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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.      

Thursday, April 16, 2015

We Live In A Deeply Oppressive Dystopia But It Isn't A "Parenting Police State"

Image description: A white sign featuring a red triangle. In the center of the triangle are the black silhouettes of a male and female youth holding hands. The caption beneath the triangle reads "Free range children."

   Recently The Washington Post published a story which has been getting a great deal of attention as of late. Entitled "'Free-Range' Kids And Our Parenting Police State," the article by Petula Dvorak focuses primarily on the case of two youth - siblings aged six and ten years respectively - who were picked up by police officers in Montgomery County, Maryland and held in police custody for hours because they were out walking about two and a half blocks from home without adult supervision. Due to this incident, the parents of the two young people were forced to appear in court and were eventually even found guilty of "unsubstantiated child neglect." As far as this incident goes, these parents and these youth deserve our sympathy and our solidarity as well as our outrage at the horrible ordeal which they were all forced to endure. The Montgomery County Police Department and the county's judicial system deserve our condemnation for it.

   By referring to a "parenting police state" in the article and its title, Dvorak was undoubtedly intending to evoke the bizarre and dystopian aspects of this situation and this impulse is no doubt one which we all ought to endorse as far as it goes. However, this phrase fundamentally misconstrues the true nature of social, cultural, and political problem at the heart of this incident and other incidents like it and in so doing, makes it more difficult for us to understand and thereby combat these injustices for the benefit of youth and parents alike. Parents, even when grievously harmed as the parents in this incident no doubt were, are not the primary targets in the vast network of laws, discourses, customs, social norms, ideas, and practices which have led to a situation in the contemporary United States in which it is not all that unfathomable for two young people to be picked up and detained for hours by police for being in public without adult supervision a few block from their home and for their parents to have to appear in court due to this incident and to be found guilty of child neglect when they do so. The targets of this network of laws, discourses, customs, social norms, ideas, and practices are young people themselves. The recognition of this reality is not in any way intended to detract from the very real suffering and injustice experienced by the parents in this situation and others situations like it. However, by framing this injustice primarily in terms of its negative effects on parents, Dvorak makes it harder for anyone aware of the incident to understand it because the motives and discourses which make such an event intelligible are obscured.

   The latter part of the twentieth century and the earliest part of the twenty-first century in the United States may well be remembered later in human history as the era in which the world became an increasingly closed and oppressive place for young people. During this period of time, the notion that young people require constant adult supervision and that it is inappropriate for young people to ever occupy public space without an adult escort present to surveil them has gone from being virtually unheard of to taken for granted by American adults and youth alike across a variety of demographic lines. The same impulses driving the laws and attitudes which have created so much hardship for the family profiled in Dvorak's article are also at work in a constellation of discourses and practices which define what it means to be a young person or a parent today including but certainly not limited to school zero tolerance policies, developmental psychology, age-based curfew laws, and movie, videogame, and television ratings based on age. These discourses and practices do not exist for the purpose of subordinating parents qua parents. On the contrary, despite the fact that individual adults and individual parents may oppose some of these restrictions on young people, these discourses and practices are the products of the efforts of adults (including parents) as a political class to subordinate young people as a political class. Adults, in particular parents and teachers opposed to these discourses and practices, may be harmed when they attempt to act on this opposition but from the perspective of this network of ideas and the regulations targeting youth which these ideas support, these adults are something akin to collateral damage. Adults in these incidents are not punished qua adults or qua parents but as traitors to adults and/or parents as a political class who dare to defy commonly held social expectations that young people must be kept, to the greatest extent possible, under the thumb of adult control.

   No two social systems of oppression are the same but there do tend to be common impulses undergirding them. One of the main ways in which almost every type of oppression operates is to place burdensome restrictions on the right and/or ability of members of the oppressed class to appear in public. From the infamous "ugly laws" of the late 1800s and early 1900s targeting Americans with disabilities to the legal restrictions placed on contemporary Saudi Arabian women to prevent them from appearing in public without a male guardian to the anti-African-American Jim Crow laws of the antebellum American South, marking certain classes of allegedly inferior persons as unfit to appear in public is a common tactic used by oppressor classes against oppressed classes. Whether the rationale be phrased in terms of protecting members of the oppressed class (as in the Saudi case) or in terms of protecting the rest of the public from members of the oppressed class (as in the case of Jim Crow), the message is that members of the oppressed class do not belong in the public sphere with the rest of us. (Interestingly, both rationales tend to be used in attempting to justify ageist restrictions which attempt to remove youth from public space. The former discourse tends to be used more often in reference to the youngest youth while the latter discourse tends to be used more often in reference to preteen and teenage youth.) Indeed, it is true that there is a group of people in our country who live in a deeply oppressive dystopia of sorts but that class is not defined in reference to one's status as a parent. It is defined in reference to one's youth.

   In order to show why it is that the notion of a "parenting police state" is something of a red herring in this discussion, it makes sense to look not only at those situations in which parents find themselves harmed qua parents due to certain attitudes and actions but also to explore situations in which parents qua parents are allowed to get away with what strikes most reasonable people in our culture as highly questionable behavior. How can we explain the fact that parents can find themselves in legal trouble for allowing their minor children to be seen unsupervised in public a couple of blocks from home but that many American parents can avoid outside interference when they deny their children medical care under the flimsiest of religious pretenses or pull them out of school to brainwash them into support for a white supremacist cult (to take two especially egregious but not uncommon examples)? Clearly something else is at work here apart from a social obsession with policing the conduct of parents. That something is ageism directed towards youth. In a true "parenting police state" miscarriages of justice like that in Maryland may unfortunately continue to occur but you probably would not also be allowed to get away with abusing and/or oppressing your child in some of the most egregious ways of which we are aware in our culture by doing things which most adults in our society correctly consider to be examples of terrible parenting. However, if we understand both sides of the coin as instances of systemic ageist oppression directed at young people then all of these things begin to make a lot more sense.

   Petula Dvorak is to be commended for helping to start a public dialogue on these issues. I am glad that she wrote and published the article to which this blog post refers. However, by ending her analysis with the superficial notion of the "parenting police state" Dvorak makes it difficult to truly understand the phenomenon which she so rightly opposes and seeks to shed light on. We need a youth liberationist theoretical framework to accomplish this task so that we may begin to really undo the harm caused by the sorts of situations which Dvorak so passionately and right-thinkingly draws attention to in her article.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Problem with the Ideology of Unschooling

   The ideas expressed in this post have been germinating in my mind for perhaps a little over a year now. In this post, I aim to provide a constructive critique of many of the assumptions that I see guiding many members of the unschooling community and how I feel that some of these assumptions are problematic not so much for reasons frequently found in the mainstream of education policy and parenting discourse but from a solidly and radically youth rights perspective as well. It is within this spirit that I ask the reader to engage with this post. In other words, the things I find problematic about the ideology of much of the unschooling movement I find problematic mostly on youth rights grounds. I do not find the elements of unschooling ideology I set out to critique problematic because I fear that they are too radically pro-youth liberation or for reasons of political expediency. In fact, in my experience most unschooling parents are far more conservative youth rights advocates, if they are youth rights advocates at all, than I try to be. Rather, I fear that elements of unschooling ideology stand to disempower or even endanger young people in ways that youth rights supporters by definition oppose.

   First of all, the idea of unschooling gives parents tremendous control over their children's lives. For all of their problematic aspects, most traditional educational institutions allow young people something of a scope of autonomy (however limited) beyond the reach of their immediate families and they also provide youth with exposure to people of diverse backgrounds and belief systems of the sort whom their parents may not associate with. Unschooling gives parents far more power and control over their children than the traditional division between school and home allots to either parents or school personnel. Unschooling parents have far greater power to surveil their children than they would if the child was spending time away from the parent at school. Furthermore, it is difficult for a young person who spends virtually all of her time around her parents (or those people the parents both know and explicitly endorse the child associating with) to develop a strong sense of independence, identity, and autonomy. Most disturbingly of all, unschooling gives the most dangerous parents even more scope for abuse of their authority whether it involves indoctrinating their child into questionable political or religious beliefs or allowing sexual, emotional, or physical abuse to occur with impunity. With no adults in a child's life besides those handpicked by the parent, it's much easier for serious violations of young people's rights to occur at the hands of the parents themselves.

   Secondly, it is important to note that some young people enjoy school and many more would enjoy it were the most oppressive aspects of the traditional K-12 schooling experience done away with. In the contemporary United States, very few young people have any choice in where they go to school and what they study there. Everything from talking without permission (even outside the classroom) to wearing certain items of clothing to using the restroom without permission to carrying necessary medications in one's purse to self-defense of one's person are prohibited for most youth and oftentimes these things result in harsh punishments with little due process. Even in a society in which young people were completely liberated, many youth would choose to attend school for the same reasons many adults pursue careers as scholars. By presenting a version of educational choices in which the options are either unschooling or schooling in its present form, unschooling advocates often demonstrate their inability to imagine a system in which school could be a far better and less oppressive place for the youth that did want to be there. This is concerning for philosophical reasons, but also for practical ones. Many individuals advocating for unschooling refuse to help work towards policies which would make schools more just.

   Up until this point, most of my objections towards unschooling could not be said to apply to free schools. While these schools do not follow a set curriculum and simply allow young people to learn and play at their own pace, they provide a scope for youth autonomy outside the parental gaze and could be said to provide a third way between unschooling and traditional schooling. However, the final criticism of unschooling I about about to expound upon could be said to apply equally to free schools and unschooling. In a less direct but still extremely important way, it is a criticism grounded in youth rights concerns and the value of youth autonomy.

   I once knew a man who had attended a traditional private school until dropping out and attending a free school in his late teens. While he greatly enjoyed the experience, he once related to me the tale of a young man he had known in his free schooling days who had attended the school from early childhood on. While the man I knew raved about his free schooling experience he told me that his friend felt less positively towards the free schooling philosophy because he could not read until he was twelve years old despite having no learning disabilities or other circumstances which would possibly delay a young person in another sort of schooling environment in acquiring literacy skills. While some might reply "But this young man learned to read eventually!" and be satisfied with that, I myself continue to be concerned about this aspect of unschooling and free schooling.

   As a supporter of youth liberation I, like all of us committed to this philosophy, want to create a world in which young people are more free than they currently are to manage their own affairs and participate in important community decision-making. If we are serious about young people having a greater scope of autonomy in voting, making medical decisions, managing their own finances, practicing a religion of their choice (or not), advocating for their rights within the legal system, and participating in other things which a youth liberationist perspective stipulates that young people should be participating in, how are they going to be empowered to do so if many of them are not basically literate or numerate? Traditionally women, people of color, ethnic minorities, poor people, rural people, immigrants, and people with disabilities have sought greater access to educational institutions because they realized that learning to read, write, add, and subtract would make them less powerless vis a vis more powerful groups and individuals in their lives. Why do we think that not accessing these same institutions and the knowledge they have to offer is going to make an already disempowered group more able to represent their own interests individually and collectively?

   I would like to close this piece by saying that I do oppose compulsory education and I believe that unschooling, home schooling, and free schooling are the right choice for many youth. I also believe that these options have both advantages and disadvantages vis a vis the more traditional schooling framework in its contemporary form. However, I think that this is an issue we all need to be thinking and speaking more critically about. When unschooling and free schools are discussed in youth rights circles, they are almost always presented as the paradigmatic educational options that radical youth rights supporters need to rally around. I have even heard of youth who desire to attend more traditional schools spoken of by people in the movement as if they are suffering from some sort of false consciousness or as if, by wanting to learn in a traditional environment, they are somehow consenting to the most abusive and oppressive aspects of traditional K-12 schooling, even though these aspects of schooling usually have very little if anything to do with schools' pedagogic mission. (In most cases I would argue that these oppressive and abusive practices in fact undermine and even subvert schools' pedagogic mission.) I hope that this post starts a dialogue on these important issues within the youth rights movement itself. Young people, like adults, deserve a variety of educational options which respect their dignity and autonomy as well as their unique individual strengths, weaknesses, goals, and desires.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Youth Online Privacy and the Paradox of Protection

   As the Internet has grown to be a hegemonic feature of the lives of most people in the developed world, we have come to hear a great deal about the need to protect the online privacy of young people. The specter of pedophiles and others that supposedly seek to prey on children is invoked to justify yet more onerous restrictions on the right of young people to take advantage of the many positive opportunities for friendship, education, and entertainment that the Internet affords to people of all ages. These restrictions, we are told, will protect young people from potentially sharing incriminating information about themselves that could hurt them with employers, educators and admissions officers in academic programs, and others. We are also informed that these restrictions protect young people from adults (like the aforementioned child predators) or other young people (like students at their school who may wish them ill) who may seek to harm them in some way.

   Parallel to this development is another interesting trend taking place. This trend is not discussed in the same tone of public concern and outrage as that expressed by those talking about the former issues, although it is far more pervasive and I would argue more damaging in many cases to young people because it involves a breach of their trust by people they should ideally be able to rely upon. The trend to which I refer is that of parents sharing damaging and confidential information about their children online.

   The Liza Long incident, which has generated widespread public interest, is of course an extreme example. Few parents take to the web to compare their children to mass murderers. But all too many parents, including those who love their children and claim they wish to protect them, take an all too casual attitude to sharing embarrassing or even damaging personal information about their children online. Because the children have no choice in who their parents are; because they have no legal recourse to demand that these violations of their privacy cease; because many members of the public do not even acknowledge the harm accruing to these youth - I would argue that this is a far more oppressive phenomenon than the ones typically brought up when our society discusses issues of young people's online privacy.

   Much of what we see parents doing to violate their children's privacy rights does not strike us as all that problematic at first glance as it has become increasingly common due to the rise of online forums, social media websites, blogs, and the like. Nonetheless, if we attempt to see things through the eyes of the child, we would rightly find much of this appalling. No one would want pictures of them crying while getting a shot at the doctor's office, for example, shared widely on Facebook with people that are no more than mere acquaintances of their parents. No one would want people they live with and rely upon for emotional, financial, and other types of support to share anecdotes about them on a blog which paint them at their worst.

   It seems to me that our society has struck fundamentally the wrong balance when it comes to protecting young people's rights online and it is a balance that, as it stands now, has far more to do with controlling youth than with protecting young people from the most serious breaches of confidentiality and some of the most problematic types of harm. Through age restrictions on social media websites, Internet filters, and the like we impede the ability of young people to make new friends, learn new things, and derive enjoyment from the online world. At the same time, we allow parents and other adults in a child's life (some, although by no means all, teachers will take to social media websites to share unflattering information about their students) to potentially damage their children's reputations and betray their trust while we sit idly by. This is the wrong calculation.

   Social media can be a wonderful tool for parents. They can share pride in a child's accomplishments and with that child's consent, both parent and child can enjoy the positive feedback they get from friends, relatives, and others. They can help their child to keep in touch with family friends and relatives around the world who can develop a connection with the child as he or she grows up that would have been impossible in days past. All of these things are positive developments for people of all ages and this blog post is by no means an indictment of them. However, when sharing information about a child that could be potentially damaging or embarrassing or that simply divulges information the child does not want shared with whomever it is being shared with, we need to respect that boundary. We talk a lot about protecting children from random people on the Internet. Perhaps we need to talk a lot more about protecting children from their web savvy parents. Until we are willing to do so, it is obvious that we are much more interested in controlling young peoples' online interactions than we are in protecting them in any meaningful sense.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Response to "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother"

   Perhaps many of you have seen a post that has recently gone viral in the wake of the heartbreaking and senseless tragedy in Connecticut. The name of that piece is "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" and the author of the piece is self-described "anarchist soccer mom" Liza Long. (Contrary to normal policy at this blog I am not linking to this piece as I do not want to give this woman another forum to publicly bash her child and violate his privacy.) As the actual Adam Lanza's mother was killed in a horrible act of violence by her obviously troubled son, this is of course not an article that truly reflects the perspectives of the mother of a mass murderer - it is instead a relatively unknown blogger's attempt to capitalize on the tragedy that has befallen this family in order to tell a story about her own family. While it is impossible to say without knowing much about either Lanza's family or this woman's son what similarities do or do not exist between the two situations, it is obvious from a youth rights and a disability rights perspective that there is a great deal that is problematic within Long's family and a great deal of it has to do with Long herself. While it is easy for many people (especially parents) to sympathize with the perspective that Long endorses, reading the article while keeping in mind her son's perspective makes it obvious that Long's words about her son may be less than reliable.

   The essay begins with what the author dubs an "affable, reasonable" request to dictate to her son that he wear the color pants of her choosing. When her son objects to this request, a request that most adults would find bizarre and offensive if made to them under similar circumstances, he lashes out at her in a way that she uses to bolster her claim that her son is mentally ill. She then proceeds to tell her son he is "grounded from electronics" and when her attempts to dictate his in no way socially unacceptable use of his property inspire further (I would say quite reasonable) anger in him, she chalks it up once again to her son being "mentally ill."

   Before we analyze this article any further I would like my adult readers to contemplate for a moment that an arbitrary authority figure in their lives sought to dictate to them what color of clothing they could wear or when and how they could use their property in socially acceptable ways. For us, our belligerence would be deemed reasonable and appropriate but for this young man it bolster's his mother's claim that he is mentally ill. Clearly a sense of personal boundaries and a desire for self-determination is seen as a healthy sign of self-respect in adults but in young people like Michael (the name of the young man in the article) it is interpreted as a sign that he is off the deep end. (As the article continues, we even hear of the mother's taking her son to a mental hospital against his will.)

   The article continues with the mother proffering more proof of her son's supposed mental illness. Some of this, if true, is compelling. For example, she states that at one point he attempted to pull a knife on her. She also goes on to state that various psychiatric and neurodevelopmental diagnoses have been tossed around, including Autism, to ostensibly explain her son's violent outbursts. This is where we learn that the individual writing this piece is operating from a place of not only ageism but ableism.

   While it is worth noting that Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability/difference as opposed to something which makes people into mindless killers, Long states at one point that her son has a "sensitivity to sensory stimuli." This is common for many people on the Autism spectrum. I tend to think that it is quite possible that Michael is simply a bright young person trapped in an oppressive situation with a controlling mother that refuses to respect his basic autonomy, that takes away his only outlets for self-expression and letting off steam (like videogames), and that doesn't respect his needs for the kind of sensory environment that his disability may entail. In a similar situation, many of us would likely feel trapped and lash out too, perhaps even violently. Just reading this article makes it obvious that there may be more to the story than Michael being a violent, irrational lunatic as his mother portrays him to be. Certainly if my mother compared me to mass murderers and sought to impose arbitrary restrictions on my perfectly acceptable behavior, I could be reasonably expected to lash out.

   Another obvious concern is the fact that, if Michael is as troubled as his mother claims him to be, it seems highly unethical for her to be sharing his psychiatric problems with the wider public at all, especially since she is not using a pseudonym for herself. If this young man is so imbalanced that he requires the type of psychiatric help she claims that he needs, surely he cannot be helped by having his mother compare him to mass murderers to a wide internet audience of strangers. Medical and mental health professionals are bound by a code of ethics to keep their patients' medical and psychological issues private. Certainly we should ask the same of parents dealing with their children's private emotional turmoil. While I can choose my doctor or therapist and choose to interact with them as more or less a free agent, I cannot choose my parents and therefore one could argue that the moral duty upon parents to keep their children's medical and psychiatric histories private is a duty even more incumbent upon them than it is upon doctors, nurses, therapists, and the like.

   For all of this, the most damning evidence about the character and unreliability of Long comes in other posts she makes about her children, posts which have nothing to do with mental illness or the issues raised in "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother." In one post entitled "The  Room of Doom" she begins by talking about the difficulties attendant in natural childbirth. The relevance of this is at first blush hard to determine except that it gives her one more occasion to rant about the grief the four children she chose to have have brought into her life. She tells prospective parents to get a puppy instead of having children because "the puppy won't grow up to be a teenager." You see, Long doesn't wish to accommodate the needs of an autonomous human being so she would rather have a dog. She goes on to bash her son (whether the same son she speaks of in the Lanza piece or another son I could not tell). She goes through his room, attempting to throw away possessions of his that he found to be of value and then speaks ill of him for his support of President Obama. Her patronizing attitude towards her teenage son is summed up in this gem of a quote: "Liberals, by the way, are not silly. At least not the ones I know. In an election season that is already shaping up to be one of the ugliest on record, I think we all need to focus on bringing respect back to the public debate. It’s okay for reasonable people to disagree about politics, and I am grateful for the perspective my liberal friends share with me (but you’re WRONG! Big wasteful disincentivizing government is not the answer! Sorry, couldn’t resist. And yes, for the record, I stuck my tongue out). Teenagers, however, are not reasonable people." You see, because her son is a teenager nothing he has to say is of value unlike the supposed wisdom spouted by Long's adult friends.

   So, my friends, keep in mind as you look for essays and articles to help you make sense of the tragedy in Connecticut that this is not what Long is offering. She is instead a child-hater and a teenager-hater, someone whose words give one the impression she deeply resents having children and probably should not have had them, someone who does not wish to respect her growing children's autonomy, and someone whose underlying assumptions about disability are deeply problematic. She is a third rate writer and a fifth rate parent (as anyone is that publicly bashes their children on the internet) capitalizing on a tragedy in order to find a greater platform in order to bash her children some more (something she was doing long before the tragedy in Connecticut occurred). Don't give her this platform. While the Adam Lanza article touches on many important aspects of our nation's mental healthcare system (and this is definitely a conversation worth having as a society) certainly we can find a better catalyst to discuss these issues than an embittered individual who wishes to use a nation's horror at violence against children to vent her rage at her own.