The Universal Notebook: Fear of children

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Having come of age during the youth movement of the 1960s, I keep wondering when the Children’s Crusade is finally going to occur. When will minors achieve their independence and Constitutional rights?

Probably no time soon, as fewer young people these days seem aware that they are an oppressed minority.

When I saw that the warped Maine Republican Party platform featured a plank calling for the GOP to “Reject the U.N. Treaty on Rights of the Child,” I confess I was unaware of what social conservatives find so abhorrent about the document, aside from the fact that they regard the United Nations as a sinister plot to install a one-world government. So I read what is actually known as the “U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child” and several conservative websites attacking it.

Tea Party conservatives say what they fear is that the government will take control of their children, usurping parental rights. But it seems to me that what they really fear is that the government will liberate their children, granting them the freedoms, among other things, to express themselves and to decide for themselves what they believe. Social conservatives also fear that they will no longer be allowed to spank their children. Spare the rod, spoil the child, they say. Use the rod, go to jail, I say. No one has the right to strike a child, or anyone else for that matter.

Since its adoption in 1989, every member of the United Nations has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child except Somalia and the United States. Does that tell you anything about our archaic perspective on childhood?

In general, I’d have to say that Americans are afraid of children. Even in The Forecaster suburbs, where we all live because the communities are safe and the schools are good, we see glimpses of this fear. At least that was my reading of the recent Falmouth-Greely senior prank incident, in which enterprising seniors from Falmouth High School and Greely High School decided to swap schools for a day. The Greely students who showed up at Falmouth High were greeted cordially by the principal; the Falmouth students who showed up at Greely High in Cumberland were greeted by police.

There is certainly a legitimate argument to be made for maintaining the security of a school by not allowing unauthorized visitors. But what the Falmouth principal saw as a teachable moment, the Greely principal seemed to see as a threat. Where one saw a harmless prank, the other saw a potential Columbine. We have subsequently learned that there is something of a bunker mentality at Greely, one in which recent graduates returning to visit favorite teachers have been denied access to the school. What are they afraid of? Students.

All of our schools give lip-service to being student-centered, but few actually are. Most schools are organized for the convenience of the adults who run them. When and if the Children’s Crusade does come, students will have an equal say in the development of curricula, standards, assessments, education budgets and the rules that govern their schools.

A scary thought for a lot of adult control freaks, but it needs to happen.

Sidebar Elements

The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.