writer attempting real life in the middle of everybody else's vacation

Not to coattail, but what if we ban assault weapons AND stop being contemptuous assholes to children?

My heart is broken like everybody else’s. But I’m not sure we should be so entirely stunned when an angry, ostracized loser plots misguided, twisted, sickening, unjustifiable revenge against a world he could not find a way into. To meet an immediate need, gun access reform including a ban on assault weapons seems obvious. But the long game has to include a more concerted effort to understand how we set up too many people to fail.

Power dynamics as a source of abuse is totally a conversation right now, and hoorah for that. Time is so up, right? Now how can we expand it to include children in a meaningful way? I’m reminded how mainstream our general contempt for children is when I see it in the most unexpected places, like when I read Claire Dederer’s otherwise brilliant feminist piece, “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” in The Paris Review. In it, she asks, “Am I a monster? I haven’t been accused by dozens of women of drugging and raping them. Am I a monster? I don’t beat my children. (YET.)” I felt so much WTF when I got to that part. It added absolutely nothing to the piece except to remind me that even the most progressive among us are still perfectly comfortable making child abuse jokes.

At what point do we fully move into popular culture the reality that the threat of violence is implicit in an adult/child relationship to a greater degree than in other relationships with power disparity? If your boss put out a memo that said “I haven’t raped any of you. (YET.)” how would that go over today?

Of all people, children are the most vulnerable. They have the least recourse, including against constant microaggressions toward them that help normalize a world that is contemptuous of them. I mean, what are they going to do about it? In feminism, we have words like, I don’t know, “misogyny” and “intersectionality” to help contextualize and validate what we know is real. What language do children have?

On a macro level, most of us pat ourselves on the back for resisting physical violence against children but continue, generation after generation, to raise them in a system that is emotionally violent toward them. By kindergarten, most children are prisoners (literally, legally) of an artificial system of winners and losers–a system dependent on plenty of losers to measure our winning children against. By the time they graduate from this system, the have a self-image that will color their entire lives. It feels so fucking Hunger Games to me.

Most of the time, we do a decent job of manipulating and coercing children into believing they have real choices. We reward them for every false choice to move toward what was predetermined for them. If they feel uneasy about all this, we make them feel crazy and ungrateful and tell them how lucky they are. If they persist in their resistance to sacrificing their childhood to our short-sighted, broken system, they are often ostracized, sometimes by their own family. They are among the loners and losers who fall through the cracks.

Speaking in vague terms about “mental health” is a way to escape our collective culpability. Addressing “mental health” could, after all, include one of our current best practices–drugging about 1/5th of children in traditional schools to help them believe they should fit there and that it’s really their best hope for a way forward in this world.

I say if we’re going to speak vaguely about societal failings of this nature, let’s at least say something cornball like “love is the answer” instead. Specifically, love each child enough to learn who they are and how they learn and what they need from this world in order to feel like it really is theirs, too. But that would take most of the time and energy and money that we currently dump near-blindly into a system that is perpetuated by its winners—the ones with the most power to change it.

Ban assault weapons, yes. And also work to depoliticize public education so we can have real conversations about our broken school systems and how to make them safer, healthier places for most children to be forced to exist in for all of childhood. I love that there’s a National School Walkout planned. But don’t demand short-term change, alone. Keep the conversation alive and demand that our public schools start making dramatic shifts in addressing how children really learn and grow. Less/no testing, grading, ranking, fewer bells and tight schedules of nonsense few care about, more age-mixing, more self-direction, more trust, more respect for them as already-people (as opposed to future-people), more freedom in the lives they already have so little control over. More love. Can we mandate more love? I don’t know. But we can decrease the pressure and see how young humans flourish when they’re not living in a constant state of duress.


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