children’s exposure to sexual images is hardly new, and research indicates that rates of teen sexual activity are not “galloping upward.”

As Levine documents throughout the book with copious studies and reviews of news sources, fears of rampant pedophilia, child abduction, ritual abuse, and Internet sexual predators are at best exaggerated, at worst completely unsupported by evidence. For example, studies commissioned by Congress show that between 50 and 150 children are kidnapped and murdered by strangers each year, yet in a Mayo Clinic survey three-quarters of parents said they are afraid their children will be abducted. And a 1994 U.S. government report analyzing over 12,000 accusations of Satanic ritual abuse found “not a single case where there was clear corroborating evidence.”

Nevertheless, parents are nervous — even squeamish — about their children’s and teens’ sexuality, often seeking to deny their offspring the sexual freedoms they themselves demanded at the same age. (Physician Victor Strasburger has even penned a paean to hypocrisy entitled “Getting Your Kids to Say ‘No’ in the ‘90s When You Said ‘Yes’ in the ‘60s.” In the past two decades youthful sexual desire has become widely pathologized. As Levine notes, “It’s as if (parents) cannot imagine that their kids seek sex for the same reasons they do: They like or love the person they are having it with. It gives them a sense of beauty, worthiness, happiness, or power. And it feels good.”

The panic surrounding youthful sexuality can perhaps best be compared to the war on drugs: Both are based on ideology rather than science, and no amount of evidence can change the minds of true believers. Both mask underlying social agendas in which concern for children is used to control the behavior of adults. And both engender problems of credibility as young people reject exhortations to “do as I say, not as I did.” Many adults recognize that they made mistakes in their youth and understandably wish to spare children similar missteps, especially in the age of AIDS. Yet too often, Levine contends, censorship and abstinence-only sex education are really an effort to hold back children’s coming of age, offering parents an illusory “freedom from watching their kids grow up.”

But denying young people knowledge about sex will not help them become responsible sexual citizens. As Levine notes, children today know about IPOs and the hole in the ozone layer, just as they know about abortion and sadomasochism. Parents cannot block out all uncomfortable knowledge. In order “to give children a fighting chance in navigating the sexual world,” Levine says, “adults need to saturate it with accurate, realistic information and abundant, varied images and narratives of love and sex.”

If a person truly has the good of young people in mind, one would hope he or she would be interested in what research has to reveal. Harmful to Minors offers a plethora of findings, from studies showing that exposure to sexually explicit images does not harm children, to evidence that teens’ sexual relationships with adults are not uniformly devastating, to research on the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education in delaying sexual activity. But more crucial than research is listening to what children and teens have to say about their own experiences, honestly acknowledging our own experiences at those ages, and applying a healthy dose of common sense. While we are constantly reminded of the importance of believing young people’s allegations of coercion and abuse, too often we give considerably less credence to their avowals of consent and pleasure.

Most of us came across sexual images in our youth, and most of us did not turn out to be sexual monsters. Further, there is no evidence that cultures in which explicit sexual imagery is prevalent (such as Denmark or the Netherlands) produce more sexual pathology than those in which such material is forbidden; in fact, there are indications that quite the opposite is the case. In the explosive realm of adult-youth sex, many teens say that such relationships can be consensual and positive. And more than a few of us remember having such positive sexual relationships with adults when we ourselves were teens.

“Teens often seek out sex with older people, and they do so for understandable reasons: an older person makes them feel sexy and grown up, protected and special,” writes Levine. “Often the sex is better than it would be with a peer who has as little skill as they do. For some teens, a romance with an older person can feel more like salvation than victimization.” Romantic heartbreak — and plain old bad sex – are just as likely with same-age peers as with older partners. Within the gay community, especially, one often hears fond reminiscences of youthful sexual relationships with adults. For many gay men, a teenage relationship with an older man was their release from a homophobic family and peers and their introduction to a supportive community.

As lesbian syndicated columnist Paula Martinac recently wrote, the differences of opinion between gay men and lesbians regarding adult-youth sexuality represent an ongoing rift within the gay community. Mainstream gay and lesbian groups understandably wish to disassociate themselves from sordid accusations of pedophilia — and correctly point out that the vast majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by heterosexual men — but they cannot so easily distance the community from its long history of gay icons who have spoken and written positively about adult-teen relationships.

As for abstinence-only education, young people in Western European countries where children receive comprehensive sex education and where sex is treated as a normal and healthy part of life do not experience more sex-related pathology. Quite the contrary, according to The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior published last year by the Department of Health and Human Services, other Western countries have lower rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, rape, incest and child abuse than the U.S.

Levine has taken considerable heat for holding up as a “good model” the Netherlands’ age of consent law, under which young people ages 12-16 can legally consent to sex with older people who are not parents or authority figures, but under which charges can be brought if teens or their parents (with the Approval of the Council for the Protection of Children) believe the young person is being exploited. But her support for the Dutch law cannot be taken out of the context of that country’s social welfare system and relaxed cultural attitudes about sex. “In the Netherlands, children are respected as citizens with rights like everyone else, to housing, health care, good day care, school, and college,” Levine told AlterNet. “They get sexuality education from the get-go, condoms are available in vending machines everywhere, abortion is free from the national health service, their parents receive generous parental leave and, if they choose to stay home longer with the kids, social welfare benefits to subsidize that important work. While protecting children, the Dutch (and other Europeans) do not infantilize them.”

The child welfare issue has been all but neglected in the controversy surrounding Harmful to Minors. Today in the U.S. the poverty rate stands at over 10 percent, with children making up an increasing proportion of the poor. In the only developed nation that does not provide universal health care, some 11 million children under age 18 are uninsured. A fifth of American women get no prenatal care, and the U.S. infant mortality rate lags behind that of twenty other industrialized countries. And virtually every sex-related problem, from AIDS to incest, is correlated with poverty. It is these conditions, argues Levine — not pedophiles or pornography — that are truly harming young people. “Poor people aren’t less moral than rich people,” Levine writes. “But poverty, like sex, is a phenomenon rooted in moral priorities, a result of deliberate fiscal and social policies that obstruct the fair distribution of health, education, and wealth in a wealthy country. The result, often, is an unfair distribution of sexual health and happiness, too.”

Nevertheless, according to a 1997 Public Agenda survey, Americans persist in defining sex-related problems as moral rather than material, and thus focusing on solutions that are “character building, not situation bettering.” Levine’s conclusion that “economic security is necessary for sexual safety” aims at the heart of the religious right’s agenda of privatization, parental rights, and consolidation of the authority of the nuclear family over the interests of society and the needs of the younger generation. But such misplaced priorities are nothing new: In the late 19th century, as industrialization drove children into the factories, moralistic adults worried about saving them from sex. From Levine’s point of view, children are not the property of their parents and must be treated as citizens in their own right.

“Legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is not the best way to protect children, particularly when ‘children’ include everyone from birth to eighteen,” she writes. Indeed, Levine finds such an idea reminiscent of the now discredited dogma — held by both social conservatives and some feminists — that women, too, were paragons of innocence who did not experience desire, required protection, and were not truly capable of consent. And how, she wonders, has it come to pass that “it is only in the area of violent criminal activity that children (some as young as 11) are considered fully mature”? How can we expect children and teens to learn about healthy sex and relationships if they cannot experiment and explore, with access to increasing information, freedom, and responsibility as they get older?

How can we hope that young people who have received abstinence-only sex education, been shielded from sexually explicit material in the media and on the Internet, been deprived of non-sexual touch from adults, and had no opportunity for sexual play with their peers will magically transform into worldly, responsible, sexually healthy adults upon attaining the age of majority (whatever that happens to be wherever they live)? Experts agree that most young people engage in sex by the end of their teens. Clearly, attempts to prevent sex by withholding knowledge have been ineffectual in achieving that goal, but they have impeded efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancy, AIDS and other problems associated with sexual ignorance.

The idea that young people must never have — or even hear much about — sex makes it difficult to teach them about the differences between consensual and nonconsensual sex, between healthy and exploitative sex, between safe and unsafe sex.

“If sexual expertise is expected of adults, the rudiments must be taught to children,” insists Levine. “If educators want to be credible about sexual responsibility, they have to be forthright about sexual joy. If parents want their kids to be happy now and later, it is their duty, and should be their delight, to help them learn to love well, which is to say respectfully of others and themselves, skillfully in body and heart, morally as lovers, friends, and citizens.”

 

I Am Nahid
Nahid W.

I am Nahid
I am the light of the world
I rise out of the black ocean
and become the desire of the nations
I dream
of knowledge for the children of my country
I dream
of equal rights for the women of my nation
I dream of a peaceful land
War and terrorists
invade my dreams,
kill me, cut me apart
but I know that the stars will rise
as I rise out of the black ocean
and become the desire of the nations
I am the light of the world
I am Nahid

NO! Issue 11


Imposed PDF

 

Playground Anarchy?

Before we can answer this question, we must ask: what is play? Play is the antithesis of work. Work is the art of an exploitative science. It tugs at the reigns of capital, conducting its movements, speed and flow, carrying with it the hearse of companionship. It tramples our natural sociality, but binds us in a common hatred. Play is the revitalization of life; of our dreams and our desires. It is the rejection of the necessary non-freedom promoted, produced, and projected by work. It is releasing human floods of bodily desire across the barriers of separation created by work. Play is unmediated joy.
Anarchy is a condition; that of being without rule. Anarchy is the absence of, and the rejection of the notions that give rise to the legitimization of authority. It is unmediated freedom. Freedom to shape our lives as we see fit, to make our own decisions outside the realm of politics, where biological life is exposed to death, and to appropriate the means of existence from the chokehold of industrial civilization and its arsenal of economies, experts, and militaries.
Playground Anarchy is a conception; an understanding of what it is to experience life as play while simultaneously realizing its antiauthoritarian implications. Further, it can be considered the absolute embrace of a peculiar yet collective singularity; that of our inner-child. Further still, Playground Anarchy may be best described as the destruction of the great appendage known as chronological history and the creation of an always and all-at-once present appropriation of the past, during which we move from our shared affectivity to a shared direction.

We, its practitioners, recognize that upon entering adulthood (a.k.a. the realm of work, material overproduction, commodity fetishization, etc.) an individual can own nothing but their own labor power, surrenduring all other autonomous projects. It becomes painfully evident that we gradually and incontrovertibly lose our real sense of selves. Diametrically, we recognize that in our experiences during the years of our youth, life had been actualized. In childhood, life was all that it could be, and all that it is currently not: adventure, exploration, discovery, learning, loving, sharing, bonding, and growing. This recognition is explicated not only the theoretical writings of Marx or the classical literary contributions of Salinger, but universally: in every individual’s perceived need, even if it is expressed through the great irony of consumerism, to escape from the world of work, and thus, the logic of capital.

Yet, as anarchists we desire more than a pathetic dislodging from the dominion of capital. We are not interested in securing such matters of temporality; rather, we seek an eternal and unmediated freedom, which is to be materialized through a life (re)structured by play. Under capitalism, play has become yet another potentially affirming activity separated from everyday life.

True to its own perverse logic, capitalism designs, manufactures, and sells “parks” to communities – designated areas where our play is premeditated and established within assigned parameters. We are allotted a time and a place to play, so long as it does not threaten the sanctity of the work week, the monetary system at large, or the rigid social order it permeates. These are (often successful) efforts to maintain normalcy. When the clock strikes three, we flood the lot, and things appear to be going along as usual – running the way that they “should” be. Thus, it is only when we make our play total, outside of the increasing limitations of capital, that we destroy the constructs of work and leisure, of production and consump- tion, while simultaneously reterritorializing the space we inhabit through the liberation of our desires.

In a similar fashion, the standing mode of production – being an insatiable beast which finds sustenance only in merciless commodification – has adopted the technique of reifying our common nostalgia. While they rob us of life by exploiting us to wage slavery on the one hand, they expect us to believe that we can buy it all back in films, books, costumes and theme park tickets. We choose, as a response to the great lie we have been fed, to shove dirt in the mouth of such a courteous oppressor, in all of their offerings and claims of opportunity.

In Playground Anarchy we will henceforth begin to take back the images they exploit and credit themselves with – those images that we, their unwanted children, gave life to in worlds outside of work. The genuinely positive social relations (those of cooperation, sharing, and aiding) prevalent in childhood are to be made distinct from the spectacle’s vulgar interpretation/presentation: synthetic friendships, stories that applaud hierarchy and heroism, and adventures that only amount to transparent celluloid. We seek to collectively live out our dreams, while they seek to keep us stationary and entertained with a cheap imitation thereof.

We call for the immediate dismantling of all borders, boundaries, and restrictions. We will leap over every fence. No longer will we accept the painful familiarity of their predict able realm of play. We will watch possibilities explode, like the gunpowder and dust of their spectacular images, yet ours will be so immense that they shade the night sky permanently.

In attempts to liberate seized playgrounds with locked fences, relentlessly stencil four-square courts up and down city streets, and to occupy abandoned homes, factories and universities, we give content to our particular form of subversion. Whether your experience is in sprinting through a cemetery after dusk, opening a fire hydrant on a hot summer day, or exploring a decaying manufacturing plant, we urge you to rediscover the child within you – to release it at once, and in every direction. Use your imaginations, pack some candy, go outside, find each other, and enact the most bodily of revolts. The playground is open.

 

Preschool to Prison
Sonali Kolhatkar

Although African-Americans constitute only 13 percent of all Americans, nearly half of all prison inmates in the U.S. are black. This startling statistic has led the United Nations Human Rights Committee to publicly criticize the U.S. for its treatment of African-Americans. A number of recent studies and reports paint a damning picture of how American society dehumanizes blacks starting from early childhood.

Racial justice activists and prison abolition groups have long argued that the “school-to-prison” pipeline funnels young black kids into the criminal justice system, with higher rates of school suspension and arrest compared with nonblack kids for the same infractions. More than 20 years ago, Smith College professor Ann Arnett Ferguson wrote a groundbreaking book based on her three-year study of how black boys in particular are perceived differently starting in school. In “Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity,” Ferguson laid out the ways in which educators and administrators funneled black male students into the juvenile justice system based on perceived differences between them and other students. Today this trend continues with record numbers of suspensions as a result of “zero-tolerance” school policies and the increasing presence of campus police officers who arrest students for insubordination, fights and other types of behavior that might be considered normal “acting out” in school-aged children. In fact, black youth are far more likely to be suspended from school than any other race. They also face disproportionate expulsion and arrest rates, and once children enter the juvenile justice system they are far more likely to be incarcerated as adults.

Even the Justice Department under President Obama has understood what a serious problem this is, issuing a set of new guidelines earlier this year to curb discriminatory suspension in schools. But it turns out that negative disciplinary actions affect African-American children starting as early as age 3. The U.S. Department of Education just released a comprehensive study of public schools, revealing in a report that black children face discrimination even in preschool. (That preschool-aged children are suspended at all is hugely disturbing.) Data from the 2011-12 year show that although black children make up only 18 percent of preschoolers, 42 percent of them were suspended at least once and 48 percent were suspended multiple times.

Consistent with this educational data and taking into account broader demographic, family and economic data for children of various races, broken down by state, is a newer study released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that found African-American children are on the lowest end of nearly every measured index including proficiency in math and reading, high school graduation, poverty and parental education. The report, titled Race for Results, plainly says, “The index scores for African-American children should be considered a national crisis.”

Two other studies published recently offer specific evidence of how black children are so disadvantaged at an early age. One research project, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examined how college students and police officers estimated the ages of children who they were told had committed crimes. Both groups studied by UCLA professor Phillip Goff and collaborators were more likely to overestimate the ages of black children compared with nonblack ones, implying that black children were seen as “significantly less innocent” than others. The authors wrote:

We expected … that individuals would perceive Black boys as being more responsible for their actions and as being more appropriate targets for police violence. We find support for these hypotheses … and converging evidence that Black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their White same-age peers.

Another study by researchers at UC Riverside found that teachers tended to be more likely to evaluate black children negatively than nonblack ones who were engaged in pretend play. Psychology professor Tuppett M. Yates, who led the study, observed 171 preschool-aged children interacting with stuffed toys and other props and evaluated them for how imaginative and creative they were. In an interview on Uprising, Yates told me that all the children, regardless of race, were “similarly imaginative and similarly expressive,” but when their teachers evaluated those same children at a later time, there was a discriminatory effect. Yates explained, “For white children, imaginative and expressive players were rated very positively [by teachers] but the reverse was true for black children. Imaginative and expressive black children were perceived as less ready for school, as less accepted by their peers, and as greater sources of conflict and tension.”

Although it is clear that negative behaviors were magnified through “race-colored glasses,” according to Yates, her study of children engaged in pretend play found that “there is also potentially a systematic devaluing of positive attributes among black children.” This made her concerned about how “very early on, some kids are being educated towards innovation and leadership and others may be educated towards more menial or concrete social positions.” Reflecting on the 2001 book Bad Boys and how little seems to have changed since then, Yates affirmed that author Ferguson’s assertion that black children are given a “hidden curriculum” is still true now. She told me, “Our data suggests that that hidden curriculum may be persisting today and that it’s starting much earlier than we ever could have anticipated.” She noted her deep concern that “we’re actually reproducing inequality generation after generation.”

When I asked her to comment on the Goff study showing police estimates of black children as older than they are, Yates agreed that it appears as though “the same objective data are being interpreted differently as a function of race.” Ferguson also apparently noted this trend, calling it an “adultification” of black boys. Yates recounted an example from Ferguson’s work in which “when a white student fails to return their library book, they’re seen as forgetful and when a black student fails to return a library book, terms like ‘thief’ or ‘looter’ were used.”

Studies such as these consistently show that African-Americans have the deck stacked against them starting in early childhood through adulthood. Taken together, they make a strong case for the existence of a “preschool-to-prison” pipeline and the systematic dehumanization that black children face in American society. Yates summarized, “Across these different studies, black children are viewed differently. They are consequently given less access to the kinds of structural avenues required to advance in our society and ultimately they become less valued in our culture,” and are ultimately “fast tracked to the margins.”

Daily Beast staff writer Jamelle Bouie, writing about black preschoolers being disproportionately suspended, provocatively asked, “Are Black Students Unruly? Or is America Just Racist?” Yates gave me the obvious answer saying, “We know that [discrimination] exists. It’s the most parsimonious explanation for these kinds of persistent inequalities.” But perhaps there is also an element of justifiable unruliness involved. Yates offered that “black children—rightfully so—are more likely to disengage from their educational milieus and potentially rebel against them because these systems are at best failing to support them, and at worst channeling them into this pipeline towards negative ends.”

She indicted American society as a whole, saying, “Our educational system, our economic system, our judicial system, all of these are converging to reproduce these kinds of inequalities and perpetuate the criminalization of blacks in our culture.” Although Attorney General Eric Holder’s push to reform mandatory minimum sentences that disproportionately incarcerate African-Americans is indeed laudable, strong action is needed now to address the early childhood barriers facing black kids. The preschool-to-prison pipeline needs to be dismantled from its starting point rather than simply its endpoint. Ultimately, “change,” Yates said, “is really going to require effort at all levels such as individual teachers, superintendents, police officers, attorneys general and even in the media.”

 

Fight Ableism. Fight Child Abuse.
s.e. smith

The Internet was abuzz last week with the Hillary Adams case; a young woman bravely videotaped her father beating her as a teen, and uploaded the video to YouTube several years later, sparking an international discussion about child abuse. It’s a horrible video to watch, made more chilling when you realise the level of planning and thought that must have gone into it.

Fighting child abuse is challenging on so many levels because it can be hard to identify the victims, especially when they are too terrified to speak. It’s telling that Adams didn’t come out about her abuse until she was in a safe environment, outside her home, many years later. Clearly she lives with the memories not just of what she experienced, but the systems that failed her and allowed that abuse to continue, because people thought her dad was a good guy, a stand-up kind of fellow, reputable, because he was a judge.

In the ample analysis of the video and discussions about how Adams’ father should be punished, one element of the case has been minimally examined: Hillary is disabled. She has cerebral palsy. This is a key aspect of the story that shouldn’t be left out, because it’s central to a larger discussion. You cannot talk about child abuse without addressing, specifically, the abuse of children with disabilities. A UNICEF report in 2005 stressed that any action on child abuse needs to fully integrate children with disabilities. Disability-specific interventions are critical because of the disability-specific issues children experience globally, and 10% of the world’s children are disabled or will become disabled by age 19, which makes them a nontrivial population.

A child born with a disability or a child who becomes disabled may be directly subject to physical violence, or sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in the home, the community, institutional settings or in the workplace. A disabled child is more likely to face violence and abuse at birth and this increased risk for violence reappears throughout the life span. This violence compounds already existing social, educational and economic marginalization that limits the lives and opportunities of these children. For example, disabled children are far less likely than their non-disabled peers to be included in the social, economic and cultural life of their communities; only a small percentage of these children will ever attend school; a third of all street children are disabled children. Disabled children living in remote and rural areas may be at increased risk.

Disability radically increases the chance that you will experience violence, sexual assault, and physical abuse in your home. A study in 2000 indicated that disabled children experience physical abuse in the home at a rate 3.8 times higher than that of their nondisabled peers. It’s actually extremely hard to get accurate statistics because so few regions collect data, or collect incomplete data that is difficult to extrapolate. This lack of interest in even determining the extent of the problem illustrates, starkly, how little interest there is in addressing the issue. When abuse of disabled children is reported, it’s often ignored.

This is the result of social attitudes about people with disabilities, particularly disabled children. Disability becomes a value judgment, and people with disabilities are found lacking. Less valuable. Less important. Casual abuse of disabled children isn’t just rampant, it’s socially acceptable. ‘Caregivers’ argue that they need to be able to discipline their children, that raising a disabled child is inherently harder. In abuse and neglect cases, the media often portrays the abuser sympathetically. Parents who murder their disabled children get the kid glove treatment because having a disabled child is viewed as a tragedy, and it’s sometimes suggested that killing disabled children is a ‘mercy.’

People in a position to act may be slow to intervene in cases of child abuse involving children with disabilities, and the cost of that slowness can be devastating. When disabled children are taken from abusive environments, they may be placed in newly abusive environments, either in foster care or institutions. The number of disabled children living in institutions is alarmingly high, and institutional environments are not necessarily safe for children. The same abuses people experience in the home; rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, may transfer into ‘care homes.’ And yet, there is a collective silence on these topics.

Cases of neglect and abuse of disabled children are in the news every week. Children are starved to death, exposed in the woods to die, beaten to death, kept in filthy conditions, repeatedly abused, or simply neglected to death. These stories are heartbreaking not just because they involve real people and real lives, but because they illustrate how little society cares about disabled children. Opportunities for intervention slip past, and often, when cases finally do attract attention, sympathy rests with the parents. They must have been driven to it. It was too hard for them. They had no choice. There were ‘extenuating circumstances.’

Ableism kills. It kills children who live brief, violent, miserable lives and it kills adults subject to many of the same kinds of abuses. And yes, ableism contributes to the lack of social support for parents of children with disabilities, many of whom struggle to meet the needs of their children in a society that’s busy slashing social services. All parents need respite care, but parents of disabled children have a much harder time getting it, and may be balancing expensive medical conditions and other factors on top of the stresses of parenting. Parenting is stressful and it’s hard regardless of disability status. It’s difficult to go it alone, without social support. It’s hard when you and your children are being bullied because of disability and your pleas for help go unaddressed because you’re not considered a full member of society.

But that doesn’t mean that the abuses endured by disabled children are justified, or that society as a whole is doing the right thing by standing by while children die. Hillary Adams got lucky; she escaped her father and built a new life for herself. She boldly spoke out about the case to raise awareness of the issue. And it’s excellent to see people talking about child abuse and what happens when people in positions of authority, like judges, are allowed to get away with abusive behaviour. But it’s also disappointing to see that few people are specifically tying this case in with disability, and talking about the disability implications here, because they are important, and they should be centred in conversations about the case.

Hillary Adams defies social narratives about disability, which is often perceived as a state of helplessness and inability to act with autonomy. She demonstrated ingenuity and enterprising behaviour, two things people with disabilities are not supposed to do, when she taped her father abusing her. She communicated on her own terms, another thing we are not supposed to do, when she posted the video and started talking about it. This makes it easier to ignore the disability aspect of the case, to treat Adams as exceptional and focus just on the abuse.

But abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the fact that Hillary has CP matters. Which means that it should be part of the discussion. Because any conversation about ending child abuse must include disabled children. Not just because they are children too and thus are part of the picture, but because they are particularly vulnerable to abuse and because there are disability-specific issues that must be addressed at the same time we fight child abuse as a whole.

Fighting ableism fights child abuse, because fighting ableism gets at the core of the attitudes that treat disabled children as disposable objects rather than human beings, as legitimate targets of abuse rather than victims. This is why ‘intersectionality’ sometimes feels like an inadequate word; it’s not just that disability intersects with child abuse, but that it’s a core intertwined issue that cannot be ignored without leaving children out in the cold.

 

Abolish CPS
Carlos Morales

Standing in an office while two kids beg me to go back to their home, I begin retreating back into my inner-child. I imagine how I would have felt if I was seven years old and a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator told me I couldn’t stay with my mom anymore. Their mother had committed the crime of respecting the children’s desire to play outside. Paperwork has already been checked by the supervisor, the judge has backed it, and now I have to find a placement. I put them in my car and we drive. The tears continue, my guilt is overwhelming, and I grant them over to a temporary shelter. Two court proceedings, tens of thousands of dollars out of the mother’s pocket, and five bottles of ADHD medications for the kids later, the mom is given back her children. All because she let them play outside.

Guilt is what led me to where I am today. Guilt for kidnapping children for the state, and guilt for being an anti-drug warrior. It has led me to become a child advocate, an author of a book on the subject, and an anti-reformer. There is no reforming CPS, and there is no reforming the government. The entirety of government’s power comes from its promise of reform. No one believes the government is perfect, but nearly everyone believes it can be changed to benefit them. When you see the tears of children begging for their mother, when you see children drugged because the government gives incentives for doing so, and when children die in part because of your actions as a CPS drone, you stop believing in reform. I fell for political hope. I had faith I could be the good guy working for the state — that I would be different. We all imagine that we’ll be the hero in our story, but I was not. My faith is gone and reason has replaced it. The state is a religion and the political reformers are keeping the faith strong. The only way out is complete abolition.

There are over 400,000 children in Child Protective Services care in America. Eighty percent of those cases are not for physical or sexual abuse, but rather parental negligence. Negligence can mean the child is playing outside, is too fat, doesn’t like school, or — as in forty percent of cases — is for the parent using marijuana.

Perhaps CPS’s biggest problem is its evidentiary standard. CPS cases can be based on something that happened years ago and not even something that a witness saw firsthand. The agency uses evidence that is based on a memory of a story that a witness overheard years ago. How’s that for reliability? The investigator is actually told not to record the information taken during interviews word for word. Instead, they’re instructed to take notes and to use their judgment in entering the notes into a database in narrative form. In other words, the investigator creates a story based on their own memory of another person’s memory, which person may not have even seen the alleged abuse. Fantastic. This third (or even fourth) hand story is considered evidence strong enough for life-altering legal action. All of this is done despite an array of information documenting CPS’s extreme faultiness. Yet, CPS maintains a massive budget subsidized by the very parents they terrorize. This is the nature of government. Abolitionism is the only ethical stance in the face of a coercive agency like Child Protective Services.

NO! Issue 10


Imposed PDF

 

Why is the Child Crying? Slavery, Settler Colonialism, and the Ontological Misfortune of Childhood (Excerpt)
Toby Rollo

Conceptions of early human life differ across cultures. Childhood, like infancy is in part a social construct comprised by a set of ideas and imaginaries which organize how we think and act in relation to young human beings. What we commonly think of as childhood is a distinctly European social category. For early western thinkers, the absence of language in the young suggested that they were more animal than human. In the western philosophical idiom, fully-human Man is a rational animal precisely because he has been forced to transcend his “childhood animality” through discipline, education, and violence. Although rooted in ancient views of humanity, the view of children as animals is still prevalent today, as we see in philosopher Georges Bataille’s quip: “What are children if not animals becoming human?”. In classical thought, the figure of the child was considered the bridge or missing link between reason and instinct, human and animal, heaven and earth, spirit and body, order and chaos. The distinctive convergence of life (bios) with reason and language (logos) was defined over and against the mere life of the child. Human improvement is attained through the violent inculcation of logos. The violence that is required to usher us out of childhood is a moral imperative so any interference with the civilizing of children constitutes a moral tragedy. To obstruct the
telos of humanity is to suffer the chaos of cognitive disability, criminality or madness. Madness, as Foucault once observed, “is childhood”. Indeed, it is necessary for dominant cultures to assert the irrationality and criminality of childhood in order to position the adult as sane and lawful. The denigrating construction of youth as childhood exists in order to confirm the agency, freedom, and humanity of the adult. To be located in childhood is to lack agency, and therefore to be fixed as a fungible object for use by those with agency, adults, in accordance with adult epistemologies. I refer to this antipathy toward children and childhood as misopedy. The term is a partial cognate of more familiar terms such as misogyny (antipathy towards women and femininity) and misanthropy (antipathy toward human beings and sociality).

This childhood/human binary has been the primary model for positioning Europeans over and against non-Europeans. The relationship between misopedy and the oppression of non-Europeans is not a contingent analogy, but rather, a structuring principle at work in almost all western attempts to define itself over and against an Other. Feminist scholar Anne McClintock describes the relationship in terms of the projection of an image:

Because the subordination of woman to man and child to adult were deemed natural facts, other forms of social hierarchy could be depicted in familiar terms to guarantee social difference as a category of nature … Projecting the family image onto national and imperial progress enabled what was often murderously violent change to be legitimized as the progressive unfolding of natural decree. Imperial intervention could thus be figured as a linear, nonrevolutionary progression that naturally contained hierarchy within unity: paternal fathers ruling benignly over immature children.

We should note, however, that adult power over children is not just a rhetorical trope whereby the “image” of the bestial child is used only to “depict” the natural subjugation of animalian others. Rather, the child/human binary is the model or organizing principle upon which these modes of subjugation are structured. There is a homologous relationship between the domination of children and most other modern systems of domination: they share a common root and structure in the veneration of speech and reason. To understand the relation of misopedy to empire, colonialism and slavery, it is important to understand how the childhood/human binary emerged. Beginning in the classical period of Greek and Roman civilization, and probably before, children were used as labourers and slaves whose productivity was central to the formation of a leisure class could then cultivate cultural institutions related to religion, art, philosophy, politics and science. Ancient thinkers (the main beneficiaries of such labour) associated human toil with necessity and the absence of autonomy, a degraded condition for which the child stood as the perennial archetype. Vulnerability and physical dependency were lamented as indicative of some defect of character or constitution. Children were positioned as the natural embodiment of the defect. In the writing from antiquity, then, we encounter deep resentment for the miserable helplessness of the newborn and the dependence of young children. Only through violence and discipline could the bestial child emerge from the world of labour and play that is common to all animals into the world of language and reason (logos) achieved only by human beings (and epitomized in the philosopher).

Before the age of reason, children were understood as non-persons. Aristotle argued that slaves, women, and children are naturally excluded from political life on the grounds that they possessed deficient forms of logos. Most young boys and girls lived in conditions of servitude, slavery, or abandonment. Servitude is a natural condition, in Aristotle’s account, for those who cannot organize their own lives. But although there was debate even among classical thinkers over the validity of slavery, as well as over the equality of the sexes (and even of animals) the natural servitude and subordination of children was self-evident and never debated. At best, children were the living tools of adults. At worst, they were animals. In either case, the bodies of children were the property of adults.

Contemporary thinkers tend to project Romantic vision of childhood reverence back into the classical period. Philosopher Giorgio Agamben has asserted that the child’s life of play is not a kind of bare life created by the imposition of sovereignty, but a self-contained form of life: “the child is a paradigm of a life that is absolutely inseparable from its form, an absolute form-of-life [forma-di-vita] without remainder.” He concludes that “the child is never bare life [nuda vita], that it is never possible to isolate in a child something like bare life or biological life.” While this may be accurate with respect to the phenomenological register (i.e., with respect to the way young human beings engage with and experience the world), at least for very young children, it is not an accurate political ontology. European conceptions of sovereignty have been direct and explicit expressions of the relegation of children to the status of Other. Even during the Romantic period, when poets and philosophers associated childhood with innocence and bucolic nostalgia, the animality of children was the object sentimentalization. The lesson here is that the experience of oppression does not always or even necessarily reflect the motivations behind oppression. The phenomenology of subjugation is sometimes an untrustworthy window into the etiology of domination.

 

Treat Children Like Adults
Brian Davis

Our son started talking early and one of his first tricks was to parrot what we said and how we said it. I know that it sounds cute — and it was in the beginning — but mostly it was maddening. We quickly realized that traditional parenting is really, really condescending. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment with your significant other:

Give seemingly arbitrary orders without any context or reasoning (“Don’t touch that.”)

Ignore feedback (“Do you want to go to the park? No? Well, we’re going to the park anyway.”)

Ask rhetorical questions in a passive-aggressive fashion (“Do big boys cry?”)

Respond to frustration with more orders (“Stop pouting.”)

Deny autonomy at every opportunity (“Let me do that for you. You’ll hurt yourself.”)

Impose arbitrary punishments (“Keep that up, and I’m taking away your car keys.”) Be serious about it, just as if you were talking to a child. If, after a week of this treatment, you and your significant other haven’t had a at least one bitter argument, then you are either extremely lucky or already mired in a dysfunctional relationship.

So, how do you parent a child without treating them like a child? Here are some tricks that have worked for us:

Explain Yourself

Kids ask “Why?” so much because they genuinely want to learn. At some point, they stop asking, and it’s generally because we stop giving them real answers.

When a child questions your instructions, it’s a great opportunity to teach. When you explain the reasons and context behind a rule, you’re giving the child the tools to build their own moral framework, to fill in the blanks between the rules they know and the ones they don’t. This is fundamental to learning. Offering an explanation is also a great opportunity for your own reflection. If you don’t have a good reason for a rule (“Stop making faces.”), it’s probably a crappy rule and you’re probably taking yourself too seriously.

Ask Them Questions

Play this game: See how long of a conversation you can have with your child by only asking questions. At first you’ll be surprised at how much they talk. Then you’ll be surprised at how beautifully complex their minds actually are. And then you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it is to really get to know your own kid.

As for the child, they will love the fact that you care enough to ask about their day, about their feelings, about their preferences — about all the trivial little things that loom large in a child’s mind. Asking questions is the single strongest signal you can send that you’re listening, that you love them, and that you care what they think.

Give Them Options

A lot of a child’s frustration stems from having no choice in anything. A lot of your frustration stems from having to make lots of tiny, trivial decisions every day that drain your mental batteries. Delegate some of those decisions to your child and you can solve both problems at once. Your child gets to feel like an important, contributing member of the family because they got to pick out which beans to eat tonight. You get to make one less decision. Win-win.

This, more than any other trick, nips conflict in the bud. The child owns the decision now. They have no injustice to protest. Our son eats all his vegetables because he picks out which ones to buy.

Give Them Space

Speaking as an American, we tend to be too controlling of our kids, denying them the right to have their own initiative and to make their own mistakes. A child has to fall a lot before they learn to walk. And they have to trip a lot before they learn to run. By giving them the space to trip and fall — to experiment and to fail — you’re helping them learn faster.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should just let your kid wander into traffic in order to learn the importance of looking both ways before crossing, but we parents tend to confuse inconvenience for danger. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself this: “If my child screws this up, will it cost more than $20 to fix, hurt more than a scraped knee, or take longer than an hour to clean up?” (Adjust according to your financial/emotional/time budget.)

Practice Defensive Parenting

Remove sources of conflict before conflict arises and both parent and child will be much happier. In our case, that meant moving valuables up high, getting rid of lots of sharp stuff, and plastering the bottom 3 feet of our walls with butcher paper. Our son gets to draw on the walls without, you know, ruining our walls.

We also got duplicates of things we couldn’t replace or remove. He has his own books, his own pens, his own wallet. That way he doesn’t go around “borrowing” ours all the time.

Ask For Help

Kids want to help. By doing everything for them, we infantilize them and lull them into a state of dependency. It’s great, as a parent, to feel needed, but it’s also exhausting.

Free yourself. Ask for help washing dishes. Ask for help cracking eggs. Ask for help moving the furniture.

As they get older, ask for help with things that are just at or above their developmental level. It challenges them and it gives them a powerful sense of belonging. Remember the first time your parents let you park the car? Remember how exhilarating that felt? That’s how a 3-year-old feels when you ask them to help you sweep the floor. Give them that gift as often as you can. You’ll be surprised how much they’ll want to help. In the end, treating a kid like a person prevents a parent from needing “discipline” at all.

Punishment, deprivation, praise, criticism, distraction, and a lot of the other things people have recommended don’t actually do much to teach your child good behavior. More often than not, they teach children to be retributive, praise-seeking, or distracted.

Ultimately, parenting is not about control. Kids aren’t irrational beasts out to deprive you of patience and silence. They’re little people in need of understanding and a helping hand. And when they get what they need they’re usually pretty spectacular.

It takes practice and time to change your habits, but after a couple of months you’ll be amazed at how self-policing your kid is. Good luck.

 

On Torture: The Truth That Lies Within (Excerpt)
Arthur Silber

Children who become too aware of things are punished for it and internalize the coercion to such an extent that as adults they give up the search for awareness. But because some people cannot renounce this search in spite of coercion, there is justifiable hope that regardless of the ever-increasing application of technology to the field of psychological knowledge, Kafka’s vision of the penal colony with its efficient scientifically-minded persecutors and their passive victims is valid only for certain areas of our life and perhaps not forever. For the human soul is virtually indestructible, and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath. — Alice Miller, For Your Own Good

I have read extensively in my life, and Alice Miller is the most profoundly courageous writer in the world today to my knowledge. She writes unflinchingly and with a gaze that never turns away from what it perceives, no matter how horrifying it may be. Miller describes the untold cruelties that are inflicted on the most innocent and defenseless of victims — infants and very young children. Almost all of us accept these cruelties to one degree or another. I am not speaking only of the obvious cruelties, of corporal punishment and similar barbarities — although we should never forget that the great majority of parents believe that spanking is sometimes necessary. I will begin to trace the connections here at the outset: just as Charles Krauthammer maintains that we are “morally compelled” to utilize torture in rare circumstances in the name of our own survival, so most parents believe that physical violence is sometimes morally “required” if their children are to be taught to be “civilized.”

Let us try to be as brave as Alice Miller: what we mean by “civilized” when we speak in this way, is that children must be taught to obey. If the principle of obedience is instilled in children from earliest infancy, and if parents further teach their children that physical violence is the means of commanding obedience, why do we wonder that some adults will torture those who have been rendered helpless and delivered into their control? They are merely reenacting what their parents taught them.

But we refuse to see this. We will not acknowledge what has been done to us. Miller continues in her work, because she understands better than anyone that these issues must be understood if the horrors are to be stopped. But she has met with fierce resistance every step of the way. In a similar way, although on an immensely more modest scale, I have found that many readers who agree with me on many issues — and many readers who may have followed this series so far, nodding their heads in confirmation at every point in my argument — will stop here. They will not acknowledge these particular truths, because they are too threatening.

This is because there is a necessary corollary to the obedience we are taught: the idealization of the authority figures in our lives. As children, we dare not question what our parents do: we depend on them for life itself. To comprehend fully what is being done to us would be unbearable, and it might literally kill us. So we must believe that, whatever our parents do, they do it “for our own good.” To believe otherwise is the forbidden thought. So we must deny our own pain when we are young; such denial is necessary if we are to survive at that stage in our lives.

But if we maintain the denial when we become adults, it spreads throughout our lives. When such modes of thought are established in our psychologies, they cannot be isolated or contained. We deny our own pain — so we must deny the pain of others. If we acknowledge their pain fully and allow ourselves to realize what it means, it will necessarily call up our own wounds. But this remains intolerable and forbidden. In extreme cases, we must dehumanize other human beings: they become “the other,” the less-than-human. By using such devices, we make inflicting untold agonies on another person possible: if they are not even human, it doesn’t matter if we torture them. This is always how we create hell on earth.

I said I was not referring only to the obvious cruelties inflicted on children by physical violence. Just as important, and often of much greater significance, are the psychological agonies to which parents subject their children. How often do we hear parents say to a child who will not follow an order: “Why are you making me so unhappy? You don’t want to make your mother unhappy and sad, do you, darling? Now just do what I say.” We should recognize this for what it is: emotional blackmail. The unstated threat — but the threat that is deeply felt by the child, even if he is not able to understand it — is that the parent’s love will be withdrawn unless the child obeys. Since the child knows that his life depends on that love, the threat is a terrifying one. Such blows are delivered countless times every day, by millions of parents around the world.

This knowledge is inaccessible to the majority of adults. We are taught to obey, and we learn to idealize our parents. We tell ourselves they did the best they could, or they couldn’t help it. In one sense, that is true: they raise their children as they were raised. They learned obedience very well, and they do to their own children what was done to them. But most of us cannot leave this truth at this point: to maintain the veneration of our parents, we must insist that they in fact were right — that they did it “for our own good.” That is where the great danger lies.

When the idealization of the authority figure spreads once we become adults, it can encompass additional authority figures. There are two primary such figures: God — who may have been there from the beginning, if the child is raised in a very religious household where God is the ultimate authority, and the parents only speak on His behalf; and country. When one’s nation becomes such an authority figure, there are subsidiary ones as well: the nation’s leaders, and the nation’s military.

Many of today’s hawks exhibit the kind of denial to which I refer in an extreme form: because they will not acknowledge any of this, they must insist that the U.S. military could never commit such atrocities. It must all be a vicious lie. As I explain in [When the Demons Come], this was the ultimate root of the hatred heaped on John Kerry: he dared to speak the truth about what had happened in Vietnam. For the deniers, this is the one crime for which no forgiveness is possible. As I wrote about this kind of denier (Rich Lowry and Andrew Sullivan were the particular writers to whom I was responding, but the same is true of many millions of additional people):

With no effort at all, you could multiply examples such as these a thousandfold, every single day. In this manner, defenders of our current foreign policy wipe out of existence all the facts, all the costs, all the deaths, and anything else that might bring into question what is an absolute of their faith: the United States is right, what we have done and are doing in Iraq is right, our military is right, we are inherently unable to make mistakes, and the authorities must not be questioned.

These are the victims described by Miller — now grown into adulthood, continuing their denial, with additional authority figures added to the ones they first had. Besides the original parent, they now revere our government and our military and, beyond a certain point, nothing they do is to be challenged. … to do so would bring into question these individuals’ entire false sense of self, it would undermine their worldview completely, and it represents a threat that cannot be allowed to come too close. As always, what is dispensable in all this are facts, untold national wealth, reputation and prestige, and above all, the lives of human beings.

As I have said before, it is in this manner that horrors are unleashed upon the world. And if this mentality is carried far enough, you will finally end up with the kind of thinking, and the kind of psychology, that lies behind the journal entry from World War II (written by a German soldier) that I quoted in the previous part of this essay:

“On a roundabout way to have lunch I witnessed the public shooting of twenty-eight Poles on the edge of a playing field. Thousands line the streets and the river. A ghastly pile of corpses, all in all horrifying and ugly and yet a sight that leaves me altogether cold. The men who were shot had ambushed two soldiers and a German civilian and killed them. An exemplary modern folk-drama.” 1/27/44

If you never allowed your authentic self to develop (or your parents never allowed you to develop one), if you denied and continue to deny the reality of your own pain, then you will deny the pain of others, even as the corpses pile up — and you will be prepared to believe anything.

And the horrors continue, beyond all human reckoning — and without end.

In When the Demons Come, I also offered a brief summary of my own of Miller’s central thesis:

By demanding obedience above all from a child (whether by physical punishment, by psychological means, or through some combination of both), parents forbid the child from fostering an authentic sense of self. Because children are completely dependent on their parents, they dare not question their parents’ goodness, or their “good intentions.” As a result, when children are punished, even if they are punished for no reason or for a reason that makes no sense, they blame themselves and believe that the fault lies within them. In this way, the idealization of the authority figure is allowed to continue. In addition, the child cannot allow himself to experience fully his own pain, because that, too, might lead to questioning of his parents.

In this manner, the child is prevented from developing a genuine, authentic sense of self. As he grows older, this deadening of his soul desensitizes the child to the pain of others. Eventually, the maturing adult will seek to express his repressed anger on external targets, since he has never been allowed to experience and express it in ways that would not be destructive. By such means, the cycle of violence is continued into another generation (using “violence” in the broadest sense). One of the additional consequences is that the adult, who has never developed an authentic self, can easily transfer his idealization of his parents to a new authority figure. As Miller says:

“This perfect adaptation to society’s norms–in other words, to what is called ‘healthy normality’–carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He has never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Fuhrer or to an ideology.”

NO! Issue 9


Imposed PDF

 

Ageism: A Pillar of Ableism
Kathleen Nicole O’Neal

Several years back I began reading and learning about disability rights issues. As is the case with my interest in LGBT, women’s, people of color, social justice, youth, and other issues, I was particularly drawn to the highly theoretical critical work that many disability rights theorists have been producing since the late twentieth century. One viewpoint I found repeatedly represented in this body of work (and which I have also heard expressed multiple times by my friends with disabilities) is that one of the primary pillars of disability oppression is the way in which people with disabilities, regardless of age, are treated as if they were forever children. My friend and fellow youth and disability rights advocate Matt Stafford has written about the ways in which parents and others use the institution of guardianship in order to exert undue influence in the lives of people with disabilities who have passed the age of majority. Another friend who is a youth and disability rights advocate has spoken with me about how the doctors they work with will refuse to talk respectfully and directly to them about their medical issues despite the fact that my friend has no cognitive impairments and even recently graduated from law school.

Disability rights advocates have long sought greater rights and autonomy for all people with disabilities, including individuals with cognitive and communication impairments. They have challenged our entire society, especially the institutions set up by the non-disabled to manage people with disabilities, to view disabled persons as being as deserving of autonomy and dignity as everyone else no matter what mental or physical limitations or differences they may possess. In doing so they have not only greatly improved the lives of disabled people, they have also laid the theoretical groundwork for a compelling defense of youth liberation.

Disability is a complicated issue. There are various types of disabilities and there are various frameworks for understanding the rights of disabled people and even disability itself. However, every serious advocate of disability rights will agree that centering the autonomy of disabled people is important and that all too many people believe that an inability on the part of disabled people to function according to the standards of non-disabled individuals justifies their lifelong infantilization. Of course, the reason that many people feel comfortable with denying rights and autonomy to persons with disabilities on these grounds is that we already have a widespread precedent within our society of using this as a pretense to deny rights and autonomy to children.

The implicit assumption behind the actions and belief system of every judge that casually turns over guardianship of a person with cognitive disabilities to another adult, of every parent who believes they have an undisputed right to make medical decisions for a disabled adult son or daughter, and of every legislator who defends the corralling of disabled individuals into oppressive and even abusive institutional settings are not only ableist (although they are that). They are also profoundly ageist.

The way our society treats minors has set the precedent for what we believe is the ideal way to relate to those whom we perceive (rightly or wrongly) as lacking the capacities of the average adult human being. We deny them bodily autonomy. We ignore their needs and preferences in the realm of education. We segregate them in various institutions where they are rarely permitted to interact in a meaningful way with the rest of the world. We deny them the right to their sexuality, either alone or partnered. We turn their decision-making authority over to various institutions and family members without asking them what they prefer in the matters which affect them most. We deny them opportunities for meaningful work. Finally, we expect them to react with gratitude for the nearly endless oppression they live under because first and foremost we view them as a burden who should feel fortunate that anyone wishes to fool with them at all. No wonder so many people believe that relating to disabled individuals this way is the best that can be done for them. It is the only way our society believes that we can relate to minors. Thus nearly universal acceptance of the oppression of youth opens the door to tolerance and even admiration of the oppression of disabled people of all ages. Of course, no one calls it oppression even though by any reasonable definition it is.

It is important for disability rights advocates to recognize the link between youth and disability oppression. Ageism does much of ableism’s heavy lifting and it is important to recognize that in order to combat the pernicious influence that ableism plays in the lives of disabled individuals. It is also important for youth rights advocates to recognize that support for youth liberation logically necessitates support for the disability rights movement. Allowing anyone in our society to be denied liberty, justice, and equality sets a precedent whereby doing this to any other group of individuals becomes much more widely accepted. We best protect youth and people with disabilities when we protect their rights and not when we pretend to protect them from themselves.

 

The Child and Its Enemies
Emma Goldman

Is the child to be considered as an individuality, or as an object to be moulded according to the whims and fancies of those about it? This seems to me to be the most important question to be answered by parents and educators. And whether the child is to grow from within, whether all that craves expression will be permitted to come forth toward the light of day; or whether it is to be kneaded like dough through external forces, depends upon the proper answer to this vital question.

The longing of the best and noblest of our times makes for the strongest individualities. Every sensitive being abhors the idea of being treated as a mere machine or as a mere parrot of conventionality and respectability, the human being craves recognition of his kind.

It must be borne in mind that it is through the channel of the child that the development of the mature man must go, and that the present ideas of the educating or training of the latter in the school and the family—even the family of the liberal or radical—are such as to stifle the natural growth of the child.

Every institution of our day, the family, the State, our moral codes, sees in every strong, beautiful, uncompromising personality a deadly enemy; therefore every effort is being made to cramp human emotion and originality of thought in the individual into a straight-jacket from its earliest infancy; or to shape every human being according to one pattern; not into a well-rounded individuality, but into a patient work slave, professional automaton, tax-paying citizen, or righteous moralist. If one, nevertheless, meets with real spontaneity (which, by the way, is a rare treat,) it is not due to our method of rearing or educating the child: the personality often asserts itself, regardless of official and family barriers. Such a discovery should be celebrated as an unusual event, since the obstacles placed in the way of growth and development of character are so numerous that it must be considered a miracle if it retains its strength and beauty and survives the various attempts at crippling that which is most essential to it.

Indeed, he who has freed himself from the fetters of the thoughtlessness and stupidity of the commonplace; he who can stand without moral crutches, without the approval of public opinion—private laziness, Friedrich Nietzsche called it—may well intone a high and voluminous song of independence and freedom; he has gained the right to it through fierce and fiery battles. These battles already begin at the most delicate age.

The child shows its individual tendencies in its plays, in its questions, in its association with people and things. But it has to struggle with everlasting external interference in its world of thought and emotion. It must not express itself in harmony with its nature, with its growing personality. It must become a thing, an object. Its questions are met with narrow, conventional, ridiculous replies, mostly based on falsehoods; and, when, with large, wondering, innocent eyes, it wishes to behold the wonders of the world, those about it quickly lock the windows and doors, and keep the delicate human plant in a hothouse atmosphere, where it can neither breathe nor grow freely.

Zola, in his novel “Fecundity,” maintains that large sections of people have declared death to the child, have conspired against the birth of the child,—a very horrible picture indeed, yet the conspiracy entered into by civilization against the growth and making of character seems to me far more terrible and disastrous, because of the slow and gradual destruction of its latent qualities and traits and the stupefying and crippling effect thereof upon its social well-being.

Since every effort in our educational life seems to be directed toward making of the child a being foreign to itself, it must of necessity produce individuals foreign to one another, and in everlasting antagonism with each other.

The ideal of the average pedagogist is not a complete, well-rounded, original being; rather does he seek that the result of his art of pedagogy shall be automatons of flesh and blood, to best fit into the treadmill of society and the emptiness and dulness of our lives. Every home, school, college and university stands for dry, cold utilitarianism, overflooding the brain of the pupil with a tremendous amount of ideas, handed down from generations past. “Facts and data,” as they are called, constitute a lot of information, well enough perhaps to maintain every form of authority and to create much awe for the importance of possession, but only a great handicap to a true understanding of the human soul and its place in the world.

Truths dead and forgotten long ago, conceptions of the world and its people, covered with mould, even during the times of our grandmothers, are being hammered into the heads of our young generation. Eternal change, thousandfold variations, continual innovation are the essence of life. Professional pedagogy knows nothing of it, the systems of education are being arranged into files, classified and numbered. They lack the strong fertile seed which, falling on rich soil, enables them to grow to great heights, they are worn and incapable of awakening spontaneity of character. Instructors and teachers, with dead souls, operate with dead values. Quantity is forced to take the place of quality. The consequences thereof are inevitable.

In whatever direction one turns, eagerly searching for human beings who do not measure ideas and emotions with the yardstick of expediency, one is confronted with the products, the herdlike drilling instead of the result of spontaneous and innate characteristics working themselves out in freedom.
“No traces now I see
Whatever of a spirit’s agency.
‘Tis drilling, nothing more.”

These words of Faust fit our methods of pedagogy perfectly. Take, for instance, the way history is being taught in our schools. See how the events of the world become like a cheap puppet show, where a few wire-pullers are supposed to have directed the course of development of the entire human race.

And the history of our own nation! Was it not chosen by Providence to become the leading nation on earth? And does it not tower mountain high over other nations? Is it not the gem of the ocean? Is it not incomparably virtuous, ideal and brave? The result of such ridiculous teaching is a dull, shallow patriotism, blind to its own limitations, with bull-like stubbornness, utterly incapable of judging of the capacities of other nations. This is the way the spirit of youth is emasculated, deadened through an over-estimation of one’s own value. No wonder public opinion can be so easily manufactured.

“Predigested food” should be inscribed over every hall of learning as a warning to all who do not wish to lose their own personalities and their original sense of judgment, who, instead, would be content with a large amount of empty and shallow shells. This may suffice as a recognition of the manifold hindrances placed in the way of an independent mental development of the child.

Equally numerous, and not less important, are the difficulties that confront the emotional life of the young. Must not one suppose that parents should be united to children by the most tender and delicate chords? One should suppose it; yet, sad as it may be, it is, nevertheless, true, that parents are the first to destroy the inner riches of their children.

The Scriptures tell us that God created Man in His own image, which has by no means proven a success. Parents follow the bad example of their heavenly master; they use every effort to shape and mould the child according to their image. They tenaciously cling to the idea that the child is merely part of themselves—an idea as false as it is injurious, and which only increases the misunderstanding of the soul of the child, of the necessary consequences of enslavement and subordination thereof.

As soon as the first rays of consciousness illuminate the mind and heart of the child, it instinctively begins to compare its own personality with the personality of those about it. How many hard and cold stone cliffs meet its large wondering gaze? Soon enough it is confronted with the painful reality that it is here only to serve as inanimate matter for parents and guardians, whose authority alone gives it shape and form.

The terrible struggle of the thinking man and woman against political, social and moral conventions owes its origin to the family, where the child is ever compelled to battle against the internal and external use of force. The categorical imperatives: You shall! you must! this is right! that is wrong! this is true! that is false! shower like a violent rain upon the unsophisticated head of the young being and impress upon its sensibilities that it has to bow before the long established and hard notions of thoughts and emotions. Yet the latent qualities and instincts seek to assert their own peculiar methods of seeking the foundation of things, of distinguishing between what is commonly called wrong, true or false. It is bent upon going its own way, since it is composed of the same nerves, muscles and blood, even as those who assume to direct its destiny. I fail to understand how parents hope that their children will ever grow up into independent, self-reliant spirits, when they strain every effort to abridge and curtail the various activities of their children, the plus in quality and character, which differentiates their offspring from themselves, and by the virtue of which they are eminently equipped carriers of new, invigorating ideas. A young delicate tree, that is being clipped and cut by the gardener in order to give it an artificial form, will never reach the majestic height and the beauty as when allowed to grow in nature and freedom.

When the child reaches adolescence, it meets, added to the home and school restrictions, with a vast amount of hard traditions of social morality. The cravings of love and sex are met with absolute ignorance by the majority of parents, who consider it as something indecent and improper, something disgraceful, almost criminal, to be suppressed and fought like some terrible disease. The love and tender feelings in the young plant are turned into vulgarity and coarseness through the stupidity of those surrounding it, so that everything fine and beautiful is either crushed altogether or hidden in the innermost depths, as a great sin, that dares not face the light.

What is more astonishing is the fact that parents will strip themselves of everything, will sacrifice everything for the physical well-being of their child, will wake nights and stand in fear and agony before some physical ailment of their beloved one; but will remain cold and indifferent, without the slightest understanding before the soul cravings and the yearnings of their child, neither hearing nor wishing to hear the loud knocking of the young spirit that demands recognition. On the contrary, they will stifle the beautiful voice of spring, of a new life of beauty and splendor of love; they will put the long lean finger of authority upon the tender throat and not allow vent to the silvery song of the individual growth, of the beauty of character, of the strength of love and human relation, which alone make life worth living.

And yet these parents imagine that they mean best for the child, and for aught I know, some really do; but their best means absolute death and decay to the bud in the making. After all, they are but imitating their own masters in State, commercial, social and moral affairs, by forcibly suppressing every independent attempt to analyze the ills of society and every sincere effort toward the abolition of these ills; never able to grasp the eternal truth that every method they employ serves as the greatest impetus to bring forth a greater longing for freedom and a deeper zeal to fight for it.

That compulsion is bound to awaken resistance, every parent and teacher ought to know. Great surprise is being expressed over the fact that the majority of children of radical parents are either altogether opposed to the ideas of the latter, many of them moving along the old antiquated paths, or that they are indifferent to the new thoughts and teachings of social regeneration. And yet there is nothing unusual in that. Radical parents, though emancipated from the belief of ownership in the human soul, still cling tenaciously to the notion that they own the child, and that they have the right to exercise their authority over it. So they set out to mould and form the child according to their own conception of what is right and wrong, forcing their ideas upon it with the same vehemence that the average Catholic parent uses. And, with the latter, they hold out the necessity before the young “to do as I tell you and not as I do.” But the impressionable mind of the child realizes early enough that the lives of their parents are in contradiction to the ideas they represent; that, like the good Christian who fervently prays on Sunday, yet continues to break the Lord’s commands the rest of the week, the radical parent arraigns God, priesthood, church, government, domestic authority, yet continues to adjust himself to the condition he abhors. Just so, the Freethought parent can proudly boast that his son of four will recognize the picture of Thomas Paine or Ingersoll, or that he knows that the idea of God is stupid. Or that the Social Democratic father can point to his little girl of six and say, “Who wrote the Capital, dearie?” “Karl Marx, pa!” Or that the Anarchistic mother can make it known that her daughter’s name is Louise Michel, Sophia Perovskaya, or that she can recite the revolutionary poems of Herwegh, Freiligrath, or Shelley, and that she will point out the faces of Spencer, Bakunin or Moses Harmon almost anywhere.

These are by no means exaggerations; they are sad facts that I have met with in my experience with radical parents. What are the results of such methods of biasing the mind? The following is the consequence, and not very infrequent, either. The child, being fed on one-sided, set and fixed ideas, soon grows weary of re-hashing the beliefs of its parents, and it sets out in quest of new sensations, no matter how inferior and shallow the new experience may be, the human mind cannot endure sameness and monotony. So it happens that that boy or girl, over-fed on Thomas Paine, will land in the arms of the Church, or they will vote for imperialism only to escape the drag of economic determinism and scientific socialism, or that they open a shirt-waist factory and cling to their right of accumulating property, only to find relief from the old-fashioned communism of their father. Or that the girl will marry the next best man, provided he can make a living, only to run away from the everlasting talk on variety.

Such a condition of affairs may be very painful to the parents who wish their children to follow in their path, yet I look upon them as very refreshing and encouraging psychological forces. They are the greatest guarantee that the independent mind, at least, will always resist every external and foreign force exercised over the human heart and head.

Some will ask, what about weak natures, must they not be protected? Yes, but to be able to do that, it will be necessary to realize that education of children is not synonymous with herdlike drilling and training. If education should really mean anything at all, it must insist upon the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child. 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.

 

Exploitation and Moral Management
Jeremy Weiland

Child exploitation is an evil that has plagued humanity throughout its history. Social awareness of child welfare and consensus on its definition is relatively recent but on the rise. Following this trend, many in Congress work continuously to address this issue, creating new legislative prerogatives for the State to interdict predators and protect children.

How, then, do we reconcile these goals with the case of Mark Foley, a Congressman recently caught engaging in sexually explicit conversations with a minor? Perhaps those who seek to protect us from the nameless, faceless criminals out there have completely misunderstood the problem. The body empowered with enacting nationwide laws, creating criteria for punishing people, and directing the full power of the State contains the very corruption it seeks to root out among us.

It makes one wonder: whom can we trust?

As an anarchist promoting the abolition of this governmental body, it seems reasonable to me that Congress would be as prone to the evils and weaknesses of human experience as any of us. That is precisely the reason they are worthy of ruling neither me nor anybody in this country. We are all fallible, equally capable of deceit and depravity — but also nobility and prudence. We learn whom to trust and whom to avoid not by decrees from on high but by building relationships.

Society is the answer to our problems: the fashioning of markets, communities, networks, and organizations on a voluntary basis, allowing people the freedom to experiment, innovate, band together, and part ways based on their own interests and judgment. We defend our families by allying ourselves with our neighbors, hiring agents among a proven pool of open competitors, and sharing information and advice. Protecting children is best accomplished by the people who understand the stakes: parents and communities.

Of course, bad things happen — whether or not you have the power to pass laws. This brings us to a question anarchists are often asked: how would we prevent x, y, or z from happening without the state? What mechanisms exist to guarantee outcomes acceptable to all? How do we “balance” the sheer volume of competing interests in the world without some empowered and managing body? And in the case of child exploitation: how do we ensure our children’s safety from depraved individuals?

These are all good questions whose answers normal people seek. Unfortunately, they’re rarely asked honestly in politics. Rather, they are posed as rhetorical preludes to some new control placed on society. Instead of looking at the problem as one of complex interpersonal and community dynamics, with a host of causes and possible solutions, we are encouraged to see the problem as a one-dimensional, simple omission: evil originates from a lack of sufficient governance.

The answer from government is always to cripple ourselves for our own good. By making society less complex, less adaptive, and less empowered, we are easier to manage in a top-down fashion and, therefore, more predictable and homogeneous. Through stricter oversight and prohibitions handed down by Congress we can start to rediscover our virtue, at least as Congress defines it.

But the irony is that Congress doesn’t have virtue figured out, either.

The Foley scandal demonstrates the impotence of authority to effect moral management of society. Those who make laws on our behalf are just as flawed as we are. Their officialdom grants them no special insight into human nature. Their power doesn’t convey the ability to discipline society — or themselves. When we ask for leadership from above, a guarantee of safety and order, we surrender our consciences to the unworthy. Government will forever attempt to deliver on unreachable guarantees of safety and moral health by instituting more controls on us.

Indeed, reports indicate that politicians from both parties may have known of the problem and yet did nothing to stop it. Think about it: the most powerful body in the Nation, ignoring a case of exploitation they can address immediately without resorting to political maneuvering or deliberation. Then ask yourself: is any of this about the children?

Think about Foley the next time a law is passed that takes away more of our liberty and freedom “for our own good” or to “protect the children”. He demonstrates the truth of politics: virtue is not a matter of coercive laws and enlightened governance. We must place our faith and trust in ourselves, cooperatively building the solutions we seek rather than hoping they will be forced upon us.

 

Working Moms & the Battle for Play
Aya de Leon

Lately, I’ve been reading non-fiction books about overworked moms. Really, I listen to them in audio format as I do overworked mom things like housework and schlepping my kid to and from preschool. First I read Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn and now it’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. They catalog how moms are drowning in the demands that we be perfect workers and perfect mothers.

In Overwhelmed, I felt validated by the chapters on overwhelm and inequality. I felt vindicated by the section where she reveals the gender bias in the leisure researchers’ methods. Her message is clear: we, as working moms, are being squeezed by a US society that demands perfection from both workers and mothers. Working motherhood sits at the intersection of various oppressive structures in the society. Decades of anti-feminist backlash have engineered the myth that our children will suffer if we work outside the home. From flawed studies to commercials to peer pressure from “helicopter moms,” countless daily messages reinforce mothers’ anxiety that only our perfectly attentive presence 24/7 will ensure our children’s well-being. Yet meanwhile the economy demands two incomes for families to keep up with rising cost of living. Economic insecurity and mistreatment of workers keeps everyone anxious and determined to be the perfect worker in order to keep their jobs and ensure their economic survival. This fear-based pressure intensifies for parents and in times of economic recession. And (unlike many European societies) the US refuses to organize structures to support families in general and working families in particular. So we working mothers live in the center of this dual pressure, using our sheer will and overwork to ensure our economic survival and our children’s well-being.

I loved these books! But when Schulte got to the chapter on play, it got hard to keep listening. In the play chapter, she pushed her readers to look at the places where we, as working moms, routinely collaborate with the oppression and deny ourselves joy in the pursuit of perfection in these other two areas.

I didn’t want to look at that. I have lowered the joy bar to be satisfied the joy of accomplishment and the satisfaction of crossing something off the to-do list. I have settled for creating a spark of delight in my daughter’s eyes. My own spark is only reflected light these days. In this context, it was downright painful to think about my own joy and play and delight. Because it feels like one more thing to do. And I couldn’t imagine how I can make it happen.

But fortunately for me, I hit the heart of the play chapter while I was camping in the redwood forest. Somehow, surrounded by trees that are a few hundred feet high, anything seems possible. Some of the biggest trees have serious burn scars, but they have continued to grow and thrive anyway, their tops are lush and green in the far above distance. The burns are scars from a fire they survived and kept growing.

So I claim parenting through my kid’s early years has been a fiery time I survived but now I’m ready to thrive. To that end, my biggest project this summer is reclaiming play. Miniature golf. Waterslides. Karaoke. I have a whole list. And it’s not gonna be easy. I’ve been home five days and have only managed to do one thing on my list: order the platform shoes off the internet.

It’s hard to prioritize play. As mothers go to work, and our small children cry and don’t want us to leave, many of us comfort ourselves with the notion that it’s important for kids to see their moms engaged in the world. And many studies bear this out, that there are advantages to having working moms. Particularly if we have daughters, working moms can model women’s engagement and influence in the larger world.

As a teacher and performer and writer, I have modeled this easily for my daughter. The area of play is the biggest place where my life is lacking. This is the place where I want to model for my daughter that adult women get to have fun, too. Particularly as a black woman, this goal is a crucial contradiction to the historical legacy that we are workhorses in this country. Previous generations of black women have worked ourselves ragged to ensure our children could have a better life. They had to. The conditions were that hard. But I have a chance to do it differently, so I plan to. My goal is not only to run around like a crazy person to make sure my daughter has a good life, but to set up my life that I’m modeling a good life for her. And that needs to include play.

 

12 Helpful Ideas for Caregivers
Benjamin Fife

Alicia Lieberman and Patricia Van Horn of the UCSF Child Trauma Research program have written extensively on the topic of psychotherapeutic treatments that support development in young children impacted by early trauma and loss. They contributed a very thoughtful chapter to the 2009 third edition of the Handbook of Infant Mental Health, where they described a model of working with young children and their parents which they called Child Parent Psychotherapy. CPP is a relationship based model that combines an array of other approaches to work with young children and their parents. Like earlier models developed from the 1980s onward CPP uses joint child-parent therapy sessions to promote healthy child development. Lieberman and Van Horn organize their treatment model on the premise that long term mental health and resilience is supported when attachment relationships can meet infants’, toddlers’ and preschoolers’ basic needs for “care, protection, and culturally sanctioned patterns of affect modulation, interpersonal relatedness and learning.” One thing I love about this model is that it provides 12 easy to understand, and useful guidelines for understanding and interpreting young children’s behaviors in the context of their attachment relationship.

While the authors use the term parents when describing these guidelines, I’ve paraphrased their guidelines here and use the term caregivers instead. I make this change in language this because I think that caregivers more accurately reflects that children often have significant attachment relationships with people who are not their biological or legal parents and that both distress and resilience can be born of these relationships. I intend caregivers here to be a term that includes parents while also including the attachment relationships young children have with non-parental adults in and outside of the family that can be so key to development.

Young children’s crying and clinging are attempts to communicate an immediate need for their caregivers to be close and to be caring.

Young children’s distress at separations is an expression of the fear of losing their caregiver or caregivers.

Young children fear their caregiver’s disapproval and want to please their caregivers.

Young children fear being hurt and fear losing parts of their bodies.

Young children imitate their caregiver’s behaviors because they,
a) want to be like their caregivers and, b) assume that their caregiver’s behavior is a model to emulate.

Young children feel responsible and blame themselves when their caregivers are upset, whatever the ‘real’ reason is for the upset.

Young children are convinced that their caregivers know everything and are always right.

Young children need clear consistent limits put on dangerous or culturally inappropriate behaviors in order to feel safe and protected.

Young children use the word “no” to establish their autonomy and to practice being and feeling autonomous.

Memory starts when babies are born. Babies and young children remember experiences before they can speak about them.

Children need their caregiver’s support and help in order to learn to express strong emotions without harming themselves or others.

Conflicts between children and their caregivers are inevitable because children and caregivers can and should have different developmental needs. Conflicts between children and their caregivers can be resolved in ways that promote trust and support development.

NO! Issue 8

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The Sound of Our Movement Growing
Victoria Law

Last week I was part of Queering Abolition, a panel discussion on queer and trans prison advocacy and abolition. One of my co-panelists was Susan Rosenberg, a former political prisoner who spent 16 years in prison before her sentence was commuted by outgoing President Bill Clinton. The panel was in the auditorium of the City University of New York Graduate Center. Being on the panel was exciting — not just because I was part of a dialogue around prison advocacy and abolition that centered on trans people, but also because it reminded me of how far I’d come and how much community and movement support have enabled me.

I first saw Susan Rosenberg in that same auditorium about 12 years ago. She had been released from prison the year before and was part of a day-long conference on incarceration. My daughter was not quite two years old and, like many political events — both then and now — there was no child care. The organizers told me that I was welcome to bring my child and so I did.

She had a fantastic time. My daughter, after nursing for a bit and sitting in my lap for an even shorter bit, wriggled out of my arms and explored the back rows of the auditorium. The seats were like those in the movie theater, springing up when no weight was applied. She was entranced with these seats, pulling them down and letting them flip back up with a clatter. She did this again and again, much to the amusement of the handful of 20-somethings around us. I kept one eye on her and one eye on the stage where, far below, Susan Rosenberg, Laura Whitehorn and two other important people in the prison movement talked about women and incarceration. When the audience erupted into applause, my daughter stopped and applauded along. “Yaaaay!” she cheered, as she clapped her tiny hands together over and over.

Partway through the next panel, she grew bored with the back row and began making her way down the aisle. I let her get about 10 feet away from me before grabbing her and carrying her back. She did this several times, growing more and more confident navigating the shallow slope. Then, she began to run towards the stage and the stairs leading to the stage, steps that are oh-so-alluring in the eyes of a not-quite two-year-old. By then, only a sliver of my attention was on the discussion on-stage; most of it was on my daughter and trying to keep her from disrupting the conference. So, we left.

Twelve years later, I was back in that same room — not as a harried and under-supported parent this time, but as a panelist. Unlike the last time, as I set foot in the auditorium, the organizers of Queering Abolition (Black and Pink — NYC, which supports queer and trans people inside prisons) offered child care. And it also made me think about all the ways, between those two events and those 12 years, that people in various movements and communities stepped up to support me as a mother in their midst, enabling me to learn, grow and continue to be part of social justice organizing. Without their support, I might have kept on being the person who left discussions and events until I grew tired of even trying.

But I’m lucky. There are so many people who have recently become parents or primary caregivers who don’t have that kind of support — or people in their lives who understand the need for support and are willing to help meet that need. We parents know that we need support if we’re going to continue being part of political organizing, but it’s overwhelming and exhausting to continually ask our supposed comrades if they can accommodate our new needs. It’s even more overwhelming and exhausting when the answer is no.

In 2003, I met China Martens, a mother in Baltimore who would become my co-conspirator for what we called the “all-ages child care revolution.” What we realized, early on, is that, rather than trying to get parents to take on the additional responsibility of building their support networks, it’s much more effective to talk to people who do not have caregiving responsibilities and make them understand the importance of supporting parents and caregivers’ participation. People without children (or other caregiving responsibilities) have more time to help out, to plan support strategies and to advocate for family-friendly movement spaces and events. It shouldn’t always fall on those most directly affected (and exhausted) to have to create these spaces on their own. That’s a pretty sure way to push them away from organizing work.

Here are some ways that helped and can easily be applied to your own organizing work. They don’t require a huge amount of resources, but do demonstrate a commitment to creating movements that accommodate all ages.

Provide child care

Child care doesn’t need to be elaborate. It does need to be in a room that is clean and safe, meaning that there are no hazards for a small child. Ideally two (or more) people should be doing child care so that, if an emergency arises, no children are left alone.

Child care does require a commitment from the organizers that it is a priority and should not be left until the last minute. It should also be clearly announced on all outreach and publicity. Otherwise, parents assume that there is no child care and will stay home.

If you don’t have a rapport with kids, find other ways to help

Be the one to come in early, clean the room and make sure there are no choking hazards, exposed electrical outlets, plastic bags or sharp objects. Crawl on the floor and look at the room as if you were a baby. What do you see there that might be dangerous? Not sure what constitutes a choking hazard? If it seems like it would fit through a toilet paper tube, get it out of there!

Offer to be the one on call if an emergency arises and ferry information to the appropriate person. If a child suddenly misses their caregiver or doesn’t feel well, be the person to locate the caregiver and make sure they get to the room quickly.

Have food

The organizers of Queering Abolition served dinner (a vegan and gluten-free dinner at that), and made sure to announce that fact on all of their publicity.

For parents, having food at an evening meeting or event may be the deciding factor as to whether they attend or whether they hustle their child(ren) home after school and fix them supper. (Even people without children will appreciate not having to choose between eating dinner and attending a meeting or event.)

Be prepared to have children in the room

This might sound like it contradicts the first point, but it doesn’t. Even when you provide child care, some children don’t want to be so far from their caregivers (and vice versa). Be prepared to have children in the meeting or event space. If you’re the facilitator or a speaker, make an announcement about children’s presence beforehand so that parents don’t feel obliged to leave the room once their child(ren) start making noise. When he notices children in the room, Jason Lydon of Black and Pink Boston announces, “Children’s noise is the sound of our movement growing.” I’ve taken to saying that too and, when I do, I’ve noticed that not only do parents visibly relax, but others in the room don’t give them the side-eye.

Have toys and activities for kids to do. When my daughter turned two, a fellow volunteer at ABC No Rio, a community arts center, bought her a bag of wooden blocks, which we kept there. We also kept a basket of toys for her so that whenever she came with me or her dad, she would have a variety of things to do. Similarly, the office of Women on the Rise telling HerStory, or WORTH, an advocacy organization of formerly incarcerated women, had a crib, children’s books and toys.

Be the person who gets down on the floor and plays with the kid in the room

Children, particularly young children, don’t like being left to play by themselves, even if they are in the middle of the room. Be the person who gets down on the floor to color with them or build a fabulous structure out of blocks. You can still keep an ear on the discussion — trust me, I know from years of experience — while also allowing the parent or caregiver to participate more fully.

This also applies to spaces where organizing grows: At WORTH, when a staff member had a baby, she brought him to the office regularly and everyone took responsibility for him. They held him so that she could have two hands free to meet her responsibilities. They fed him when he was hungry. They changed his diaper. And, when he began to toddle around, they followed him and made sure he didn’t hurt himself or wreak too much havoc on the office.

Supporting the all-ages revolution doesn’t end when the meeting or event comes to a close. You can incorporate these into your everyday life — and make a new friend in the process!

Doing something a child might enjoy? Invite that kid along!

Do you have a plot in a garden? Do you love to skateboard or bike? Do you bake cookies, make giant puppets or quilt? Invite a kid to join you. It may be slow-going at first to teach a three-year-old how to safely wield a needle or not to rub glue or paint in their hair, but they learn quickly. In the meantime, you’re giving them an opportunity to experience something new while also giving their caregiver a probably much-needed break.

Start to develop relationships with caregivers and children in your movements and communities

It can start with inviting them over to have dinner (or lunch or brunch). Get to know them — and let them get to know you. Asking for help from people who are virtually strangers can be difficult but, as they grow to know you better, caregivers and kids will feel easier letting you know what they need, as well as what doesn’t work for them. And you’ll get to know them and figure out ways that you and those around you can accommodate their needs so that they can stay involved.

This is far from an exhaustive list. There are many different ways to help build an all-ages revolution. My co-conspirator China and I put together Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind originally as a zine series and, two years ago, as an edited anthology, to include the many different ways that caregivers, kids and others in their community have worked to create all-ages movements.

 

Religion and Trauma
Marlene Winell

Children learn very early to repress independent thinking and not to trust their own feelings. For truth, believers rely on external authority – Scripture and religious leaders. With the consequences of disbelief so severe, leaders are able to demand acceptance of farfetched claims at the expense of personal observation or scientific evidence. The culture rewards individuals who contribute in religious ways. Proselytizing is generally expected, even for children. Obedience is the highest value and personal development truncated.

Clearly, psychological problems can develop long before the additional trauma of leaving the fold. I’ll use the example of Bible-based fundamentalisms. True to the definition of trauma, survivors of these report feelings of terror, helplessness, and horror in facing death and injury – the horror of Jesus’ death (along with other atrocities in the Bible), the terror of hell for oneself and everyone else, and the helplessness of being a frail human in a wicked world, a tiny player in an overwhelming cosmic drama.

Toxic Teachings

There are different churches in this category with beliefs and practices that vary but core doctrines are consistent. All of the major authoritarian religions have enormous psychological control because they are based on fear, which is the most primitive and powerful human emotion. Secondly, they emphasize shame; humans are bad and need redemption. So the basic meme complex passed on to each generation of children is that you need religion in order to survive and in order to be acceptable.

Eternal Punishment

The first key doctrine is eternal damnation (or annihilation) for all unbelievers. This is the terrifying backdrop for the salvation message presented to all newcomers and all children born into the faith. The Bible is quoted, including the words of Jesus, to paint a horrifying picture of hell as a lake of fire, a fire of eternal torture impossible to quench despite any pleading. Mormons describe a hell of “outer darkness” that is cold and just as terrifying. Jehovah’s Witnesses threaten the horror of dying forever at Armageddon and missing out on Paradise. Small children can obviously visualize these things while not having the brain capacity to evaluate the message. Moreover, the powerful social context makes rejecting these teachings impossible. Children are completely at the mercy of religious adults.

The salvation formula is offered as a solution of course, but for many, it is not enough to ward off anxiety. How does one really know? And what about losing one’s salvation? Many adults remember trying to get “saved” multiple times, even hundreds of times, because of unrelenting fear.

I feel like much of my life was lived in fear. I am reading all I can to continue to find peace from what I’ve been taught. I still fear and I am 65.

I feel little hope, because I don’t know how it is remotely possible for me to ever let go of my fear of hell. If I give up my belief system, I’ll go to hell. Even though my whole life has been so unhappy in the church – it has brought me nothing but turmoil and heartbreak and disappointment and unanswered questions and dissatisfaction.

“Left behind” Terror

Another horrible fear is about missing the “rapture” when Jesus returns. I have heard many people recount memories of searching for parents and going into sheer panic about being left alone in an evil world. Given that abandonment is a primary human fear, this experience can be unforgettably terrifying. Some report this as a recurring trauma every time they couldn’t find a parent right away.

During my freshman year in college, I started having nightmares. In my dreams, the rapture would happen and I would be left behind, or worse, sent to hell. Several times I woke up just before I was tossed into the flames, my mouth open, ready to scream. My mind was crying out, “Please, Jesus! Forgive me! I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough! I’m sorry!

After twenty-seven years of trying to live a perfect life, I failed… I was ashamed of myself all day long. My mind battling with itself with no relief… I always believed everything that I was taught but I thought that I was not approved by God. I thought that basically I, too, would die at Armageddon.

Surrounded by Threat

Believers simply cannot feel safe in the world if they take to heart the teaching about evil everywhere. In the fundamentalist worldview, “the World” is a fallen place, dangerously ruled by Satan and his minions until Jesus comes back and God puts everything right. Meanwhile it’s a battleground for spiritual warfare and children are taught to be very afraid of anything that is not Christian. Much of “the World” is condemned at church, and parents try to control secular influences through private and home schooling. Children grow up terrified of everything outside the religious subculture, most of which is simply unfamiliar.

I was raised on fire and brimstone, speaking in tongues, believing the world was a dangerous and evil place, full of temptation and sinners seeking to destroy me/drag me down.

Some groups place more emphasis on literal teachings about demons, and believers learn to be afraid of evil spirits lurking everywhere. Being saved is a “covering” and one must put on the “whole armor of God” to go about ordinary life. A frequently quoted verse with a terrifying image is I Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

Self as Bad

Second to the doctrine of hell, the other most toxic teaching in fundamentalist churches is that of “original sin.” Human depravity is a constant theme of fundamentalist theology and no matter what is said about the saving grace of Jesus, children (and adults) internalize feelings of being evil and inadequate. Most of these churches also believe in demons quite literally, some to the point of using exorcism on children who misbehave. One former believer called it “bait-and-switch theology — telling me I was saved only to insist that I was barely worth saving.”

I’ve spent literally years injuring myself, cutting and burning my arms, taking overdoses and starving myself, to punish myself so that God doesn’t have to punish me. It’s taken me years to feel deserving of anything good.

Believers can be understood to be in the crazy-making situation of a double bind — having heavy personal responsibility to adhere to religious rules but not having the ability to do so. Never is God blamed for not answering prayer or empowering the faithful as promised.

I spent most of my life trying to please an angry God and feeling like a complete failure. I didn’t pray enough, read enough, love enough, etc.

To think you are good or wise or strong or loving or capable on your own is considered pride and the worst sin of all in this religious worldview. You are expected to derive those qualities from God, who is perfect. Anything good you do is credited to God and anything bad is your fault. You are expected to be like Him and follow His perfect will. But what if it doesn’t work? Fundamentalist Christianity promises to solve all kinds of personal problems and when it does not, it is the individual that bears the paralyzing guilt of not measuring up.

I have tried to use this brand of Christianity to free myself from the depression and addictions that I have struggled with from childhood, and have done all the things that “Christianity” demanded I do. I have fasted, prayed, abstained from secular things, tithed, received the spirit, baptized in the spirit, read the Bible, memorized Scripture, etc. etc. None of it has worked or given me any lasting solution… I have become so desperate at times, that I have wanted to take my own life.

Demon Possession

A special form of abuse occurs when children are actually accused of being demon possessed. This can happen when children misbehave, parents are incompetent, or children’s behavior is misinterpreted in spiritual ways, often with the help of clergy. I have heard many stories of this kind of labeling, which is of course the ultimate in both shame and fear. Forced exorcisms are also all too common, even in this modern day, and certainly qualify as trauma, lasting into adulthood.

When your parents exorcised you and said you had “unclean” spirits that was very very wrong. To believe a child can have demons just shows how seriously deluded your parents really were. You have spent your whole life being scared… being scared of your dad, of God, of hell, the rapture, the end of the world, and death as well as the dark.

Cycle of Abuse

A believer can never be good enough and goes through a cycle of sin, guilt, and salvation similar to the cycle of abuse in domestic violence. When they say they have a “personal relationship” with God, they are referring to one of total dominance and submission, and they are convinced that they should be grateful for this kind of “love.” Like an authoritarian husband, this deity is an all-powerful, ruling male whose word is law. The sincere follower “repents” and “rededicates,” which produces a temporary reprieve of anxiety and perhaps a period of positive affect. This intermittent reinforcement is enough to keep the cycle of abuse in place. Like a devoted wife, the most sincere believers get damaged the most.

I prayed endlessly to be delivered from those temptations. I beat my fists into my pillow in agony. I used every ounce of faith I could muster to overcome this problem. “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil” just didn’t seem to be working with me. Of course, I blamed it on myself and thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I was perverted. I felt evil inside. I hated myself.

I do not want to give up my faith in Christ or God but I have NEVER been able to hold onto my own decisions or to make them on my benefit without IMMENSE PAIN re: God’s will which I was supposed to seek out but could not find.

Don’t Think, Don’t Feel

Fundamentalist theology is also damaging to intellectual development in that it explicitly warns against trusting one’s own mind while requiring belief in far-fetched claims. Believers are not allowed to question dogma without endangering themselves. Critical thinking skills are under-valued. Emotions and intuitions are also considered suspect so children learn not to trust their own feelings. With external authority the only permissible guide, they grow up losing touch with inner instincts so necessary for decision making and moral development.

Fundamentalism makes people crazy. It is a mixture of beliefs that do not make sense, causing the brain to keep trying to understand what cannot be logical.

I really don’t have much experience of decision making at all. I never made any plans for my adult life since I was brought up to believe that the end of the world would come.

I suppressed a lot of my emotions, I developed cognitive difficulties and my thinking became increasingly unclear. My whole being turned from a rather vibrant, positive person to one that’s passive and dull.

Abuses of Power

Added to these toxic aspects of theology are practices in the church and religious families that are damaging. Physical, sexual, and emotional harm is inflicted in families and churches because authoritarianism goes unchecked. Too many secrets are kept. Sexual repression in the religion also contributes to child abuse. The sanctioned patriarchal power structure allows abusive practices towards women and children. Severe condemnation of homosexuality takes an enormous toll as well, including suicide.

I had so many pent up emotions and thoughts that were never acknowledged… Instead of protecting me from a horrible man, they forced me to deny my feelings and obey him, no matter what. It’s no wonder I developed an eating disorder.

So while the religious community can appear to offer a safe environment, the pressures to conform, adhere to impossible requirements, and submit to abuses of power can cause great suffering, which is often hidden and thus more miserable.

 

Ageism is an LGBT Issue
Kathleen Nicole O’Neal

In the LGBT community, we rightly spend a lot of time discussing (if not exactly acting on) the problems facing the youngest members of our community. Suicide, harassment in schools, bias-motivated crimes, rejection at home (sometimes leading to homelessness), obstacles to trans-related and sexual healthcare, religiously motivated bigotry in local communities, and general feelings of hopelessness and malaise have become classic examples of the way heterosexism impacts our young people.

We are quick to look at these dynamics and express outrage over the role that heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia play in the lives of young LGBT people. With the advent of the “It Gets Better” project, bemoaning the way in which our society hurls abuse at LGBT youth has become something of a cliché.

It is a positive step in the right direction that LGBT people and their supporters are finally paying attention to the toll bigotry takes on youth. However, our analysis rarely goes deep enough to begin to unpack the intersectional role that ageism plays in these tragedies. As long as we refuse to take into account the way that ageist social structures unnecessarily inhibit the liberty, equality, and pursuit of happiness of our youngest LGBT people, our analysis of the problem will be toothless and incomplete.

Not long after I came out as bisexual, I became involved in the youth rights movement. Because young people are basically treated as parental property until they turn 18 years old, are confined in schools not of their choosing for most of their waking hours, and have limited mobility due to their impotence at the hands of law and custom, almost every avenue available to LGBT adults to improve their lots is closed to them.

This is neither natural nor inevitable – it is a function of the way our government and society relates to young people. It is ultimately harmful to all youth, but LGBT youth often suffer the most. And no matter how many same-sex couples are able to marry or how many anti-discrimination ordinances are passed, these problems will remain until we get serious about the fact that ageism is an LGBT issue.

Were LGBT youth persecuted in their schools able to choose to educate themselves elsewhere; were our young people able to emancipate themselves from problematic home situations; were young people able to invoke legal rights against parents who send them to facilities for “troubled teens” due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, we would not see the same degree of problems that we do among young LGBT people – even if a significant segment of society never supported our equality.

When Constance McMillan bravely endured her prom fiasco we shook our collective heads and asked why the school would not let her bring her date to prom. Instead we should have shaken our heads and wondered why she was forced to attend school among such a den of vipers to begin with. When we tell our youth “it gets better” we should be asking ourselves “Why do we feel it has to be so bad for them now?” and we should also be saying that “We can do better.”

LGBT rights advocates must become youth rights advocates too. For all our talk of intersectionality and challenging privilege, we almost never seriously discuss – let alone plan our activism around – the ways in which ageism intersects with heterosexism to make life harder than need be for so many LGBT young people. Until we get serious about confronting the political, social, economic, and cultural ways in which our society oppresses all young people, LGBT youth will be hit hardest of all.

NO! Issue 7

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Documents and Depression
Kris Anne Bonifacio

Joaquin Luna’s dream was simple. He wanted to become a civil engineer. But the Texas student’s undocumented status limited his options for the future. Left without hope, the 18-year-old shot himself the day after Thanksgiving last year. In his goodbye letters, Luna expressed despair. In one letter addressed to Jesus Christ, he wrote that he had “no point of existence in this cruel world… I’ve realized that I have no chance in becoming a civil engineer the way I’ve always dreamed of here… so I’m planning on going to you and helping you construct a new temple in heaven.”

Luna was one of the more than 2 million undocumented children and young adults living in the United States. The inability for them to legally obtain a social security number makes it a struggle to get a driver’s license, apply to college and find a job. Young people like Luna are already at a heightened risk of having anxiety disorders, that often go untreated, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But for undocumented youth, the risks are even greater due to uncertainty over their future, fear of getting arrested and deported, and social stigma about being undocumented. “Being undocumented means instability, uncertainty,” says Fanny Lopez-Martinez, an undocumented 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Chicago. “You have no future. You can’t plan. You can’t envision what you want to do. You feel locked in a box. And it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to be like this for you don’t know how many years.”

Clinical Research

According to Josefina Alvarez, a professor on Latino mental health at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago who works with immigrant community organizations, evidence about the mental health consequences of being undocumented are beginning to emerge out of case studies with immigrant children and families. “Feeling insecure and uncertain about your life and your future has serious mental health consequences and may lead to anxiety and depression,” Alvarez says. “Feeling stigmatized and unwanted can also have a negative impact on self-esteem and may lead to depression and other negative behaviors.”

In a 2008 study done by the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, 31% of Latino adolescents in North Carolina showed signs of sub-clinical or clinical anxiety and 18% showed signs of depression. The study did not distinguish between those who are here legally and those who are undocumented, but the demographics of those surveyed reflect that 93% of the children were not U.S. citizens. The study also looked at the participants’ usage of mental health services and found that only 4% of those surveyed had received any mental health services in their lifetime. Undocumented immigrants are already at a disadvantage due to the structural barriers to accessing these services, such as lack of health insurance, cost of services and language barriers.

Paralyzing Fear

Fear of authorities and fear of deportation isn’t just a barrier to seeking mental health care. It can often be the very cause of anxiety and depression for undocumented immigrants. In 2010, 19-year-old undocumented Brazilian Gustavo Rezende hung himself behind his Marlborough, Mass., home, reportedly worried about his court hearing after being arrested on misdemeanor charges for driving under the influence and driving without a license. Rezende’s family and friends said he was afraid of being deported back to a country he barely knew.

In a case earlier this year, 22-year-old Yanelli Hernandez attempted suicide twice while being detained at Butler County Jail in Ohio. Hernandez had been arrested on a DUI charge and was awaiting deportation. Her case became the cause célèbre for many immigration groups, including National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) and the Chicago-based Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL). Activists demanded that Hernandez be released from detention so she could receive treatment for depression, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced in late January that she was deported to Mexico. Saavedra, who is a friend of Hernandez’s and organizes with NIYA, experienced the conditions inside a detention facility firsthand when he infiltrated the Broward Transition Center in Florida in July. Saavedra and another NIYA activist, Viridiana Martinez, intentionally turned themselves in at Port Everglades in order to raise awareness about the detention and deportation proceedings are like.

“The wait while you’re inside [the detention center] is huge mentally,” Saavedra says. “It was taxing. The center is nowhere near their families and these people don’t know their legal rights. They’re about to be deported to countries where they have no resources.” Saavedra says that though the detention center was very similar to a motel, the psychological effects of being imprisoned take a toll on the undocumented immigrants, especially the minors.

Furthermore, detention and deportation often causes family separation, something that Velazquillo personally experienced. In 2010, her brother Erick was driving home from the gym in North Carolina when a cop pulled him over for driving with his high beams on. He was arrested and charged for driving without a license and spent three days in jail. He posted a bond and was released, but for almost a year, his future remained uncertain as he faced the prospect of deportation back to Mexico. Velazquillo and her family worked with NC DREAM Team to publicize her brother’s case. After a judge granted her brother a reprieve, ICE officials decided in August 2011 to let him stay in the country.

“For those who find themselves or their loved ones in detention, it causes a lot of distress,” Velazquillo says. “You’re separated from your family, and it’s hard to get in touch with them to try to get information about what’s going on. The financial aspect is also a huge burden, having to post a bond for them to be released. And the effect it has on children in the family, it’s hard to explain to them what’s going on.”

Keeping Secrets

Even those who manage to avoid arrest and deportation still deal with the daily worries of keeping their status a secret. Yaxal Sobrevilla, a Chicago resident and organizer for IYJL, says that while her parents were open about their immigration status within their family, her mother told her she had to be careful about whom she talked to about being undocumented.

Furthermore, simple tasks that citizens and legal residents sometimes take for granted become a source of frustration, such as getting a driver’s license. “What were supposed to be minimal privileges, such as getting a driver’s license, become such an obstacle,” Sobrevilla says. “I became dependent on my parents and friends to get me places. Although they were, for the most part, willing to drive me around, it made me feel like such a burden.”

For Saavedra, the constant lying and keeping secrets took a toll on his mental health. Saavedra said that as he came closer to graduating from college, the pressure about his immigration status and uncertain future caused a lot of stress. “The timeline for me was getting shorter, so I started feeling really depressed during my junior year of college,” Saavedra says. “For the sake of my mental health, I decided it was time to tell people the truth about my immigration status.”

After College

In a study conducted last year by University of Chicago professor Roberto Gonzales, only 31 of the 150 undocumented immigrants interviewed received a bachelor’s degree or more. Of those 31, none were able to pursue their chosen careers after graduation. And though all of the 150 respondents were educated in the United States, they ended up in the same jobs their parents had, such as working in construction, cleaning services and restaurants.

Carla Navoa, a 23-year-old undocumented Filipina who studies at University of Illinois at Chicago, says that while her immigration status inspired her to work hard in school, she found out later that she wouldn’t be able to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher. “In high school, knowing that I was undocumented made me work harder in school to prove I was just as good as other students and the sacrifices my parents made coming here were worth it,” Navoa says. “But in my junior year in college, I found that I couldn’t apply for a teacher’s certificate. I had a serious breakdown and had a lot of mental issues, and I had to leave school for a while to work through that.”

In an incident similar to Luna’s, Chicago resident Benjamin Pintor committed suicide on Thanksgiving weekend in 2010 because, friends and family say, his undocumented status left him without many options. Dr. Martinez says that undocumented youth have a tendency to take it upon themselves to help their family rise above their immigration status.

“They take on a lot of responsibility, in some ways self-imposed, that they have to be the one to lift up and advance their family,” Martinez says. “It’s common in undocumented families, a lot of whom are low on the socioeconomic scale. They know that education is the key to a good quality of life, but when the opportunity to succeed is taken away, it takes a severe toll on their mental health.”

Undocumented and Unafraid

One bright spot is that young activists are feeling empowered by the DREAMers movement and many of them say that organizing and getting involved has helped them cope with depression and anxiety. “For me, coming out and being outspoken about how urgently the immigration system needs to be fixed is so necessary,” Sobrevilla says. “It was hurting me more not being able to try to change my situation.” Sobrevilla says that groups like IYJL and NIYA provide a support network for many undocumented youth. That network is particularly comforting for undocumented young adults, as they risk getting arrested and deported by coming out about their immigration status.

The University of Chicago’s Lopez-Martinez says she found comfort in attending an IYJL meeting and hearing the stories of undocumented youth just like her. She says she first heard about the group from two of her college friends. “They told me that there’s a group of students just like us,” Lopez-Martinez says. “They’re undocumented, they’re young and they want to make a difference. IYJL is a place to talk about your feelings, what it means to be undocumented. That’s very empowering, to know that you’re not alone and that many other youth just like you are going through the same thing.”

Velazquillo and other organizers from NIYA decided to use the healing power of a support system to help other undocumented youth across the country. They started Undocuhealth, a blog that deals specifically with the mental health needs of undocumented immigrants. “We wanted a place where we could talk about these issues because they are not being addressed,” Velazquillo says. “We want to be able to provide resources for those who need it.”

But ultimately, the lack of action on immigration reform continues to be taxing for undocumented youth. Though there was a lot of buzz after the election on the increasing electoral power of Hispanics and the pressure they can levy on politicians, immigration, in the immediate future, has taken a backseat to the fiscal cliff discussions in Washington. “Continuing to delay a solution to the problems related to undocumented immigrants adds to the stress these young people feel,” Alvarez says. “If they see that we, as a society, can’t find a solution to this problem, they will become more discouraged and hopeless.”

Saavedra says that he is hopeful he and other activists can increase understanding and awareness among Americans about undocumented youth. “I hope our work humanizes DREAMers instead of having people think of us as ‘illegal’ or ‘border crossers,’” Saavedra says. “People need to recognize that we can suffer from depression just like they can.” Alvarez agrees that humanizing the issue would help address the problem. “Immigration policy has real mental health consequences,” she says. “It’s not just about dealing with those who have broken the law and securing the borders. There are real human beings that are going to be affected by our immigration policies.”

 

Zero Tolerance: Childfree and Bigotry
Henry A. Giroux

There are mounting ideological, institutional, and political pressures among conservatives, liberals, and other advocates of corporate culture to remove youth from the inventory of ethical and political concerns that legitimize and provide individual rights and social provisions for members of a democratic society. One consequence is that there is growing support among the American public for policies, at all levels of government, that abandon young people, especially youth of color, to the dictates of a repressive penal state that increasingly addresses social problems through the police, courts, and prison system. As a result, the state has been hollowed out, largely abandoning its support for child protection, healthcare for the poor, and social services for the aged. Public goods are now disparaged in the name of privatization, and those public forums in which association and debate thrive are being replaced by what Paul Gilroy calls an “info-tainment telesector” industry driven by dictates of the marketplace. As the public sector is remade in the image of the market, commercial values replace social values and the spectacle of politics gives way to the politics of the spectacle.

In the summer of 2000, The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran two major stories on youth within a three-week period between the latter part of July and the beginning of August. The stories are important because they signify not only how youth fare in the politics of representation but also what identifications are made available for them to locate themselves in public discourse. The first article, “The Backlash Against Children” by Lisa Belkin, was a feature story forecasted on the magazine’s cover with a visually disturbing, albeit familiar, close up of a young boy’s face. The boy’s mouth is wide open in a distorted manner, and he appears to be in the throes of a tantrum. The image conjures up the ambiguities adults feel in the presence of screaming children, especially when they appear in public places, such as R-rated movies or up-scale restaurants, where their presence is seen as an intrusion on adult life. The other full-page image that follows the opening text is even more grotesque, portraying a young boy dressed in a jacket and tie with chocolate cake smeared all over his face. His hands, covered with the gooey confection, reach out towards the viewer, capturing the child’s mischievous attempt to grab some hapless person by the lapels and add a bit of culinary dash to his or her wardrobe.

According to Belkin, a new movement is on the rise in American culture, one founded by individuals who don’t have children, militantly describing themselves as “child free,” and who view the presence of young people as an intrusion on their rights. Belkin charts this growing phenomenon with the precision of an obsessed accountant. She commences with an ethnographic account of 31-year-old, California software computer consultant Jason Gill, who is looking for a new place to live because the couple who have moved in next door to him have a new baby and he can hear “every wail and whimper.” Even more calamitous for the yuppie consultant, the fence he replaced to prevent another neighbor’s children from peering through at him is now used by the kids as a soccer goal, “often while Gill is trying to read a book or have a quiet glass of wine.” But Belkin doesn’t limit her analysis to such anecdotal evidence, she also points to the emergence of national movements such as an organization called No Kidding!, which sets up social events only for those who remain childless. She reports that No Kidding! had only 2 chapters in 1995 but has 47 today. In addition, she comments on the countless number of online “child free” sites with names like “Brats!” and a growing number of hotels that do not allow children under 18 unless they are paying guests.

Of course, many parents and non-parents alike desire, at least for a short time, a reprieve from the often chaotic space of children, but Belkin takes such ambivalencies to new heights. Her real ambition has very little to do with providing a space for adult catharsis. Rather it is to give public voice to a political and financial agenda captured by Elinor Burkett’s The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless—an agenda designed to expose and rewrite government policies that relegate “the Childless to second-class citizens.” Included in Burkett’s laundry list of targets are: the federal tax code and its dependent deductions, dependent care credits, child tax credits among “dozens of bills designed to lighten the tax burden of parents” and, “most absurd of all” an executive order prohibiting discrimination against parents in all areas of federal employment. Her position is straightforward enough: to end “fancy” benefits (i.e., on-site child- care and health insurance for dependents) that privilege parents at the expense of the childless and to bar discrimination on the basis of family status. “Why not make it illegal to presuppose that a non-parent is free to work the night shift or presuppose that non-parents are more able to work on Christmas than parents?” Burkett demands. Indeed, why should the government provide any safety nets for the nation’s children at all?

Belkin modifies her sympathetic encounter with the child-free worldview by interviewing Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a Harvard educated economist and nationally known spokesperson for protecting the rights of parents, and the founder of the National Parenting Association. Hewlett argues that parents have become yet another victimized group who are being portrayed by the media as the enemy. Hewlett translates her concerns into a call for parents to organize in order to wield more economic and political power. Hewlett’s comments occupy a minor commentary in the text that overwhelmingly privileges the voices of those individuals and groups that view children and young people as a burden, a personal irritant, rather than a social good.

The notion that children should be understood as a crucial social resource who present for any healthy society important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions, and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests appears to be lost in Belkin’s article. Instead, Belkin focuses on youth exclusively as a private consideration rather than as part of a broader public discussion about democracy and social justice. She participates in an attack on youth that must be understood within the context of neoliberalism and hyper capitalism in which the language of the social, community, democracy, and solidarity are subordinated to the ethos of self-interest and self-preservation in the relentless pursuit of private satisfactions and pleasures. In this sense, the backlash against children that Belkin attempts to chronicle are symptomatic of an attack on public life, on the very legitimacy of those non-commercial values that are critical to defending a just and substantive democratic society.

The second article to appear in The New York Times Sunday Magazine is titled “Among the Mooks” by RJ Smith. According to the author, there is an emerging group of poor white males called “mooks” whose cultural style is fashioned out of an interest in fusing the transgressive languages, sensibilities, and styles that cut across and connect the worlds of rap and heavy metal music, ultra-violent sports such as professional wrestling, and the misogyny rampant in the subculture of pornography. For Smith, the kids who inhabit this cultural landscape are losers from broken families, working-class fatalities whose anger and unexamined bitterness translates into bad manners, anti-social music, and uncensored rage.

Smith appears uninterested in contextualizing the larger forces and conditions that gives rise to this matrix of cultural phenomena—deindustrialization, economic restructuring, domestic militarization, poverty, joblessness. The youth portrayed in Smith’s account live in a historical, political, and economic vacuum. Moreover, the teens represented by Smith have little recourse to adults who try to understand and help them navigate a complex and rapidly changing cultural landscape in which they must attempt to locate and define themselves. Along with the absence of adult protection and guidance, there is a lack of serious critique and social vision in dealing with the limits of youth culture. No questions are raised about the relationship between the popular forms teens inhabit and the ongoing commercialization and commodification of youth culture. There is no understanding in Smith’s analysis of how market driven politics and established forms of power increasingly eliminate non-commodified social domains through which young people might learn an oppositional language for challenging those adult ideologies and institutional forces that both demonize them and limit their sense of dignity and capacity for political agency.

Of course, vulgarity, pathology, and violence are not limited to the spaces inhabited by the hyper-masculine worlds of gangsta rap, porn, extreme sports, and professional wrestling. But Smith ignores all of this because he is much too interested in depicting today’s teens, and popular culture in general, as the embodiment of moral decay and bad cultural values. Smith suggests that poor white kids are nothing more than semi-Nazis with a lot of pent up rage. There are no victims in his analysis, as social disorder is reduced to individualized pathology, and any appeal to injustice is viewed as mere whining. Smith is too intent in reinforcing images of demonization and ignorance that resonate comfortably with right-wing moral panics about youth culture. He succeeds, in part, by focusing on the icons of this movement in terms that move between caricature and scapegoating. For instance, The Insane Posse is singled out for appearing on cable-access porn shows; the group Limp Bizkit is accused of using their music to precipitate a gang rape at the recent Woodstock melee; and the performer Kid Rock is defined in racially coded terms as a “vanilla version of a blackploitation pimp” whose concerts inspire fans to commit vandalism and prompts teenage girls to “pull off their tops as the boys whoop.” It gets worse.

At one level, “mooks” are portrayed as poor, working class, white kids who have seized upon the most crude aspects of popular culture in order to provide an outlet for their rage. But for Smith, the distinctive form this culture takes with its appropriation of the transgressive symbolism of rap music, porn, and wrestling does not entirely explain its descent into pathology and bad taste. Rather, Smith charges that black youth culture is largely responsible for the self-destructive, angst-ridden journey that poor white male youth are making through the cultural landmines of hyper-masculinity, unbridled violence, “ghetto” discourse, erotic fantasy, and drugs. Smith points an accusing finger at the black “underclass,” and the recent explosion of hip hop which allegedly offers poor white kids both an imaginary alternative to their trailer park boredom and a vast array of transgressive resources which they proceed to fashion through their own lived experiences and interests. Relying on common racist assumptions about black urban life, Smith argues that black youth culture offers white youth a wide-screen movie of ghetto life, relishing the details, relating the intricacy of topics like drug dealing, brawling, pimping, and black-on-black crime. Rap makes these things seem sexy, and makes life on the street seem as thrilling as a Playstation game. Pimping and gangbanging equal rebellion, especially for white kids who aren’t going to get pulled over for driving while black, let alone die in a hail of bullets (as Tupac and B.I.G. both did).

Trading substantive analysis for right-wing cliches, Smith is indifferent to both the complexity of rap as well as the “wide array of complex cultural forms” that characterize black urban culture. Smith alleges that the problem of white youth is rooted in the seductive lure of a black youth, marked by criminality, violent hyper-masculinity, welfare fraud, drug abuse, and unchecked misogyny. Smith unapologetically relies upon this analysis of black youth culture to portray poor white youth as dangerous and hip-hop culture as the source of that danger. Whatever his intentions, Smith’s analysis contributes to the growing assumption that young people are at best a social nuisance and at worse a danger to social order.

These articles reflect and perpetuate in dramatically different ways not only the ongoing demonization of young people, but also the growing refusal within the larger society to understand the problems of youth (and especially youth of color) as symptomatic of the crisis of democratic politics itself.

As the state is divested of its capacity to regulate social services and limit the power of capital, those public spheres that traditionally served to empower individuals and groups to strike a balance between “the individual’s liberty from interference and the citizen’s right to interfere” are dismantled. At the same time, it becomes more difficult for citizens to put limits on the power of neo-liberalism to shape daily life—particularly as corporate economic power is feverishly consolidated on a transnational level. Nor can they prevent the assault on the state as it is being forced to abandon its social role as the guardian of public interests. The result is a state increasingly reduced to its policing functions, and a public sector reduced to a replica of the market. As neoliberalism increases its grip over all aspects of cultural and economic life, the autonomy once afforded to the worlds of cinema, publishing, and media production begins to erode.

Public schools are increasingly defined as a source of profit rather than a public good. Through talk shows, film, music, and cable television, for example, the media promote a growing political apathy and cynicism by providing a steady stream of daily representations and spectacles in which abuse becomes the primary vehicle for registering human interaction. At the same time, dominant media such as the New York Times condemn the current cultural landscape—represented in their account through reality television, professional wrestling, gross-out blockbuster films, and the beat-driven boasts and retorts of hip-hop—as aggressively evoking a vision of humanity marked by a “pure Darwinism” in which “the messages of popular culture are becoming more brutally competitive.”

Unfortunately, for mainstream media commentators in general, the emergence of such representations and values is about the lack of civility and has little to do with considerations of youth bashing, racism, corporate power, and politics. In this sense, witness to degradation now becomes the governing feature of community and social life. Most importantly, what critics take up as a “youth problem” is really a problem about the corruption of politics, the shriveling up of public spaces and resources for young people, the depoliticization of large segments of the population, and the emergence of a corporate and media culture that is defined through an unadulterated “authoritarian form of kinship that is masculinist, intolerant and militaristic.”

At issue here is how we understand the ways youth produce and engage popular culture at a time in history when depravation is read as depravity. How do we comprehend the choices young people are making under circumstances in which they have become the object of policies that signals a shift from investing in their future to assuming they have no future? Certainly not a future in which they can depend on adult society for either compassion or support.

 

“Normalizing” Intersex Youth
Hida Viloria

People who promote nonconsensual genital surgeries and/or hormone therapy for intersex infants and children — often called “corrective” or “normalizing” treatment –believe intersex children will grow up to be adults who fall short of social norms. However, these beliefs are purely speculation because they have not taken the time to speak with intersex adults like myself who did not undergo surgery, or to do follow-up studies on the children whose bodies they irrevocably changed. Doctors simply assumed that our bodies are not desirable, and that nonconsensual treatments would help us and/or our families. In my personal experience, and from the experiences that countless of intersex adults have shared, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Doctors decided, back in the late 1950’s, that they knew how to make intersex bodies better. Although dozens of intersex adults who were subjected to these “corrective” procedures have been speaking out for almost two decades about how harmful these “treatments” were for them, the medical establishment has still not recommended that they be postponed until the child is old enough to decide for themselves if they’d like to change the genitals they were born with. Although other humans are given this right (with the exception of circumcision), most intersex infants today, sadly, are not.

One of the reasons these surgeries persist is similar to the reason circumcision does: people get used to whatever “look” is popular and want their children to have it, to “fit in.” However, the bigger reason is that some people still assume that, because our biological sex is not standardly male or female, our social gender won’t be either. It is this fear of an androgynous, non-binary social gender role that drives recommendations for surgery, for some believe it will lead to children and adults who “stick out,” or suffer psychological difficulties.

I have found, in talking to dozens of intersex adults, that these fears are unfounded and incorrect, but, as a recent New York Times article illustrates, they persist.

There haven’t been any studies that would support doing nothing,” says Larry Baskin, Grumbach’s protégé and current chief of pediatric urology at the University of California, San Francisco. “That would be an experiment: don’t do anything and see what happens when the kid’s a teenager. That could be good, and that could also be worse than trying some intervention.” In Baskin’s view, being intersex is a congenital anomaly that deserves to be corrected like any other. “If you have a child born with a cleft lip or cleft palate or an extra digit or a webbed neck, I don’t know any family that wouldn’t want that repaired,” he told me. “Who would say, ‘You know what, let’s wait until Johnny is 20 years old and let him decide?’”

Contrary to Dr. Baskin’s statement, there have been studies that would support doing nothing. In fact, one of only two studies in existence about intersex adults, performed in 1952 by Dr. John Money for his dissertation at Harvard, showed that intersex adults who had not been medically tampered with showed less incidence of psycho-pathology than non-intersex adults. In other words, intersexuals were found to be psychologically healthier and better adjusted than non-intersexuals.

The other study, performed recently in England, found that even when adult intersexuals had voluntarily employed surgery to “normalize” their bodies, the results were ineffective and harmful. The surgeries were unable to provide “normal” bodies and created physical problems, such as tremendous physical pain, which made their lives more difficult than before.

Dr. Baskin claims it would be an “experiment” to “do nothing” to an intersex infant or child. However, changing a healthy body via modern medical science in order to try to make it “better” than what nature created is what seems an experiment. His view that ambiguous genitals are akin to a cleft lip that any parent would want to correct before adulthood is astoundingly simplistic and inaccurate. The function and psychosocial significance and impact of genitals is much more complex and significant than that of a cleft or uncleft lip. He misses the points that adult intersexuals and their advocates have made about how the surgeries left them sexually damaged and/or impaired and often very psychologically confused about their true identity.

However good the intentions may be, surgeries done on infants to “correct” their sex or their sexual organs have been shown repeatedly to be unsuccessful. Children do not need these organs to look any particular way until they become sexually active later, and as we have often seen, it is impossible to determine how an infant or child will want to express themselves sexually as an adult. Because we can not tell how masculine, feminine or androgynous a baby will later want to be, “picking” how to “make” their body appear is basically a crap-shoot. Why would you want to run that kind of irrevocable risk on your child’s future fulfillment? What if you and the doctors made the wrong choice, one your child was ultimately so miserable with as to be suicidal, as we see in so many cases of “corrective” medical treatment.

In thinking about children and their development and experiences, many adults forget, or perhaps do not realize, that prejudices and stigma are learned. Children do not believe, for example, that black and brown people are dangerous, poor, unintelligent, or inferior until they learn these beliefs from an adult. Even in those instances, some children reject these learned beliefs in favor of their own by adulthood or throughout it.

Because no one ever said a word about my genitals being “wrong” in some way, and I wasn’t operated on or given hormones to “correct” anything, I was able to form my own beliefs about my body and my identity, and those ideas were positive. As I mentioned in a 2002 on ABS’s 20/20, the first time I saw another girl’s genitals in a locker room at age eleven, my first thought was “she’s missing something.” There was no reason for me to assume anything was wrong with my body and so I did not. Such is the case for others who escaped “medical normalization.”

In 1998 I interviewed three intersex adults for my undergraduate thesis at U.C. Berkeley entitled, “Experience Versus Theory: The Testimonies of Adult Intersexuals on the Medical Management of Intersexuality.” These adults, like myself, had not undergone surgical or hormonal treatment of their intersex conditions. The interviews revealed that, as children, they did not experience the trauma and confusion that doctors and others often presume they will, despite having very ambiguous genitalia and very unusual social circumstances to navigate through. Further, as adults, they were all in long-term, committed, seemingly happy, healthy relationships. They appeared mentally healthy, were gainfully employed, and had friends and a social life. Basically, they seemed just as happy and successful as any other group of people I’ve known.

One of the doctors who supports “corrective” surgery said to me once during a debate on the issue, “People can’t even accept people of different colors sometimes, how can we expect them to accept a third sex?” My answer to him was, “By that reasoning, if you could make everybody white would you do that too?”

Even if people do not, out of ignorance and/or bigotry, accept a group, eliminating that group of people, or the characteristics that make them different, is a poor solution to ending discrimination. If doctors or others in power had been able to do that with other minority groups in the past, we would have a much different society today. Our society would be similar to Adolf Hitler’s vision of a homogenous race deplete of people of color, gays, and anyone else considered different by the group in power. Fortunately, Hitler was stopped before he could fully realize his dream, and Jewish people and others he considered inferior did not suffer total extinction. However, thousands suffered beforehand, just as thousands of intersex people have suffered since “normalization” began.

Outdated and unfounded bogotries towards intersex people have caused them decades of suffering. It is sometimes shocking to me and to the people I inform about this that these attitudes still exist. Then I remember that many humans are threatened by minority groups, by those who are different from them. They react with fear, rather than curiosity, and fear, as we know, sometimes leads people to hurt those they find threatening.

It’s time to stop the intesex gendercide. To let go of old notions that came out of the 1950’s (weren’t African-Americans forced to use different drinking fountains back then, etcetera…?), to stop playing God on intersex children’s bodies, and to accept intersex people as equals. Every person and particularly, parent, alive has the power to do this right now, and, I believe, the heart to want to.

 

Parenting Versus Protesting?
Kirsten Anderberg

Is it irresponsible to take children to political protests? Some argue it is a good experience for children to participate, first-hand, in political organizing, marches, protests, and the making of history. I am glad my mother took me, as a child, to civil rights protests, and actions against the Vietnam War, during the 1960’s and 1970’s. I do not believe textbooks can convey the feeling one gets when surrounded by riot police, while trying to peacefully demonstrate. I am glad I took my son to protests of the Gulf War in the 1990’s, and the Iraq War in 2003. I feel it was part of his education to see nonviolent free speech and riot police clash on his own city streets, while with his mom for safety. But could I really guarantee my son’s safety anywhere that riot police were present? Some argue that children should not be taken onto the front lines of American political change. But as an activist single mother, I could not just sit home, and not protest wars, simply because I had a child. And children are supposedly our hope for the future. Thus it seems essential to include them in our political struggles, if we want the issues to live longer than us. Are certain protests acceptable for children to attend, but not others? How does one determine which protest activities are appropriate for our children? How does a politically active parent balance their own needs to protest a war, for instance, with the responsibilities of parenting?

I surveyed a group of activists on this topic, from different parts of America; from Chicago, New York City, and Seattle, as well as from Wisconsin, Maryland, California, and Colorado, and also from England and Canada. More in the group self-identified as anarcho-feminists, than the other categories cited, which included radical leftists, anarchist parent of color, anarchist, Green Party member, progressive humanist atheist, and others. Seven of the 12 people interviewed are street medics, and 10 of those surveyed are parents. And only two of those surveyed say they had parents who took them to political protests. So, basically, this article is written from the viewpoint of first-generation (except for two), politically-active, parents, and street medics. Yet even within this somewhat politically-homogenous group, the opinions on this topic of kids at protests differ.

When asked if it is irresponsible to take children to protests, the overwhelming response from those surveyed was it depended on the nature of the protest. Several respondents felt protests that directly affected children’s services, such as funding cuts at hospitals that treat children, or midwifery rights protests, warranted the strategic use of children at the protests. But many feel it is positive to involve children in a broad spectrum of political issues. For example, at the FTAA protests in Miami in November 2003, there was a Baby Bloc of mothers with children who marched together. One parent surveyed said, “I think it is not only safe, but necessary, to take children to (most) protests. As activists, and as parents, bringing up the next generation, we need to show our children that when things are going wrong, it is our responsibility to voice our dissent.” Another respondent said taking kids to protests was a good idea because “children need to know that their parents hold certain views, and that these views are not unique to their parents…” Some said it would be nice if the community could work together so that some parents can be medics and legal observers, while others could center solely on children at protests. Another mother surveyed said she had quit being politically active, then her adult daughter (who she used to take to protests as a child), asked her to go to a protest, and now she is protesting again. That went full circle!

A distinction was made by some regarding direct actions and marches/demonstrations. Many felt large, permitted, labor union marches, for example, were safer than direct actions against corporations, like some of the FTAA or WTO protest actions. The former was seen as non-confrontational and the latter as confrontational. One street medic said, “I had to treat an 8-month old boy for tear gas/pepper spray in Quebec during the FTAA protests there and I don’t want to EVER, EVER, EVER, have to do that again!” Yes, we all agree we do not want that to EVER happen, and that is why we need to talk about this topic seriously. Protests are not your typical family event, and we all know that. One respondent said protests are as safe for kids as they are for anyone else, “in other words, usually safe, often not, and usually hard to know in advance.” Some felt that large gatherings of people in any context, presented a danger to children, in general, and that protests were no different. One person said, “You could argue because there is sometimes trouble at soccer matches (in the UK), it would be irresponsible to take children to soccer matches, but 100,000’s go and get looked after by their parents.”

“I do not think it is “irresponsible” to take children to protests. I think it is irresponsible for police departments, fellow protesters, and others, to not recognize that children have a legitimate right to be at protests. At the Feb. 15th anti-war march in New York City, several police officers made snide comments that we were being irresponsible mothers by taking our children to the march. However, there is something very, very wrong with our society if children do not belong and cannot be kept safe at marches for peace,” says one activist I surveyed. Two other people surveyed said, “I think that the police presence needs to be responsive to the fact that there are regularly kids in the crowd,” and “If the reality is that kids are regularly SEEN at protests, then the response from police might change.” And these are good points. If we can get police to behave as if there are children in their midst at all protests, perhaps they can rein in some of their random violence, and free speech would be safer for all in America.

Most of the activists I surveyed felt if you were politically aware enough to protest for political causes, you should be astute enough to do proper research on a protest before bringing a child. There seemed a consensus that parents needed to know who called the demonstration, what the political issues involved are, who would attend, what the agenda of the protest is, if the protest is permitted, what tactics are expected both by protesters and police in response, etc. All agreed “Safe Places” cannot be guaranteed, and one medic surveyed wondered aloud if the community should begin having kid-friendly non-violent action trainings. The parents surveyed felt you should have a clearly defined contingency plan with children, “from bathroom breaks to police attacks,” including what to do if separated. Suggested basic supplies to take to protests with kids included sunscreen, extra diapers, food, water, and proper layers of clothing. Some commented paying attention to weather reports was also beneficial, as a kid wet in pouring rain at a protest, or frying hot in sun, will not be fun, and thus proper weather protection is an issue as well. A basic knowledge of street first aid would be nice too, if you live somewhere you can get access to that, such as Boston or Portland. Other advice included “always be aware of where you are, the mood of the crowd, the mood of the kids (and other adults if in a group), and the mood of the police.” Many felt the best way to go for parents, kids and protests, were small affinity groups, where parents and children could collectively take care of one another. And although these are all good tips for parents and children, these are basics for adults too.