Monday, June 25, 2018

Remembering and Celebrating the Work of Richard Farson, Radical Youth Liberationist and Author of Birthrights: A Bill of Rights for Children

   June 13, 2018 marked the one year anniversary of the death of the psychologist and author Richard Farson, the radical youth liberationist writer behind the 1974 classic of youth rights theory, Birthrights: A Bill of Rights for Children. He was ninety years old when he died in La Jolla, California. I would urge every single person concerned with the rights and liberation of young people to read Birthrights if they have not already done so. It is the first book on youth liberation theory that I ever read and it is in no way an overstatement to say that doing so dramatically changed the course of my life. It is to this day the best book ever written about the oppression of young people and how our society might do better by them. There is no other single volume which provides a fuller articulation of youth liberationist grievances, principles, values, and hopes for the future. It is both extremely accessible in its language and format and yet highly theoretically substantive and sophisticated, a rare combination in theoretical work on almost any topic.

   I have been thinking a lot about Farson and Birthrights in particular these days as I have recently begun work on my own book on the topic of youth rights and liberation. Birthrights was published during an era in American social and cultural history in which fairly radical notions in reference to the rights of young people were taken far more seriously than they were today by intellectuals and activists and yet, the more I reflect upon the conditions of American society at this present moment, the more I feel that the time is ripe for a second wave of radical youth liberationist writing, theorizing, and activism. There is no better encapsulation of the first wave of youth liberationist theory than Birthrights and as such, it provides those of us charged with ushering in a second wave of youth liberationist activism and theorizing with a wonderful legacy upon which to build. We are trailblazers, yes, but we are also part of a transgenerational lineage of radical youth liberationist thinkers, writers, and doers. It is important not to forget that.

   A good deal of what makes Birthrights so powerful and convincing is that Farson saw youth oppression both in its specificity and in its totality. He was able to see how youth subordination within the family, compulsory education, legal age restrictions, the juvenile justice system, and oppressive, patronizing, and paternalistic attitudes towards young people, to name just a few major areas of concern in reference to youth subjugation about which he wrote in Birthrights, were both serious and unique problems in their own right and also how they worked together as part of an interlocking system of force and coercion designed to keep young people, in Farson's own words, "incapacitated, oppressed, and abused." Farson's eye for both specificity as well as the panoramic view of youth oppression (and what might be done to remedy the situation) has been highly influential for me in reference to my own writing on youth liberation and has guided me in terms of how I approach the structure of the book that I am currently at work on regarding youth rights issues.

   Another important element of Farson's analysis was his focus on intersectionality long before the critical race theorist and legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw formally coined the term in the 1990s. Throughout Birthrights, Farson makes reference to the struggles of various groups within American society - women, men, prisoners, racial and ethnic minorities, disabled people, sexual minorities, poor people, elders. He sees how young people belonging to more than one marginalized group are impacted by multiple axes of oppression. He also sees how the struggles of groups other than young people may intersect with young peoples' own struggles.

   Finally, Richard Farson brilliantly understood that youth oppression is not just a product of laws and customs, although it is indeed a product of those forces. He also had a special sensitivity to and gift for describing the ways in which ageist attitudes impacted how adults saw young people and ultimately how young people came to conceptualize themselves. This is evident when Farson discusses the way that so-called "child prodigies" are in a certain important sense pathologized in contemporary American society, how youth sexuality is always only understood against the backdrop of deviance, how ageist attitudes towards young people infiltrate and impact the ostensibly scientific work done to study youth, and how adult preferences for children who are cute, obedient, quiet, docile, and apolitical reflect deep antipathy towards young people as individuals and their political interests as a class.

   As a second wave youth liberationist, I am so grateful for the gifts that Richard Farson provided to us via his work as a first wave youth liberationist. I pray that he rests in both peace and power and that his memory is forever for a blessing. Perhaps most importantly for those of us interested in continuing his youth liberationist work, I pray that we take his passing as a sign of a charge to keep in reference to continuing the work for youth rights and liberation that that first wave of youth liberationists began back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It's time for a second wave. I think we're up to it and I think that we're incredibly fortunate to have Richard Farson's brilliant work to guide us along the way.

Richard Farson: 1926-2017.
     

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reflections for June 2018

  
   So this blog post will just be some general reflections on various topics that have been popping up in the news recently and that speaks to the Pride season as well. First of all, like all decent people, I am horrified by what is going on in reference to immigrants seeking refuge in this country, particularly the youth my mother has taken to referring to as "the border babies." This is of course a youth rights issue. It is strange to see the same people who love to talk about parents' rights when this notion can be used to oppress a child suddenly deciding that family bonds aren't even worth recognizing once it goes against their authoritarian, racist, xenophobic impulses. I have been thinking a lot about Sojourner Truth's amazing and beautiful "Ain't I a Woman?" speech and how she speaks about her children being ripped out of her arms in the context of slavery. In the United States, there is an ugly history of invoking parents' rights when it is something that can be used to bolster authoritarianism and then ignoring the very real actual bonds that many parents and children have in the service of authoritarianism too. The people today that are willing to rip a breastfeeding baby out of their mother's arms at the border will be the very same people that will turn around and be angry that someone gave their child birth control pills or taught them about gay history without their permission. The same people who think that it is acceptable to tear these youngest of young people away from everyone they know and love and lock them in cages will also be among the first to pretend that it is due to children's special developmental status that they should be denied individual autonomy and freedom of any sort. It is because these bad people are authoritarians and oppressing people is what they do. Parents' rights are only invoked in order to help them do this. The notion of children as in need of "protection" only matters when "protection" is a synonym for "control." It has never been about protecting the children and it has never been about supporting healthy family bonds. It has only ever been about controlling and oppressing the children. Call your governmental representatives about this. Speak out on social media and in face to face interactions too. Attend rallies, marches, protests, etc. in your community. We cannot allow these atrocities to stand as Americans, as human beings, and as youth liberationists. 

   Moving on to a less depressing subject... I just read Michael Bronski's beautiful and amazing article entitled "When Gays Wanted to Liberate Children" He goes over a lot of the same history I am covering in the introductory chapter to the book I am writing on youth liberation issues right now but he also introduced me to some new things too. I would recommend that everyone read the article if they have not already done so. As a queer person and as a feminist woman who identifies particularly with the second wave radical feminist tradition, I found that this article inspired me to want to carry on this important and underappreciated legacy of radical youth liberationism because it is time for this generation and those coming up behind it to take the reins now. This article was a beautiful Pride present for me.

   I continue to make progress on the book I am working on about youth liberation issues. There is so much to say and I already know that the book will feature sections on scientific ageism, the problems with notions of parents' rights and guardianship, youth rights abuses taking place in K-12 schools, the suppression of youth sexuality, youth rights abuses in medical and psychiatric contexts, issues impacting youth of color and immigrant youth of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, issues impacting rural youth, the intersection of youth liberationism, feminism, and sex and gender issues, LGBTIQ+ youth issues, injustices taking place at the intersection of sizeism and ageism, the intersection of youth rights and disability rights, institutional abuse of youth, legal age restrictions, economic ageism, issues impacting poor and working class youth, the juvenile (in)justice system and other legal issues pertinent to youth, minor status, youth and social media, moral panics and their effects on youth, youth and politics, and cultural, spiritual, and social prejudices against young people. So little has been published in youth liberation theory since the early 1980s and yet so much has changed in our world since then. I don't want to leave anything important out of this work because I want it to begin to make up for all that hasn't been said on these issues for so long. I want everyone that reads it to see why we should all be youth liberationists and why we should all feel that we have a stake in curtailing anti-youth ageism in our society. If you have any comments, suggestions, or resources you think I should be aware of in reference to this project, please contact me and let me know.

   Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and/or follows The Youth Rights Blog Facebook page. Keep making your voices heard and your presence felt standing up for what is right and just. The world needs it now more than ever.
   

Thursday, May 3, 2018

National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month Book Review Special Post!

   So April was National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. April has been designated as National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month in the United States since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan followed the U.S. Congress's lead in declaring it so. For my part, I decided that I would observe National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month this April by doing some serious reading on the topic and then later reviewing the books I had read on The Youth Rights Blog. Since I am currently writing a book on youth liberation issues in addition to my regular work on this blog, I felt that researching and reflecting upon the issue of child abuse and neglect from a radical youth liberationist perspective would be a worthwhile way to think more clearly about both youth liberation and about child abuse and neglect.

   Much like rape, murder, violent crime, poverty, disease, and bigotry, almost everyone at least pays some degree of lip service to opposing child abuse and neglect. Perhaps for that reason, youth liberationists have not tended to invoke the language of "child abuse" or "child neglect" as often as the language of "youth oppression" when discussing the mistreatment of young people at the hands of adults. Youth liberationists feel that it is important to point out that it is not just the most egregious cases of child physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and neglect that almost everyone can agree are wrong that are problematic, but also the more commonplace, banal, accepted, and taken for granted ways that adults exercise arbitrary authority over young people that also need to be problematized. Youth liberationists also do not tend to see cases of child abuse and neglect simply as anomalous incidences in which uniquely bad actors perpetrate uncommonly evil crimes on young people. Rather, youth liberationists tend to see all of the many ways that youth are mistreated as existing on the same spectrum with cases of child murder, rape, and severe battering lying on the far end of the spectrum to be sure but existing on a continuum with many practices which are almost universally regarded as acceptable ways of disciplining or controlling young people. Finally, youth liberationists regard all forms of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment as inseparable from the social, cultural, legal, political, and economic context in which they occur, one in which the notion of "parental rights" and other adult caregiver prerogatives to do with youth in their care as they see fit are regarded as something akin to natural rights and young people are systematically deprived of rights, autonomy, and dignity and discriminated against as members of a subject class. So to address the issue of child abuse through youth liberationist eyes is to take account not just of those bad acts committed against some youth by some adults but also of a larger context in which oppressed members of a subject class are placed in an especially vulnerable position due in part to being systematically stripped of their rights on the institutional and societal levels.

   All of that having been said, I do think that there are some advantages to youth liberationists from time to time invoking the language of "child abuse and neglect" in order to speak about some forms of youth mistreatment in some contexts. First of all, it gives us at least some shared vocabulary with those who may be allies of ours on at least some issues as well as those who are concerned with youth issues more generally. Speaking of the mistreatment of young people in terms of "child abuse" also carries with it the distinct advantage of making a clear moral and teleological claim to the effect that "Treating youth this way is wrong. It is immoral. This sort of treatment is not what children and adolescents are for." It also allows us to participate in the conversation with people of good will who are already concerning themselves with issues of child welfare and rights.

   The first book that I read on child abuse this April was Dr. Diane Prinz Callin's The Last Bastion: Child Abuse and Child Neglect in the Brotherhood of America's Schools. The thesis of this book is that the emotional, physical, sexual, and educational abuse and neglect of students in America's schools is a major but largely undiscussed social problem with far reaching consequences and that a culture of silence and unaccountability coupled with the willingness of educators and other school personnel to put loyalty to the profession and each other above the welfare of students keeps abused students from being able to seek justice for or relief from their sufferings. I agree strongly with all of this. 

   That said, this book offers little in the way of solutions or even thoughtful analysis of the problem and reads more like an angry screed than either a thoughtful analysis of a social problem or a self-help guide for students, parents, or others dealing with abuse from those within the school system. Many examples used are unsourced and very bold claims are made without any data to back them up or any nuance in the discussion. It's unfortunate that this book is not a more well-researched, well written, and serious resource because the problem it describes is a very real one in need of thoughtful analysis, actual data and statistics, and genuine solutions both for individuals dealing with the problem on a personal level and for society as a whole. This book sadly does not offer that.

   What I like that this book does is to state plainly that much of what passes for "strict discipline" or "school policy" in America's K-12 schools is in fact abusive. It is both child abuse in the conventional sense and it is an abuse of authority of the sort we understand police brutality to be. In a profoundly anti-youth culture, where all too many adults cheer the notion of "tougher discipline for teens" or "forcing youth to abide by the rules" and many people are not yet ready to understand and grapple with the notion of youth oppression, using the language of "child abuse" forces the acknowledgement that the conduct of all too many professionals in K-12 schools should be regarded as deviant. When we as youth liberationists hear about a school policy that causes young menstruating women to ruin their clothes because they are allowed so few bathroom breaks, we should refer to this as "child abuse." When we hear of youth facing corporal punishment in our schools, we should refer to this as "child abuse." When we hear about teachers demeaning or humiliating students, we should refer to this also as "child abuse." We need to be more clear in stating just how abusive an environment many PreK-12 schools are for students and we need to be willing to talk about the culture of silent complicity that even many good educators feel forced to participate in in order to keep their jobs. In their quest to impose discipline, many of America's PreK-12 schools have indeed become bastions of abuse and there is indeed a code of silence within the profession similar to the "blue wall of silence" one often hears about in reference to the police. I wish that Callin's book had offered more concrete suggestions for students, parents, and good teachers for how to deal with these problems. Good resources are sorely needed where this issue is concerned.

   The second book I read about child abuse this April was What Happened in the Woodshed?: The Secret Lives of Battered Children and a New Profession to Protect Them by Dr. Lawrence R. Ricci. This book was much more rewarding for me as a reader as it was clearly a well written, well sourced book on a difficult yet important topic. The subject of the book is the emerging medical specialty of child abuse pediatrics. Writes Ricci, "The crime scene of a child's abused and neglected body can, through careful medical analysis, lead us inexorably back to what happened, sometimes to who did it, and most revealingly to why it happened." The problem with Ricci's formulation is that it makes perfect sense when discussing battered infants, but becomes more and more problematic as children grow older. When a young person clearly states that they are in an environment where they are being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, what is called for is not CSI: Child Body Edition. What needs to happen is that that young person needs to be able to go somewhere else that they feel safe, secure, and hopefully, loved. The courts may need physical evidence in order to prosecute abusers, but the right marks showing up in the right place should not be a necessary prerequisite for a young person being able to leave an oppressive situation.

   One important point that Ricci brings up in his book is the extent to which the child welfare system revolves around the goal of family preservation which can prove tragic when, as is all too often the case, preserving a family is seen as more of a priority than providing safety for a child. This is but one way in which the notion of "parental rights" poisons nearly every aspect of our child protection system at the roots.

   Perhaps the most fascinating chapter of Ricci's book dealt with Munchausen syndrome by proxy. It is a bizarre form of child abuse but one that our culture facilitates by way of common attitudes about mothering, caregiving, disability, and children. Medical practices that center parents instead of appropriately centering child patients play a role as well. Munchausen by proxy is a rare and strange pathology, but its ability to arise as a condition at this point in our society owes a lot to institutionalized ageism and ableism in the medical context and elsewhere. While alas these rich links were not explored in the ways in which I would have liked to have seen them be, we are provided with several fascinating case studies of the phenomenon.

   So to wrap up this post, I will say that Ricci's book is well worth your time if you are interested in learning more about child abuse pediatrics. I'm glad that I read it and I learned a lot. Callin's book had potential in terms of its thesis statement but the execution was poor. If you have found any books about child abuse and neglect or related subjects to be especially worthwhile, please leave the names and authors of these books in the comments section so that I can check them out too. Thanks for reading!
 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

They Can Talk!!!

   So I have recently decided to become a parent. As a radical youth liberationist, this has caused me to reflect a great deal on many things. Now, before we go any further, I should state that I am not planning on parenting a human child any time in the immediate future. What I am planning on doing is becoming what I refer to as a "pupper parent." I am in the process of saving up to purchase a Bichon Frise puppy from a breeder. I have wanted a Bichon since I was at least in high school. I am in contact with two breeders whom I have investigated thoroughly and who appear to treat both their animals and their clientele very well. When the time comes, I plan to purchase my baby girl from one of these two breeders.
    Since deciding that I want to bring a companion animal into my life sooner rather than later, I have been doing a lot of reading about dogs in particular and pets in general. Recently I have read Kim Kavin's The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers, Jessica Pierce's Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets, and Michael Schaffer's One Nation Under Dog: America's Love Affair With Our Dogs. I am currently in the middle of David Grimm's Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship With Cats and Dogs 
   In the contemporary literature on the bond between humans and their canine and feline companions, one theme that keeps popping up is that of the cat or the dog as a member of the family and as a child of sorts. (I hesitate to refer to dogs and cats as "surrogate children" as most pet parents, I suspect, either already have human children as well or have no desire for them. Some may want human children in addition to a "critter child." The animals are not, in the vast majority of situations, replacing human children for people that would like to have them and do not. They are coming to live with people who want an animal. That is certainly the case for me.) As one might expect for these creatures which have increasingly come to be regarded as fully fledged family members, their legal status is in the process of evolving in interesting ways. One way in which this is occurring involves custody disputes over animals as well as talk of animal "guardianship" as opposed to "ownership."
   The more I have thought about the idea of domestic animals having human legal guardians (as opposed to owners), the more I like it. I find it appropriate for all of the same reasons that I find the concept of the custodial guardianship of human children and adults with disabilities to be wildly inappropriate. Namely, unlike the vast majority of human youth and adults with disabilities subjected to custodial arrangements, dogs, cats, and other domestic animals cannot talk (or type or use sign language or point at a letter board or communicate linguistically in other ways).
   When I read about a judge having to decide who gets custody of a dog in a divorce case, it makes sense that the judge makes his decision by hiring an animal behavior expert who then proceeds to visit the homes of the two individuals seeking custody of the dog to gain a sense of where the dog would fare better. (This actually happened in an animal custody case in California in 1994.) It is up to a human to decide what is in the dog's best interest because unfortunately the dog cannot speak to us and say "I would like to live with Linda instead of Stanley."
   However, what is puzzling is that the law essentially treats the issue almost exactly the same in situations in which human children are involved. There should be no need for a court to assign custody of a child that is capable of making their own wishes known. Perhaps there may be a need for a court to step in and make sure that the child is aware of what all of her options are and to make sure that one parent doesn't prevent her from having a relationship with another non-abusive parent, but it is rather ridiculous that we treat the children so similarly to the dogs when, unlike the dogs, they are actually capable of verbally expressing their feelings about the matter at hand.
   Guardianship is an appropriate institution for domestic animals which cannot speak to us and make their preferences known on where they would like to live, who they would like to live with, what they would prefer to eat, what sorts of elective medical procedures they do and do not want, how they wish to be cared for when they are sick, whether or not they would like to breed, and other such matters. It is up to humans to think rigorously about these issues so that we can truly be said to be acting in the best interests of our animals and not simply doing what is convenient for us or seen as more socially acceptable at any given point in time. Because our dogs and cats cannot tell us "I deeply value the experience of motherhood and I don't want to be spayed" or "It is important for me to spend time outdoors in order to fulfill my species specific functions" or "I am in a lot of pain so please take me to the vet" it's up to us to figure out what is in their best interests and attempt to provide them with lives in which they can flourish. So many dog and cat owners lament "If only my animal could talk..."
   And yet young people can talk but we so frequently treat them as if what they have to say does not matter that we appear not to value their ability to communicate with us. Young people can tell us "I don't trust that person" or "I would rather attend this school than that school" or "This is where I want to live" or "This is who I want to live with" or "This is what I enjoy doing" or "I don't like this." It is time that our laws and our society at large stops treating young people the same way that we treat animals which cannot speak to us and express themselves linguistically. The same institution that is appropriate for a non-speaking animal is not appropriate for a human being of any age or developmental stage capable of expressing themselves linguistically.
One can talk (or will be able to very soon). The other cannot. This should make a difference in terms of how they are treated in law and custom. It does not make a difference in their respective levels of adorability as both are gratuitously precious.
 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Youth Liberation As a Personal Commitment: Reflections and Resolutions


Youth liberationist friends are the best sort of friends. From left to right, there is me, Victoria Rodriguez, Katrina Moncure, and Alexander Cohen. We were eating at a Chinese restaurant in DC on this occasion. Victoria is another good friend that I met through the youth liberation movement who has since become an attorney at the LGBTQ Task Force and a nationally recognized figure in the burgeoning transgender rights movement. Victoria has also been active in reference to disability rights, queer rights, and other vitally important social justice causes.
   So recently I have been thinking a lot about what being a youth liberationist means to me as a personal commitment. It has been about seven years since I became a radical youth liberationist. I had previously been involved with activism for a variety of causes that were and remain important to me, but when I became a radical youth liberationist something inside of me changed. I was living in Washington DC at the time and schmoozing with a lot of folks in nonprofit jobs in my Master of Public Administration program, at internships, in job interviews, and in other settings. I was reading and talking to people about a lot of different social movements - queer and trans rights, women's reproductive rights, international human rights, disability rights, racial justice activism - and I was learning a lot. I found all of it worthwhile and valuable. I saw a role for myself in furthering all of these worthy causes. And yet after talking to some youth rights activists that were then affiliated with the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) (a problematic organization I have a somewhat fraught history with but which served as my introduction to the youth liberation movement) and reading Richard Farson's book Birthrights, a seismic shift occurred inside of me.
  
The canon. These are the books that ultimately made me a youth liberationist. Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex (which features an entire chapter entitled "Down With Childhood!"), John Holt's Escape From Childhood, Richard Farson's Birthrights, and Howard Cohen's Equal Rights For Children.
   I had always been secretly bothered by the way in which our society organizes relations between adults and younger persons. Something about it had always troubled me in a way that I struggled to put my finger on and that I lacked the vocabulary to name. I was bothered by the authoritarian control that sexist, racist, and heterosexist parents could exert over their children and the common attitude that someone's children were simply theirs to raise as they saw fit unless they were violently abusing or sexually assaulting them. The way that I and other students were treated in school by our teachers and school administrators never sat right with me, even when I was in kindergarten. The authoritarianism of the school system had always bothered me. It saddened me that my racist older cousin could prevent her children from having me as an influence in their lives and yet she was allowed to fill their heads with anti-miscegenation white supremacist garbage because she was their mother. I was haunted by stories of child abuse I heard from a woman that spoke to the students at my undergraduate institution about her career in child advocacy. A documentary on the local public access television station that I just happened to watch one day while I still lived in Tallahassee, Florida (fresh out of my undergraduate days at Florida State University) about the ways in which African-American male students are often labeled and pathologized within the school system made a particularly strong impression upon me. When my law class for public administration students studied DeShaney v. Winnebago, I began to formulate in my mind the notion that due to guardianship laws, the father who abused and nearly murdered his son was somehow an agent of the state and therefore the government did have an obligation to do more to prevent this from happening once they knew about the potential for abuse, in contradiction to the way that the Supreme Court had ruled on the case. I read a blog post while I was probably still an undergraduate on The Bilerico Project blog in which the blogger noted that societal expectations shape the rate at which young people mature - this was a revelation to me and suddenly it caused a lot of things to make a lot of sense to me that hadn't made sense before. On my Amazon Wish List, I added a few books about children's rights over the years starting from the time that I was a senior in high school. I found the topic intriguing. I didn't know what the answers were but it seemed to me important to figure out. All of this was before I was a youth liberationist or even aware that a youth rights movement existed. My sense of justice had always been fundamentally offended by the ways in which society at large structured relations between adults and younger people, but I lacked a theoretical framework with which to understand the problem and I did not see much in the way of immediate and obvious solutions.
Me at my American University graduation in 2012 when I obtained my Master of Public Administration degree. At this point, I knew that I wanted to enter a philosophy program next so that I could begin the work of theorizing youth liberation in the academic context. In my arms is Truffles, a plush lamb who is the unofficial mascot of the radical wing of the youth rights movement. He got to graduate too with a degree in Sheep Studies which my mother presented to him in our family's hotel room after my graduation ceremony was over.

   And then reading the psychologist Richard Farson's Birthrights caused everything to come together for me. Birthrights was an out of print book published back in the 1970s. The only reason that I even knew of the book's existence is because someone in NYRA that I was interviewing for a class project on local nonprofits recommended it when I asked him if he had any suggestions for further reading about youth rights for me. (This class project would ultimately serve as my primary entrance into the youth rights movement.) I either ordered a very cheap used copy of the book on Amazon or obtained the book through NYRA's lending library. And when I started reading it, all of a sudden, it all made sense. My sense that children were oppressed and that the adults in their lives exerted undue authority over them was a sign of ethical intelligence as opposed to maladjustment or an inability to accept the world as it must be. The way Farson discussed everything from the pathologization of child prodigies in an ageist society to the stifling and rigid character of the American K-12 public school system to his reflections on the politics of childhood resonated with me in a deeply satisfying and yet intellectually and ethically challenging way. I wasn't sure at the time quite what to make of Farson's views on abolishing the voting age and the age of consent, but the broader themes of the book - that children are oppressed as a class, that the pathways which child development takes are in part socially constructed, and that it was worth radically rethinking the institutions of the family, the school, the juvenile justice system, the law, and cultural attitudes as they pertain to youth - struck a chord inside of me that I had unknowingly longed to hear played for years. "This stuff is really out there and really radical, but I think I might agree with it," I thought to myself.

   Reading everything about youth rights that I could get my hands on and talking to more youth liberationists about both youth liberation theory and in many cases their own personal experiences of ageist oppression radicalized me even further. Getting to know young activists in middle and high school who were already sophisticated organizers and thinkers underscored for me just how arbitrary age-based notions of competence, character, and intellect can be. I also talked to people who had struggled unsuccessfully to gain emancipation from abusive and unhappy home situations as minors, people who had been abused or kicked out of their homes due to their sexuality while they were still in their teens, people who had been sent off to abusive "troubled teen" facilities against their wills, people who bore the physical and psychological scars of traumatic non-consensual elective medical procedures performed on them as minors. I was outraged both that these things were happening and that there was no large scale mass movement in existence seeking to address these injustices.

   When I came to Washington DC I had initially wanted a career for myself in politics. The plan was that I would get my Master of Public Administration degree at American University, work as a government bureaucrat or nonprofit administrator for a few years, and then run for elected office. However, when I found the youth rights movement that all changed in an instant and I didn't even mourn the fact that I was letting the dream that I had clung to for so long die. The day that I signed the ASFAR (Americans for a Society Free of Age Restrictions) Declaration of Principles, I surmised that I would probably never have a political career. I didn't care. Doing this work was more important than holding any elected office could ever be. The world was full of people trying to become legislators, governors, and the President of the United States of America. The world was not full of people  trying to ameliorate anti-youth ageism and the many evils it engendered. I needed this movement and it needed me.

   A lot has changed for me since I first became involved with the youth liberation movement back in 2010 and 2011 and yet my commitment to this cause remains steadfast. The way that I engage with people these days about youth liberation issues is probably a lot kinder and gentler than it was in my first few years as an angry activist, but my positions are still fundamentally the same. The passion is still there. My values have not changed. Both I and everyone close to me has come to know that being a radical youth liberationist will always be an important core part of who I am. This will not change even if one day I become a parent. It will not change as I age. And perhaps most rewarding of all for me has been seeing the transformations of some of the people around me as I have shared my message with them.
Alexander R. Cohen and I. Alexander has taught me so much about what it means to be an activist, an intellectual, a philosopher, an academic, and a radical youth liberationist. You can follow his Facebook page to learn all about his values and interests as a philosopher-journalist-activist and to read his opinion pieces on hot topics ranging from youth rights to immigration to guns to business rights.

   My mother has always been a highly ethical person and a person who deeply loves children. She was widely regarded during her teaching career as one of the best educators in her entire public PreK-12 school. (She has recently retired after devoting a lifetime to educating elementary school aged youth.) During the course of almost my entire lifetime she taught first grade at Baker School in Baker, Florida, the tiny rural Southern town in which I grew up. In fact, she was my first grade teacher. She combined a great deal of compassion and love for her students with an intense work ethic, boundless creativity, and a keen expertise in pedagogy. She understood how very young youth learn, how they think, and how they begin to mature developmentally. Introducing her to youth liberation theory and watching her become more sympathetic to these ideas and gain a greater understanding of the need for a radical youth rights movement has made me even prouder of my mother than I already was. I have also introduced some of my philosophy professors to youth liberation theory over the course of my studies. I do not know if I have converted all of these bright people into staunch child libbers, but I am proud that I have exposed them to new ways of thinking about the relationship between adults and young people and I hope that I have challenged them to perhaps be more ethical and less dismissive towards the capacities and need for autonomy of the youth in their lives.
Mama and me. She baptized me, she taught me how to read and write, and she has taught me a lot of life lessons over the years. Now I'm teaching her youth liberation theory and while she's not yet on board with all of the most radical stuff, she grows more radical by the day.

   Youth liberationism, like feminism, has to show in the way that one lives one's life. Andrea Dworkin and John Stoltenberg lived feminism. I aspire to live youth liberation. Growing up in the church, I would hear folks say to one another "You are the only Bible that some people will ever read." As a youth liberationist, I have adapted this to "You are the only Birthrights that some people will ever read." In fact, I would imagine that for most of the people that I interact with, I am their sole point of contact with the youth liberation movement. This comes with a lot of responsibility and I take it very seriously. I can't associate with people that hit their children. If you post a meme on Facebook about how your child needs to meet a belt, I'm going to unfriend you and I'm also going to make sure that you know why I did it. When people post private information about their children on Facebook without their children's permission, I cannot condone that and I am willing to lose friends over it. When someone casually mentions that they like to snoop through their children's things or that they keep important and personally pertinent information from their children, I have an obligation to make it known that I do not condone this even if I am not in a position to directly change things. If I say nothing, it can be interpreted as tacit approval and someone will get the idea that even their radical youth liberationist friend thinks that what they are doing is okay. I've learned to say things in a way that hopefully does not come across as alienating or disrespectful, but I also keep to the truth that it is absolutely imperative for me to say something in most of these sorts of situations.
Me at the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) Annual Meeting held at the University of Maryland back in 2011 where I was elected to the Board of Directors of the organization. I served for a year. I had a lot of struggles with some of the other leadership of the organization who did not share my approach to activism, but my time in NYRA ultimately allowed me to meet a number of wonderful people that remain great friends, confidants, interlocutors, and co-conspirators to this day. In this photograph are Katrina Moncure and, on either side of me, Usiel Phoenix and Nigel Jones. Both Usi and Nigel became good friends and also taught me a great deal about youth liberation too. It was nice to have some fellow queers in the struggle with me and as was the case for me, their queerness informed their approach to youth rights activism and theory.

   When I applied to Ph.D programs this cycle, I could have chosen to write on any number of topics. Writing on a currently trendy topic in philosophy may have helped my chances of getting into a top program, but it would have come at the cost of my personal mission and sense of integrity. I went into academia because I care about helping to spread important ideas and no idea is more important to me than youth liberation. If a program does not want me as a radical youth liberationist doing work on this vital issue, then that is not the program for me. I see academia as my way of making a difference and contributing something of value to society. Some social movements probably have too much theory and too little concrete political action. Where youth liberation is concerned, we are still at the stage where theory is necessary to help people to understand a.) that something is wrong, b.) what it is that is wrong, c.) that it is possible to right the wrong, and d.) how we can begin to go about righting the wrong. One major problem that I saw during my time on the NYRA Board was how a lack of theoretical grounding made taking effective political action against ageism more difficult than it otherwise would have been. When you're theory-phobic, perhaps rallying around the cause of trying to get people under the age of eighteen admitted to a local junkyard seems like a good use of activist energy, but when one theorizes the ways that guardianship, minor status, legal age restrictions, compulsory education, and prejudicial cultural attitudes towards youth form an interlocking nexus of oppression that also intersects with sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, cissexism, monosexism, sizeism, ableism, colorism, lookism, predatory capitalism, medical paternalism, state oppression, and authoritarianism more generally, it should be clear that our finite activist energies are better spent elsewhere.

Me at the graduation ceremony where I received my Master of Arts degree in Philosophy from San Francisco State University in 2016. I entered philosophy and academia in no small part because I wanted to theorize youth liberation for a larger audience. While at SFSU, I wrote my MA thesis on youth liberation. My thesis committee chair told me that I had introduced him to a whole new world of theory and activism through my work. 
   The youth liberation movement has introduced me to so many wonderful people who have changed my life for the better. In particular, Alexander R. Cohen and Samantha Godwin taught me a great deal about what it means to be a youth liberationist, a philosopher, an activist, and an academic. Katrina Moncure has gifted me with her friendship and has been a wonderful co-conspirator to bounce ideas off of when I am thinking and writing about ageism and related issues. Shain Neumeier is a great friend who has also taught me a great deal about the intersection of ageism and ableism. Because of Shain, I am a much better philosopher than I would otherwise be when it comes to theorizing that particularly fertile and yet fraught ground. Gibson Katz and I have practically grown up together since we first became friends when he was a middle school student in his early teens and I was in my early twenties studying public administration at American University. Now he's a young adult off at college and I'm in my thirties looking at Ph.D programs. William Gillis has taught me so much about anarchism through a youth liberationist lens. Abel Magana has introduced my work to others and introduced me to opportunities to publish it that I otherwise would not have had. I am honored and humbled by Ayman Eckford's work translating my writing on youth rights topics into Russian and sharing it with the youth liberation movement of Russia. There are so many other amazing individuals, more than I can list here, that have made a difference in my life as a youth liberationist, but I want all of them to know that I see and appreciate all of their contributions.

Shain Neumeier and I. A wonderful friend and a great role model in so many ways. A fierce advocate for justice who has taught me so much about the intersection of ageism and ableism. Shain is an attorney who currently runs their own law firm which specializes in youth, elder, and disability rights legal issues such as supporting the rights of minors to make their own medical decisions even when their legal guardians object and helping disabled adults fight guardianship arrangements, institutionalization, and nursing home placements. I'm ridiculously proud of the work that Shain does every day to help oppressed individuals to resist paternalism, marginalization, dehumanization, and authoritarianism in their own lives. 
   So where does that leave us in terms of the overarching theme of this blog post - youth liberationism as a personal commitment? For me, it means that I am going to try to post more regularly on the blog here and I may bring back the Weekly Roundup as a good way to collect all of the important youth rights related stories that I come across in the course of a week in one place. I am additionally exploring other new avenues to spread youth liberationist ideas, although I am not in a position to publicly speak about details at this time. I also want to challenge all of you to make youth liberationism more of a core part of your identity and your way of life. For parents and teachers, it means in part holding oneself to the highest of ethical standards in dealing with the youth in one's care and working to foster their autonomy first and foremost. For all of us, it means making sure that others know our youth liberationist commitments, not laughing along at an ageist joke or cooperating in someone's attempts to belittle or oppress their children. Maybe it means saying or doing something even when it's uncomfortable or could risk rupturing adult relationships. Before he went completely off the deep end, Tim Wise spoke of his anti-racist activism as a white man on behalf of people of color in terms of "speaking treason fluently." Adult youth liberationists need to get comfortable with this stance. For us adults, youth liberationism also entails being a positive, affirming presence for the young people in our lives. In some cases, it may mean finding opportunities to support young people in our communities and to be of service to them. I have sometimes contemplated what a difference it would make if every serious, competent, committed youth liberationist I know volunteered to become a guardian ad litem. Being a youth liberationist means bringing youth liberationist values to every institution we encounter and to every role that we inhabit. We don't take these values off and on and we don't allow these roles and institutions to diminish our commitment to them.

Protesting the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), an abusive institution where Autistic and other neurodivergent youth and adults are subjected to electric shock and other forms of torture, outside of a government building with Shain as well as my best friend of over twelve years Patrick T. Ayers (who still doesn't really get this youth rights stuff despite my near constant efforts to educate him) and Shain's partner and fellow activist and youth liberationist Lydia Brown. Lydia is an attorney, writer, organizer, public speaker, and activist friend of mine who has taught me a lot by example about activism through their work on behalf of youth, disabled people, people of color, queer and trans people, women, non-binary people, poor people, and other often marginalized groups of folks. You can get a taste for Lydia's brand of activism by checking out their Autistic Hoya blog. The legal structure of guardianship allows injustices like those that are still happening daily at the Judge Rotenberg Center to take place. Without guardianship and the notion of minors and some disabled adults as the quasi-property of their parents that it inscribes into law, there would be no JRC. Without profound degrees of ageist and ableist thinking in our society, there would be no guardianship as it currently exists.
   As for the young people reading this blog post who are committed to youth liberation, I don't think that it is my place to lecture them as to what their youth liberation activism should look like. The only advice I would give to them is to find a way to make sure to remember the indignities and everyday oppressions of youth so that you can look back on them when you are older and to think critically about how these injustices continue to reverberate throughout both society as a whole and individual lives. All of the effects of youth oppression and growing up in a profoundly ageist society do not immediately end when one turns eighteen or twenty-one years of age even if some of the most unjust and degrading aspects of minority are no longer a fact of life. Some people believe that being concerned with ageism is a phase that children and adolescents go through and then grow out of. Insofar as this may be true in some cases, it is not due to a sudden rise in maturity on the part of the formerly oppressed young as they age. It is because the problems posed by being a young person in an ageist society cease to be as keenly felt as one comes to be afforded the rights and privileges associated with adulthood and as time goes on, other more seemingly immediate concerns may take the place of  one's initial concerns in reference to ageism. One may even find that one benefits from their newfound place of privilege within the ageist hierarchy, particularly if one is a parent or a teacher. However, that does not mean that the injustices which initially troubled one were not painful or wrong. And discounting the importance of youth liberation as an activist cause as one ages is ultimately short-sighted when one stops to take note of all of the ways in which youth oppression contributes to almost every other major problem in our society from sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and racism to an easy acceptance of authoritarian and paternalistic government policies to an entire cohort of American adults raised by American parents and educated in American schools who felt that electing an ill informed, authoritarian, bigoted, lying, cheating, treasonous, absurdly unqualified con man to the American presidency was obviously a great idea.
Katrina Moncure and I. It's not easy being a youth liberationist sometimes and I would go crazy without her. She served on the NYRA Board of Directors for many years prior to meeting me and then for a few years after the year that I had served on it too. For years she moderated NYRA's online forums among other roles. She currently blogs about youth rights issues on her own personal blog, Sure, Why Not? and runs the I Support Youth Rights Facebook page, a great resource for anyone interested in exploring youth liberation theory in more depth.
   Our movement is growing but it is still a small movement. For this reason, how we conduct ourselves as individuals in public and in private is important for the example that it sets. We have to hold ourselves and each other accountable. Nonetheless, I have found taking up this cause to be immeasurably rewarding. Perhaps I picked a hard row to hoe, as the old saying goes, in committing myself to youth liberationism and hitching my fortunes to those of this cause, but I cannot imagine deciding to do anything else. Youth liberationism is something to be proud of and I am grateful to God that I found this movement and have been able to dedicate myself to making the mission of youth liberation a core part of my life's work. I would invite everyone reading this blog post to find a way to make youth liberation a more personal commitment in their own lives in whatever form that may take for them.  

Listening and learning with a critical ear at the NYRA Annual Meeting in 2011. Katrina sits next to me. A youth liberationist's work is never done.

   Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog post are solely my own. I do not speak for anyone else who is named here or whose photograph appears here.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ageism and the Discourses of School Safety

   The aftermath of the mass shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 could provide enough material to teach an entire course on how ageist anti-youth discourses and practices operate in American society. As someone who writes and thinks about these topics a great deal, I think that I can say that I have never before seen so many pertinent examples of how anti-youth ageism operates playing out on the national stage in such a short span of time. The purpose of this blog post is not to make an argument about gun control but to walk the reader through the ways in which ageism against youth has operated at every turn in the way that politicians, pundits, and many citizens have responded to both the tragedy of the mass shooting and the wave of youth initiated gun control activism that has begun to occur in its wake.

   To start with, one must first understand the rise in school shootings in the context of the increasingly punitive and carceral culture of America's K-12 schools. For instance, Mark Ames argues in his book Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond that school shootings can best be understood as "modern day slave rebellions." While this thesis may seem to ignore some inconvenient truths about mass shootings (i.e. the fact that they increasingly take place in malls, movie theaters, universities, etc., the obvious psychological problems and lack of empathy of so many of the mass shooters, the fact that the shooters often inflict violence indiscriminately instead of just inflicting it on oppressive authority figures), it is worth engaging with Ames's ideas in order to better appreciate how this culture of excessive focus on discipline and ageist oppression in American K-12 schools may be received by already troubled individuals, thus precipitating the sorts of tragedies we observe all too frequently when a gunman shoots up a school. Unlike Ames, I do not see mass shooters as perfectly analogous to slaves rising up against their owners. These individuals are no heroes and are rightly regarded as pariahs. However, I do think that the often authoritarian and punitive culture of American K-12 education (as documented powerfully by director Cevin Soling in his documentary film The War on Kids) may play a role in at least some school shootings.

   As Soling's excellent film documents, zero tolerance policies (instituted in part in response to concerns about gun violence in the 1990s) in schools that were initially instituted to crack down on hard drugs and dangerous weapons soon morphed into an excuse for the most authoritarian of school personnel to begin treating students like prisoners. Lenore Skenazy of Reason Magazine documents some of the most egregious examples of how these policies operate. A student is suspended for bringing a knife to school in order to cut an apple. A seventy-nine-year-old substitute teacher is fired for having students as friends on Facebook. A student receives detention for sharing their lunch. Our schools increasingly operate more and more like warehouses for inmates than like communities in which learning takes place. It is not difficult to see how the increasingly draconian logic of American K-12 educational institutions could operate so as to further distress already troubled young people, in some cases with tragic results.

   For many years now, activists concerned with the welfare of students of color and students with disabilities have attempted to draw our attention to the so-called "school to prison pipeline" and the ways in which it all too often sets youth up for a life of control under the thumb of the carceral state. What has perhaps been less remarked upon but is equally important is the ways in which spending so much of their lives in an increasingly regimented and oppressive institution wreaks havoc on the psyches of students, some of whom ultimately lash out in violent ways with devastating results.

   Moving on from the school shootings themselves, we also see ageism at work in the ways in which the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were received by many adults as soon as they began to speak out. These were bright, articulate young people who had just survived a traumatic attack that had injured some of them and left others of them without friends and mentors that had previously been a vital presence in their lives. They said the same things that so many survivors of and individuals impacted by mass shootings have said such as the parents of the elementary school students murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, the survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, and survivors of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting.

   Nonetheless, because these specific traumatized yet resilient survivor-activists were teenagers many commentators felt that it was necessary to put them in their place as recalcitrant children in need of discipline, giving all of us a parade of examples of adult authoritarianism at its worst. Dinesh D'Souza (who at one time arguably occupied the role of conservative intellectual but is now best understood as an increasingly unhinged right wing troll) glibly tweeted out that students upset by the news that the Florida House of Representatives would not open a debate on legislation banning assault weapons had received "the worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs." Former Georgia Republican Representative Jack Kingston seemed to see these grieving activists as pawns of some larger force, stating, "Do we really think seventeen-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?" Disgraced former Fox News television personality Bill O'Reilly also weighed in, asking "Should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?"

   When you are an adult who has survived a traumatic event or lost a child in a national tragedy, your proximity to atrocity renders you more credible in the eyes of others when you speak out about the issues surrounding your loss or your trauma. Even those who ultimately disagree with the positions that you may take on political issues in response to these events respect your grief, your outrage, your terror, your courage, your witness, and simply your right to an opinion as someone close to that about which you speak. When you are a teenager, your voice can be easily silenced and your views can be cheaply discounted because you are ostensibly too emotional, too immature, too suggestible to have anything to say worth listening to.

   It would be awful enough if the ageism on display in the midst of this national tragedy simply involved a few third rate right wing pundits making ill conceived comments but alas ageism is even baked into the more arguably well-meaning attempts to respond to this tragedy and the wider epidemic of gun violence plaguing our nation. In a rush to appear as if he was doing something while still avoiding giving offense to those proponents of gun rights that make up part of his base within the Republican Party, Florida Governor Rick Scott proposed a plan endeavoring, among other things, to put a police office in every Florida K-12 public school and to allocate one officer per every one thousand students by the 2018 school year, to increase funding for the installation of metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and steel doors in schools, and to pass a law requiring all purchasers of firearms in Florida to be over the age of twenty-one years. President Donald Trump tweeted out his support for the prospect of arming teachers. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio also spoke of his support for new age restrictions on the purchase of firearms.

   As is so often the case in American life whether the issue is guns, abortion, tobacco, alcohol, pornography, marijuana, violent media, or any other hot button topic, compromises are made on the backs of young people, already a disempowered group of individuals with little power over the formal political processes that govern all of our lives and in many important respects almost as little power over their own individual lives. Age restrictions are put forward as solutions not because they prevent bad things from happening but because politicians are unable or unwilling to restrict the rights of those who are not currently already marginalized due to their age.

   In the context of a widespread and ongoing national discussion of the ways in which K-12 educators are all too often quick to see students of color and students with disabilities as disciplinary problems compared to white, non-disabled students and of the ways in which police officers are all too often responsible for unjustly killing and injuring citizens, it seems foolhardy at best and malicious at worst to put forward the idea of armed teachers and more law enforcement officials in schools as a solution to our nation's problems with gun violence. As Vann R. Newkirk II notes in The Atlantic, the Second Amendment enshrines the individual right to bear arms in the United States Constitution out of a concern with personal liberty which "hardening" schools with armed personnel only serves to undermine. This "security theater" may ultimately do little to prevent gun violence in schools (which was certainly the case in the Parkland shooting itself as the school's armed police officer refused to enter the school and engage with the gunman when the shooting began), but it does have consequences for students. In the words of journalist and expert on criminal justice and civil liberties Radley Balko, "There's little data to suggest putting cops in schools has made the students at these schools safer. The students are, however, more likely to be Tased, beaten, body-slammed, and arrested for misbehavior that previously resulted in detention or suspension." A cycle that any youth liberationist and many youth are all too familiar with plays out once again... authoritarian efforts to "protect" children and adolescents ultimately further endanger them, often in ways beyond the imaginings of those who initially put in place those measures designed to "protect" them. 

   This brings us to perhaps the grossest display of adult authoritarianism on display in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings which is how many teachers and administrators have responded to student activists in the wake of the tragedy. Student activists are being penalized for making their voices heard and disciplined for showing a sense of civic duty and concern for national affairs. Tessa Haraldsen and Mariah Skolinsky of Sebastian River Middle School in Indian River County, Florida were penalized for participating in the nationwide walkout and suspended from school, removed from all extracurricular activities, and not allowed to attend an upcoming school dance. Haraldsen in particular expressed confusion over why a teacher who praised civil rights activists in the classroom was quick to discipline her for her own gestures of protest on issues of national importance. Needville, Texas's Independent School District Superintendent Curtis Rhodes sent out a letter to parents of students stating that any student participating in walkouts would be suspended. As always, for many teachers, administrators, and staff members of our nation's K-12 schools, the focus is less on educating students to be engaged and civic minded participants in the world around them than on disciplining, controling, and asserting authority over them.

   My mother brought my attention to a meme making its way around Facebook lately. Writes Marcey Raymond Kusper, "In class today, the topic of school protests to honor the seventeen victims of the Florida shooting came up. One of my students said 'I think it's stupid. How about you make friends with seventeen kids you normally wouldn't instead of walking out of school.' What great conversation came out of it. Smile at seventeen people you normally wouldn't smile at, say a kind word to seventeen people who might not have someone to speak to, open up your heart to seventeen people who might be hurting, offer friendship to seventeen people who might have had none. Now that could change the climate of the school. Seventeen reasons for change... Seventeen reasons to make a difference. What's your seventeen? I like that slogan. Today warmed my heart to be a teacher. #WhatsYour17." While school climate is an important issue and the aims of the walk out do not represent the politics of all students, this meme brings to light the ways in which authoritarian mentalities among teachers, administrators, and staff function within the K-12 school context.

   In the context of this meme, it is obvious that the teacher is uncomfortable with students making political demands and voicing opinions on political issues and so she takes comfort in hearing a student stating that the walkout is "stupid." Walking out of the classroom, making political statements, engaging in political acts is deemed a challenge to her authority so she would rather students "smile" at one another and "open their hearts." What makes this even more laughable still is that this call for kindness comes amidst the backdrop of calls to "harden" schools, arm teachers, crack down on ostensibly inappropriate interactions between teachers and students, and make schools more like prisons.

   We need a youth liberation movement that challenges all of the ageist logic that has been on display over the course of the past few weeks as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School grapple with their personal and collective tragedies and as young people across the nation are beginning to find their political voice. In the wake of this tragedy, it has been heartening to see so many youth exhibiting a newfound boldness in challenging authority figures that I for one lacked at their age. It has also been heartening to see many adults, including former President Barack Obama, voicing their support for these youths' right to take a stand and make their voices heard. However, I hope that these same adults are there to support the right of youth to speak out not just when they're speaking out for a cause that these adults have long supported, but when they are taking a stand for their rights more generally - their right to vote, to make their own medical decisions, to make their own decisions about where they live and who they live with, to make their own decisions about all aspects of their lives, their bodies, and their futures. Ultimately I want to see more adults recognizing the rights of young people to take ownership of both their own lives and to participate in the national and international conversations surrounding political issues that effect us all.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Youth Oppression, Popular Culture, and 1980s Nostalgia

   Recently I saw the movie It and it struck me just how far we as a culture have fallen in terms of honoring and allowing for youth autonomy. I have never really been struck by the 1980s nostalgia wave like some millennials seem to be. Perhaps it is because I was born in the late 1980s and so my childhood was largely colored by the tropes and trials of the 1990s. But the outpouring of love that millennials who were too young to experience the 1980s heap on movies like It and shows like Stranger Things leads me to believe that something else may be at work as well.

   Perhaps all of this nostalgia for the 1980s (as depicted in the popular culture) is a sign of a repressed yearning for the sort of wild childhood that most of us never had but desperately wanted. We all wanted to grow up in the sort of world where youth had spontaneous adventures that were not micromanaged by adults. Much as humanity longs to return to a mythical Garden of Eden that surely existed in the past even if no one has ever experienced it, younger millennials long for a time before permission slips, zero tolerance policies, hall passes, curfew laws, and a general culture of fear and anguish around unaccompanied minors robbed them of their ability to create meaningful worlds with other youth without the ubiquitous presence of adult gatekeepers and chaperones.

   You can see this impulse at work as well in the excitement which Game of Thrones fans express in reference to the character of young Lyanna Mormont. Lyanna is the head of the House Mormont, a title which she took on at ten years of age. Her house's sigil is the bear and Lyanna lives on Bear Island. She is portrayed in the show as a competent, wise, and brave leader who calls the shots militarily in the context of an always threatening world of war, winter, and intrigue. Game of Thrones fans love Lyanna partially because she is such a striking emblem of youth empowerment. The same can be said for other fan favorites on the show such as Bran, Sansa, Arya, and Shireen - the show being known and lauded among fans for its depictions of strong youth characters.

   It is oftentimes instructive to look towards the popular culture that is most resonant at any given time for clues to elements of the zeitgeist that one may otherwise miss for lack of an obvious cultural calling card. I for one have long thought that Americans' increasing cynicism regarding the political establishment could have been predicted long before Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz learned this lesson at the hands of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders simply by noting the popularity of Veep, House of Cards, and Scandal - shows in which the president and those around him or her are depicted as venal, corrupt, self-interested, and vain. On a similar note, I think that the popularity among adults of shows featuring strong and empowered young characters speaks to both a sense of regret about our own childhoods and anxiety surrounding the way that we continue to raise our children today.