Geez, epigraph. Lay off the Uve for once and think about the children. Won’t anyone think of the children?
Cliché, you say? Take it up with the Edwardians and, er, Taftees who invented childhood. Really. Commonsensical concept such as “8-year-old boys belong in classrooms rather than coal mines” and “13-year-old girls should not go gravid” only took hold in the collective consciousness during the first decades of the 20th century.
With the realization that kids deserve to spend 18 trips around the sun as kids came instances to ensure kids learned instead of working, swooned over their generation’s Bobby Sherman,1 chastely dated rather than fucking, and raised their parents’ auto insurance rates. Not necessarily in that order.
Demands for at least 13 years of formal schooling and safe leisure for children coincided with the normalization of divorce, single-parent households, women taking full time outside the home,2 single-family homes in the suburbs, families dispersing across the country, and mass popular culture influencing children’s development as much as, if not more so, than the examples of parents.
On one side, and concentrating on the American experience3 these trends drove demands for
- The building of schools,
- Constantly expanding markets for infant and toddler care provided by paid nonrelatives,
- Afterschool supervision by paid nonrelatives,
- Chaperoned or supervised activities to keep kids out of trouble at night and during weekends (e.g., music lessons, sports, play dates, scouting, church groups), and
- Money to pay for everything listed and more.
On the other side, meeting the listed demands created concerns over
- What schools taught children,
- Which children schools taught,
- Which behaviors children modeled after spending long periods with adults not related to them.
- Kids acting too much like adults (e.g., studying music, competing athletically, commuting and keeping appointments, surviving in the wild, accepting Jesus as their person opiate dealer4), and
- Whose money supported whose children.
This WPT header could occupy each byte of the World Wide Web recounting the sometimes-bloody battles ensuing when the listed demands ran afoul of the listed concerns annually between 1910 and 2021. For reference, Google “real estate taxes schools,” “Virginia Massive Resistance.”5 and “Boston busing crisis.” Which totally and shamefully elides the horrors of Indian boarding schools, as well as what states like Texas and California refused to do for Latinx students.6
Fast forward to the fall of 2021. Democrats in the U.S. Congress plump for a “human infrastructure” package including funds for
- Paid parental leave
- Universal pre-K,
- Child care subsidies,
- Prepayment of child tax credits,
- Expanding child health programs,
- Hiring, training, and retaining teachers
- Building and upgrading schools buildings, and
- Ensuring access to high-speed internet service.
Congressional, state, local, grassroots and media Republicans do not merely oppose every one of these initiatives. They defy a North Carolina State Supreme Court order to abide by a state constitutional provision to provide equitable education despite having the funds to comply. They sweep statewide elections in Virginia by campaigning almost entirely on racist lies7 about curricula.
They threaten and attack school board members. They call for banning and burning books. They ensure that dedicated administrators, teachers and care providers quit in fear or due to burnout. They make entering the profession of education and caregiving so unattractive that entire programs collapse for want of workers.
They do all this while claiming they want to improve children’s lives and learning.
Which puts the polity in the perplexing position of perceiving both Democrats and Republicans as intoning the old refrain, “Won’t anyone think of the children?” The difference of one group focusing on how to help while the other group schemes to position children as props, cudgels and coal mine pony guides gets lost.
So, when policy meets perversity,8 which prevails? We’ll know come the 2024 elections. But let’s debate it and other stuff in the comments.