Monday, May 26, 2014

Youth Rights, Community, and Why Everyone Should Care About Children

This past weekend while sitting anxiously behind a table at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair, watching people walk by, and only very occasionally stop by, I pulled out my new flower-patterned notebook to scribble some budding thoughts.

Sitting at the table, I keep watching people's eyes catch and then skim over the offerings laid out before me. Some of it could definitely be to do with how our table looks. Compared to the DVDs on one side and the rows of books on the other, all new and colourful and shiny, the slightly messy stacks of zines (and a single stack of a free issue of a three-year-old-journal), it might not seem so exciting.

But I can't help but wonder if some of the reason is that our stuff is all about educating children. Our culture doesn't value children very much [or values them only in certain very narrow ways], and I haven't seen much proof that the radical community [or various radical communities I've had any experience with] values them any more so.

Perhaps this observation was born more out of insecurity at all the disinterest being shown in my zines than as a reflection on people's actual feelings on or interest in children and education. Looking around, there was certainly much eye-skimming to be seen, as I think there kind of has to be at any large event with such a wide variety of tables to peruse. What you find personally most interesting is the only thing likely to catch your eye and make you pause for more than a moment when you're faced with such an overwhelming array of things to see.

However, if there's that little interest, not even enough for a brief flip through a book or zine, it seems to show that the majority of people there don't find the educating of children of particular interest. Or, maybe even more than a lack of interest, perhaps many people simply don't believe it to be of particular relevance. One young person said they didn't have kids, so didn't know if there was any point in signing up for more information.

People love to talk about children, child-raising, and education. Everyone's an armchair critic expert on those subjects when it comes to talk of kids-these-days-and-their-disrespect, or how badly parents are at parenting, or the failure of teachers to teach properly. But there seems to be a profound disconnect when it comes to talk of the actual nuts and bolts of parenting or education. Once it moves beyond vague criticism, there seems to be the idea that the only ones who have any interest or stake in the matter is parents. If you're not a parent, why should you care?

This type of attitude seems to me to be all part and parcel with the general disregard for children in this culture. Everyone can agree that children are important ("they're our future!"), yet somehow no one wants to see them in public (unless they're perfectly behaved, never crying or fussing or yelling or inconveniencing anyone in the slightest), or see them on Facebook ("why do parents post so many annoying photos of their snotty kids?"), or have to interact with them in any way ("I just don't like kids!"). And people certainly don't seem to want children to be treated with respect and kindness, or as autonomous young people deserving of more agency than they're currently being given ("More freedom? More pampering?? They already get too much of that!").

I needed a picture of children, so I figured why not use one of me and
my sister? This is us being cute, circa '96 or '97.

To change the way children are treated, it seems to me that people should come to a few realizations.
  1. Children are people. Obvious, I know, but it seems like it still needs to be said. All people deserve to be treated with a basic level of dignity, kindness, and respect for their personal autonomy and well-being. Children are a group with different needs than adults, for sure, but that doesn't change their worth, or their right to be treated well. All it means is that more environments should make an effort to be accommodating to the needs of children, not just the needs (or perceived needs) of adults.
  2. If you claim to be against any oppression, and then say how much you hate children, then you're not really against that form of oppression. Why? Because children also suffer from all other different forms of oppression. Anti-racism, you say? A feminist? A queer ally? Against ableism? There are children of colour; children who are girls; disabled children; queer children; trans children... Childhood is intimately affected by the identities a child holds (and the identities and experiences of their families), and a child marginalized by some other aspect of their identity is doubly marginalized.
  3. The well-being of children is in all of our hands. Whether you have children or want children or want never to have children, whether you're young or old, whether you spend much of your time in the company of children or almost none, it's up to all of us to look critically at the way children are treated and viewed in our culture (and the way we personally treat and look at children), and to work in whatever ways are open to us to make our environments safer and more hospitable to children. 
  4. This means caring about children, caring about parents and care-givers, and caring about education. This might mean more intimate personal involvement, it might mean educating yourself about the state of schooling and educational alternatives, or it might mean simply being nicer to hassled parents out in public with unhappy kids.
I don't think everyone should have the same interests as I do (unschooling and radical education), or that a childless person should care as deeply as a parent does about the harm standardized testing is causing (they're just not going to), but I do think that we should all be concerned with how other people are treated. We should all desire and strive for a world that treats everyone with dignity and respect, and where the important needs of everyone are met.

I just think that, when we talk about revolution at the anarchist bookfair, or ways to improve local services at the community center, or about our ideal world with our friends, we should always remember to make children both a subject of and a part of those important conversations.


  1. I appreciate the manner in which you shared this topic, one that I agree with you on. Children are often seen as a means to an end, rendering them vulnerable to abuses and neglect that occur on the road to some other goal that has nothing to do with their well-being. Education is currently a big one, and yes, parents do need to invest the time to learn about what is really going on and why.

  2. Thank you for this. I felt somewhat uncomfortable reading it, because you're talking about me. I'm childfree (childless by conscious choice), and I won't voluntarily spends a lot of time with children. I also feel a little annoyed with finding young children *everywhere*, including in bars, late-night showings of "R" rated movies, haunted houses, and other places that very young children can't possibly enjoy (and that might even cause them harm). Still, I know I should be concerned about the well-being of children. And some concern is there. I read your blog because I'm fascinated with unschooling, even though I'll never have children to unshcool. I'm fascinated with the idea of children being given freedom to learn and grow at their own pace, even if this means I might sometimes find them in places where I think they "shouldn't" be. So I think I should work on developing that concern.

  3. I LOVE YOU IDZIE. What you describes here about your zines is what I have experienced with my informed birth planning guide. I too have sat in wonder as my offering is eyed with caution and passed over.

    Be not afraid of knowledge, of children, of mothers. There is much power, beauty and wonder to be found by those willing to take the chance.

  4. I'm so grateful I came across your site (suggested by my feedly reader). I agree so much with what you have said here. I look forward to reading more of your posts!