Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thoughts on Childhood and Othering

Feministe guest blogger Roy has a post up ranting about people who say they hate children. His very good point is that making blanket statement about children themselves is othering and discriminating.

I wasn't terribly surprised to see this argument pop up in response:

My point is that childhood is a phase, not a permanent state. You cannot identify a permanent set of children and work to change their status, because they will not remain children. Children can’t be said to be discriminated against, because they aren’t permanent members of a group. Instead, they will inevitably leave that group and join the “other side.”

Pardon me while I digress for a bit.

Sophomore year of college the trustees hired a new President specifically to make financial changes. Needless to say we were not happy about a lot of them. One particular one was protested from the moment it was suggested. Candlelight vigils were held, letters were drafted and sent, etc. We were promised that this would not, in fact be one of the cuts.

Spring break comes around, and during that week - when everyone is off campus - that exact change was announced.

It's pretty typical of colleges to do this. I saw the same thing happen again at the University of Oregon when the President went back on his word and overturned a joint decision made by him and a committee of students and faculty. And he announced it during summer break. And they can get away with it because a significant percentage of the people they are screwing over changes about every four years.

Childhood, like being a college student, is a temporary stage, but the fact that children will one day be less powerless does not mean that they are not constantly screwed over the way college students are by their administrators. The temporariness of childhood is part of what makes abuse - both large and small - so heart-breakingly constant. It's certainly not a reason to fail to see a pattern in the abuse.

And the way our culture often treats children - especially once they've grown past the cute stage - is very much abuse.

My supervisor asked me just the other day if (in the near future when we have money for another person) I would consider dropping the children part of Youth specialist and concentrate just on teens.

I have to admit I was a little floored. I tend to feel like I'm drowning when I deal with the teens. I never liked being one, I never liked my peers when I was one, and I rarely feel like I understand them the way that I understand the younger children. And quite frankly the teens that come into the library drive me batshit insane on a regular basis.

But I've also noticed that most adults tend to treat teenagers as either oversized children or defective adults. Despite having been a teen at some point, there's often no respect or understanding for what they are going through, much praise less for their skills or compassion for their developmental limitations. We scorn teens for not yet being adults in a way that we rarely do with younger children.

The fact that todays teens will not be teens forever does not mean that teenagers are not among one of the most derided groups of people in modern society. Neither does it mean that their lack of power is not often used to abuse and neglect them.

It scares me and makes me very sad that I can considered to be a really good YA librarian just because I try to treat teens as people - and not defective adults or monstrous children.

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