Playground PoliticsOn the politicization of children.
A 10-year-old Arkansas boy named Will Phillips has refused to stand up in class and recite the pledge of allegiance as he feels that gays are not allowed to get married and are not included as part of a nation that provides ”liberty and justice for all.”
My first instinct: well done, young sir! I commend your brave and principled political stand against the forces of evil. More people should be sticking up for the oppressed, especially in the so-called “Land of the Free.”
Then I read on. Gay family friends. Gay-friendly parents “allies of the gay community” who take their son along to gay pride parades. Plans to become a lawyer. “I don’t feel there’s currently liberty and justice for all,” says the ten year-old, words suspiciously scripted in tone. Ten years old. TEN YEARS OLD. Further reading (and an accompanying photograph) showed children of Will’s age and younger holding up signs for God Hates Fags, and the article spoke of their indoctrination by religious extremist parents into towing the bigots’ line. What are we supposed to think?
Liberal gay-friendly children take a stand. Yay!
Baptist gay-hating children take a stand. Boo. Hiss.
Suddenly a sickening double-standard became clear to me. I remember vaguely what it was like to be ten years old. Back then, Mummy and Daddy were gods—I’d agree with most of their viewpoints and espouse them to my friends. I even remember writing a protest letter to the local newspaper about the closure of a local arts centre (even concocting the whopping lie that my school supported my stand). I didn’t even know what the arts were back then. I was a Lego-loving, computer-addicted, Roald Dahl-reading shut-in. A politically savvy participant in democracy I was not, and my parents never attempted to cajole me into joining their political causes, despite my father being, then and now, an actively outspoken Communist activist.
“Yes, my son is 10,” says the mother of Will Phillips. “But he’s probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults.” Perhaps. Or perhaps he has interpreted it in line with what his parents have told him. The pledge of allegiance does not mention marriage or the gay/straight dichotomy. Nowhere in the American constitution or the Bill of Rights are gay people mentioned as a distinct group from heterosexuals—quite simply because the distinction is an invention of 19th century anthropologists and remains hotly contested as regards to its applicability to sexually diverse being like humans.
The proud parent continues, “He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.” And a fine job you did, too, Mrs. Phillips. He sounds just like you.
There is no distinction in merit between a ten year-old speaking out for gay rights, and a ten year-old volunteering for God Hates Fags. Both are tools being used by their parents to draw unnecessary legitimacy and sympathy for their causes. “Why, sure, Mary-Ellen, if a ten year-old girl can independently summon a hatred of them gays, we sure’s hell better had, too!” “My, Jocasta, if a ten year-old boy can refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance until gay marriage is legalised, then we should, too! After all, I often consult ten year-olds when forming my own political consciousness.”
Will Phillips is indoctrinated in exactly the same way as the children of the God Hates Fags crowd. Political “stands” by prepubescent children are completely devoid of any deeper political meaning. Why?
BECAUSE THEY’RE CHILDREN, FOR GOD’S SAKE. Sorry to sound like Anita Bryant, but won’t somebody think of the children?
Kids are unaccountable for crimes, including rape and murder. They are not expected to pay taxes, or to run for President. Kids can’t be indicted as war criminals, nor can they work for humanitarian agencies. Kids aren’t supposed to work, period. They’re not supposed to perform any function in a community other than that of being kids. They can’t own guns, get married, have sex, drink alcohol, teach class, enter the priesthood or drive cars. Why? Because, by law, kids under 12 ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS. So why, then, can we deem them responsible for their words?
There’s a reason kids don’t vote. Whether a child espouses liberal or fascistic morals depends almost entirely on their parents, and using a child as a mouthpiece or for any ideology is morally bankrupt. If we force our kids to support this or that, we remove their own right to freedom of thought. Speak Greek to a child from birth, they’ll grow up speaking Greek. Tell a child to wash his hands after using the toilet from birth, and blow me down if they don’t go and do exactly that. Tell a child to legalise gay marriage from birth, they’ll grow up wanting gay marriage legalised. Until we grow old enough to perceive our parents as human beings, we lack the critical faculties to distinguish between political causes and acknowledge the two sides to every story. Kids leave religions when they grow up. Kids switch political affiliations when they grow up. Some kids never change from echoing their parents views—a fact that is one of the biggest drawbacks of allowing the popular vote. Many peoples’ politics are decided at birth, simply by the family they were born into. If we gave kids the vote we’d get the same result as if we didn’t, just with an increase in turnout.
The closing line of the above-cited article was its most damning. “Now there are countless parents who have been galvanized into action and want to ensure their kids learn to not see LGBT citizens as equal.” Is this any better than forcing kids to accept LGBT people as equal? In fact, isn’t forcing kids to believe ANYTHING an abuse of parental power? Can’t we allow them to decide for themselves? Isn’t it the job of adults to engender political change and provide an ethical and equitable world for their children? Or have we shirked this responsibility as well? Give the kids a break and let them enjoy their childhoods. Parents—from Communist, through liberal and all the way to neo-Nazi, fight your own battles and take your children off the front line. Equality begins by permitting people to form their own opinions, and to take as much time as they need—kids included.