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At my day job as a cashier at an upscale, organic foods co-op, I have lots of mostly pleasant and mostly superficial interactions with lots of mostly middle-class customers. Occasionally, customers will reveal something about themselves that gives me a glimpse into a unique and lovable human being. Those moments always feel like a gift, a pure shot of oxygen.
Last week, a woman in her 40s brought her groceries to my station and idly picked up one of the ubiquitous coupon books stacked in front of the register. Instead of opening the book to look for coupons as most customers do, she was completely captured by the little book’s cover photo.
It showed a four-year-old child covered head to toe in a heavy snowsuit and boots, lying belly down on a snow saucer, arms flung exultantly out to the sides, a grin of pure joy on her face, sledding down a hill.
The customer mused, half to herself and half to me, “I never did that when I was a kid. My mother would never have let me go head first.” She showed me the photo, went back to looking at it and murmured, “That’s freedom…head first.” She put back the coupon book, looked at me and said, “I think I’ll do that next winter.”
“Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” —Toni Morrison
About two weeks ago a convergence of events and thoughts ignited a long-smoldering ember in my being. Unexpectedly, I can see a pathway and have the desire and determination to create a documentary that illuminates the ways that children are discounted, discouraged and disempowered in America. The way we treat children affects all of us.
Generations of children—today’s children, and we, our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. as children—are routinely denied fundamental human rights, especially self-determination. Not surprisingly, our culture and we as individuals have a dangerously incomplete and confused understanding of power and its uses.
For 17 years I was part of founding and staffing an incredible place: The Clearwater School near Seattle, inspired by and modeled after Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts. My experience at Clearwater taught me that children have complex emotional lives, high-level problem-solving and empathic capacities, and a deep desire for respect and agency equal to my own. I am fortunate to know many children who are trusted with power and responsibility over their lives, an important and practical confidence that is as elemental and essential to them as breathing.
Being part of Clearwater also brought into stark relief how powerless are the vast majority of children over the large and small details of their lives. I chose Toni Morrison’s quote for the debut of my blog because, in spite of our current mania to protect children from every danger and disappointment, and fervent public protestations that children are our sacred future, Morrison is right.
We adults routinely compel, restrict, belittle, threaten, command, discount, scold, coerce, intimidate, punish, nag, mold, discourage and cajole children, even though we feel angry and ill-used if anyone uses these same techniques to affect our behavior. Many of us are parents who fiercely and desperately love our children, but we can unconsciously and with the best of intentions interact with our kids as though they are objects of our needs and aspirations rather than coequal, unique and whole human beings.
In this blog I intend to unflinchingly look at the commonplace injustices we experienced as children that persist and oppress today’s children because of our unconscious or tacit acceptance. As I uncover cultural and personal blind spots, I welcome your thoughts and insights and encourage you to question the stories we were taught about children and continue to tell..
I look forward to your company on this journey.