Monday, October 03, 2016

A Children's Party

On my flight back from the "Digging Deeper" Play Symposium in Ithaca, NY last night, I read a depressing article about the state of Detroit's public schools in Harper's magazine written by Alexandria Neason entitled "Held Back." in which the schools have continued to crumble, close, and fail children. State government has wrested control of the school district from the community (which had previously, in its own way, been failing the children), funding continues to be woefully inadequate, facilities are falling apart, unions have been busted, and charters are largely unregulated. Parents, teachers, and students are understandably frustrated and angry, even to the point of rebellion. It was not a happy read, made even more so by my own gnawing fear that Detroit's case may be a glimpse of things to come.

At the symposium and at a meeting of the North American Adventure Play Association on Saturday evening to which I was invited by artist, designer, and author Rusty Keeler, there was a lot of talk about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which was originally adopted by the the General Assembly back in 1989 and has been signed by every member nation of the UN except the United States. We committed ourselves to pressuring the Senate to finally ratify it, but it's beyond infuriating that after more than two decades, the fundamental rights of children are still not formally acknowledged her in our nation.

I've had the opportunity to travel a lot over the past several years, meeting progressive, play-based early childhood educators and advocates from across the globe. Everyone sees the problems. Still, except in certain pockets, children have less time for play; school's are ignoring the research and instead increasingly becoming the sort of test score coal mines envisioned by the corporate "reformers" here in America; children and the things that are important to them are either political footballs that adults toss about like hot potatoes, or completely ignored as secondary issues. This is not because there aren't enough smart, energetic people working on these problems: teachers, play workers, parents, and even kids are aware that things are going in the wrong directions, but even our success (and we have had successes) seems to be of the one-step-forward-two-steps-back variety.

As I read the Harper's article, I began to feel the all too common frustration about the fact that those with deep pockets are simply better at gaming the system than we are. They know how to play the game of politics, they have access to those with their hands on the levers of power, and they, like the doomsday machines they are, are relentless in their pursuit of their aims, which are largely economic. I fear that until we get better at influencing policy, any success we have will be temporary and limited.

Some time ago, while reading an article about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who survived being shot by the Taliban for the "crime" of going to school as a girl, and who has since become perhaps the world's most effective advocate for children, I learned that she had been a part of a kind of children's shadow government in Pakistan. I don't know the details, but the idea as I understood it was that children campaign for and are elected to offices similar to those in the actual adult parliament. The body has no actual power, but serves rather as a body that can at least advise the actual government. How effective it is, I don't know, but the basic idea has stuck with me.

Maybe it's time to give children a stronger voice in governing our country. Maybe it's time for the formation of a Children's Political Party, one completely separate from the existing parties. The idea is still doughy, but I can imagine the formation of a party that elects delegates just as the Democrats and Republicans do today, the difference being that they all must be under 18. These delegates then come together at a national convention to develop a platform and run adult candidates to run for actual political office with the mandate to push for matters of importance to children. Meanwhile, the Children's Party would set up its own shadow government, with a legislative body made up of children to develop model legislation base upon the ideas and concerns of children. If nothing else, it would be an incredible education in how American democracy works.

That's as far as I've gotten, but I think there is promise in this idea. How about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts about how something like this might work.

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edblisa said...

The US will never sign it. It would mean that parents would be able to appeal "basic rights of children" issues to the Supreme Court. FERPA has been eroded and children are in real danger from the government that is supposed to protect them. We live in truly sick society and it's sad and depressing.

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

I'm sure there would be some children who would prove the exception to this rule, but I'd hope that most kids have far more important things to do with their precious childhood than to play at politics.

I've gone round and round on this issue, and what I keep coming back to is that it's the responsibility of adults to shield children from any forces that would waste their time. Kids need time to play, explore and safely experiment with the real world without interference from our broken systems. When they become adults, they might just have some better ideas on how to educate their young.

J. said...

I was a part of student government in high school and was once a student delegate to a statewide conference on government. But I don't remember any of it really educating me about the rights of children (or people in general). I think your brainstorm about a children's shadow government is filled with hope in a time when lots of people have given up hope about government. I kept hearing on the radio recently that Shimon Peres would tell young people, if you hate politics, go into politics (change it/instill it with hope from the inside, that is). As a parent to young children and a pediatric occupational therapist for students in a Bronx, NYC elementary school, I cannot afford to despair. In solidarity, TT! (Would love to hear more about that play conference you went to.)

Sandy Mitchell said...

Hi Tom - thanks for posting sad that my poor old hometown of Detroit has been abandoned, which is a crime. But the bigger crime is that as you say: "it's beyond infuriating that after more than TWO DECADES, the fundamental rights of children are still not formally acknowledged here in our nation."
You probably know about these guys already, but in case you don't... Raffi's concept of "Child Honouring" really speaks to me - I need to get my head out of academia soon and check in on his efforts to build a better world for children.
Another bright spot on the horizon is the work of Christopher Phillips, author of "The Philosophy of Childing:"
More about this later - gotta head out to Head Start!