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February 09, 2005

Fragment: Life in a Post- Youth Liberation World

[NOTE: This document was added to the blog on May 22, 2005]

From W 09.29.04:

"The point of this essay is that it is not an essay; it is an "exploration". I don't have any outline going into this, and it's not meant to end up as something that other people will read. This is where I'll sort through my thoughts. It's like note-taking -- but in sentences and paragraphs, rather than in fragments. The idea is to just keep going forward, and not become recursive, trying to edit what I still haven't even thought through. I think I can trust that by writing "explorations" such as this one, outlines will naturally emerge -- if it turns out that I even have adequate material for an essay. [Discovering that I really don't have adequate material for an essay would be valuable in itself!]"

When I gave my YL presentation at the New Year's Eve 2003/4 party at the coast, I feel like I focused on the wrong things. I didn't talk about adult power, particularly the history of the command/obey relationship enough. I don't think I talked about "what changes I want to see" adequately, either. Once I started talking about exit freedom, and how YL principles would play out in practice, people seemed somewhat more open. In G's and my debrief after we got back home, we came up with a new idea for an essay: "Life [or Growing up] in a Post-YL World".

I'm taken with this idea. It seems more evocative than a "Bill of Rights" document -- and it also pushes YL activists themselves to really try to imagine what they want.

I want to contrast this approach with the "Bill of Rights" approach. The changes I talk about herein are not simply about changes in law. Most of the changes I describe are concerned with transforming institutions. Attitude changes for the typical parent / adult will also be addressed.

Going into this, I've sketched out a few notes. I'm a little daunted by the breadth of what I want to cover; it may take more than one day to get through all this. I've organized the information into seven sections:

  1. Basic Principles
  2. Birth and Infancy
  3. School
  4. Home Life
  5. Leaving a Troubled Home
  6. Government Regulation
  7. Adulthood

With this rough outline in mind, let's now dig in...

I. Much will be the same, much will be different...

Try to imagine the world after the Youth Liberation movement has accomplished all of its goals. What does that world look like?

In most ways, it looks very much the same as life today. The typical child will be born, stay with its parents until maybe 18 years of age, going to school in the meantime, ultimately finding a career, and perhaps beginning a new family of its own. Loving parents post-YL behave very much the same as loving parents do today. ...Which is to say, "what's not broken, doesn't need to be fixed."

On the other hand, many things will also be different:

  • The internal structures of schools will be reorganized;
  • the government will allow greater personal liberties;
  • parents will conscientiously strive to avoid the command/obey dynamic;
  • a greater array of services will exist to help youth attempting to leave abusive homes;
  • and people won't attach a sense of superiority to biological or cultural adulthood, instead striving to be "ageless beings".

Consider the point of view of an individual young person, growing up in the post-YL world. None of the legal or institutional changes proposed here will necessarily force them to live any differently than they would today. There will be a greater variety of alternative life choices available -- but to utilize any of them, the individual must take self-determination into their own hands. If they want to make a change, then they must make a conscious choice. Just coasting along through the system, living the standard-options life that is handed to you -- that's still an option.

Many of the changes proposed are not meant to have any impact on a typical youth. Rather, they are safety nets -- they need to be in place when something goes wrong. They are options that, hopefully, most youth will never need to seriously consider -- but they should understand that they are there, and how to effectively access them, nonetheless. [A number of the attitudinal changes are intended as preventative measures.]

...The world post-YL will not be a utopia! There will still be arguments between youth and their parents. Parents of conscience will still find themselves in situations sometimes where they feel compelled to override the will of their child. Some parents (for a variety of reasons) will still become abusers -- and leaving or taking actions against them will not be an easy choice. Prejudiced attitudes toward youth and acts of discrimination will still exist -- but youth will have new tools for fighting back, and public opinion will put bigots in the minority. Youth will have a new say in politics -- but oftentimes the majority opinion of youth will still be outweighed by the will of adults, when election time rolls round.

Youth activist groups will not put themselves out of business -- there will be a continuing need for youth to "be at the table", contributing opinions and speaking in their own voices. The world will continue to change, year after year, and all of society's subgroups need to be active participants in the negotiation to create arrangements that are mutually just. YL will make significant improvements in the conditions of young people's lives -- but there is no final end to this effort.

The world post-YL will still be in motion. Hopefully society will stabilize, and the institutional improvements that we've fought for will take root, becoming the almost invisible backdrop of normal life. However, in the process of making change, society will take surprising turns. There will be predictable political backlashes [possibly making things worse than before!] -- and our changes may have unintended effects that we did not foresee, and which need to be corrected. No matter how detailed a vision we create, the future cannot be entirely known.

II. Guiding Principles

Youth Liberation will be accomplished with human hands, and so we need some guiding principles as we continue the work on into the future. Here are several of principles that guide the proposals below, and which should help guide our work far into the future. As we imagine a world post-YL, we will need to continually strain to discern not only their essence, but how they may be applied in practice, in ways that make sense.

A) Youth are not property to be owned.
The nature of property is that its owner is entitled to control it. Parents should not have the right to command youth, the right to be unquestioningly obeyed. The adult public should not have the exclusive right to elect decision-makers, or by referendum decide matters that will impact youth, without youth's say. Youth must minimally have a voice in deciding all matters that impact them. Their say must have actual weight, and have a fair chance at influencing matters -- though they may not always get their way.

B) A body is the sole property of its self.
Not all matters are open to shared decision-making. Where a young person's body is in question, they have the sole right to control. If a young person's body is their own property, then they have the same rights over it that one would have over any other property: the right to move it, to keep it still, to touch it, to allow or disallow others from touching it, to physically alter it, and to damage or destroy it, to control a reasonable bubble of space around it. [Limitations to this set of rights emerge when one's personal space overlaps with that of another.]

C) Youth should be able to remove themselves from harm at will.
"Freedom" typically has two flavors: a right to engage in particular activities (freedom to do), or a guarantee of protection (freedom from something). Both of these freedoms imply a standard quality of life for all -- how high or low that standard should be set is a matter of debate. The subjective experience of suffering, however, can largely escape a relativistic debate over standards: if I feel suffering, that is a bedrock of truth.

Youth who feel that they are suffering in some way, should be free to leave the situation that is oppressing them. This is called "exit freedom". One's ability to leave a harmful situation should not be dependent upon finding an advocate who believes that you are suffering and is willing to speak for you. You should be able to remove yourself from harm on your own volition. This does not mean that advocates are unwelcome -- but when requires an advocate, it places a roadblock before youth. YL must work to remove roadblocks to youths' efforts at self-defense.

D) Artificial age-lines and legal double-standards are unjust.
[Both the Youth Equality ("Youth Rights") and Youth Power movements agree on this point, although philosophically it is primarily a YEq argument.] It is an affront to youths' dignity -- the sense that they are equally human and deserving of basic respect -- to create laws that utilize artificial age-lines. Building laws that reference meaningful (and measurable) differences in anatomy, physical ability, or skill is a viable alternative. YL recognizes enormous diversity among human beings: e.g. height, strength, muscle control, ability to walk, English language skills, literacy, cultural literacy, education, financial poverty / wealth, and specific skills. YL acknowledges that accommodating these differences (particularly given limits on money, labor, and time) can be very difficult. There will likely be cases in which YL is unable to suggest a legal construct that is clearly superior to a straight age-line; it is nonetheless important to wrestle with these matters.

III. Birth and Infancy

Now, let us move on to the main substance of this essay: imagining life in a post-YL world...

I am going to begin with birth and infancy -- even though this period does not fall within the purview of YL proper. As I understand it, YL is about youth having the ability to speak out about what they want, and be able to achieve it. This implies that YL's early limit begins with the acquisition of speech. We should be concerned with the welfare of youth before they are able to verbalize their wants and needs -- but until those desires can be articulated into some sort of words [they need not be proper English], a young person's recognizable self-liberation is not involved.

For the sake of making it easier to track the issues and proposals herein, I will assign a number to each one.

1. Abortion
In a post-YL world, there will still be mistakes. There will be unintended pregnancies, and pregnancies thought better of. One interpretation of YL (See Jack Westman's article, "Juvenile Ageism") would describe a fetus' right to life as a YL issue. I disagree. As stated in the Basic Principles section above, "A body is the sole property of its self". The woman who is inhabited by a fetus has the right to control what is inside her -- and thus to remove the fetus if she so chooses.

Hypothetically, how she is allowed to remove the fetus might be negotiable -- if there were some way for fetuses in their early stages to live outside of her body. However, as this is not the case, the life of the fetus is forfeit. In essence, an unwanted pregnancy and rape are the same thing: violation of a woman's right to control what exists inside of her.

The right to abortion, furthermore, is not strictly an adults-versus-youth issue -- young women as minors have a right to abortion as well. Thus, while specific to female youth, rather than all youth, access to abortion is at least partly a YL issue. Even more so because additional burdens such as parental consent are put upon young women seeking this procedure.

2. Gentle Birth
Once a baby leaves its mother's body, then it becomes a person, with ownership rights over itself. Again -- while not strictly-speaking a YL issue, YL should have some interest in how a person actually enters the world.

While not knowing precisely what the baby feels at birth, we can intuit that it is a shock to be brought directly from the womb into dry, cold air and bright light. The practice of slapping the baby to get it breathing is also seemingly cruel. Alternatives have been suggested: birthing in a warm, darkened room, or being birthed into warm water.

Youth's allies on this issue are midwives, whom have created alternatives to the hospital environment: home birth, and special birth centers. Hospitals tend to view birth through the lens of sickness -- yet, the majority of births are normal and without problem. If need for medical attention is unlikely, is desirable for youth to not be born in hospitals, which are teaming with sickness -- instead to be born in a more quiet, comfortable environment.

3. Attachment and "Kangaroo Care"
During parts of the 20th century, it was standard practice to remove an infant from its mother immediately after birth. Lack of early contact has been linked to "failure to thrive"; in essence, lack of human contact can kill an infant. Furthermore, it has been shown that unwell infants can stabilize by being in direct contact with their mother's skin (this is called "kangaroo care"). It seems, thus, that newborns should be immediately given to their mother after birth, and allowed to have skin contact.

Removing infants from their mother also interferes with the mother's ability to emotionally bond with their child, which has been identified as a risk factor for child abuse. This is further reason to keep the mother and child together immediately after birth.

4. Circumcision and Sex-Assignment Surgery
Again, based on the principle that youth themselves own their own bodies, both male and female circumcision seem to be cruel and unnecessary practices. Similarly, some people are born with micro-phalluses, macro-clitorises, or gender-indeterminate genitals. Surgically modifying these people's genitals without their permission is a practice that should be ceased.

Both circumcision and sex-assignment surgery raise interesting issues regarding who has a right to be spokespersons for the cause. It is fair for both men and women to speak out against circumcision as a general practice -- but the issue of Jewish circumcision requires a more subtle political approach. Historically, Jews have been persecuted for performing circumcision; it is undesirable to side with anti-Semites on this matter. There is an anti-circumcision movement within Judaism; one approach to this issue would be to defer to their leadership, with regards to Jewish circumcision, focusing only on how the procedure is applied to gentiles.

With regards to sex assignment surgery, the actual voice of intersexed people has often been completely absent. During the past decade a movement of intersexed people has been building; their internal leadership should guide all efforts to modify doctors' procedures.

5. Breast-Feeding
Mother's milk transmits immunity to various diseases to the infant. It is nutritionally as well as immunologically superior to formula. YL cannot demand that mothers breast feed (their breasts, their bodies) -- but it can encourage the practice, and work to remove stigma (and laws) against breast-feeding in public. The La Leche League works in this area, and should be considered implicit allies (although they may not support any other aspects of the YL agenda).

6. Toilet Training
Infants get chilled easily; it is important to help them stay warm when outside. Similarly, it is useful to keep a room in one's house warm, especially for diaper changing. [I know that I've heard about innovative ways to help infants become accustomed to using a toilet -- but I'm forgetting right now.] ...Thinking about how things will feel physically falls under the auspices of what is known as "child-centered" parenting.

7. Immunizations
Again, I don't really recall the facts here -- suffice to say that there are some powerful arguments against immunizing all infants...

8. No Spanking
The use of spanking and other pain-inflicting strategies on pre-verbal youth is cruel and unnecessary. The suffering is unlikely to be attached to the (presumably) dangerous thing that the parent wants to warn the child away from -- instead, it simply instills fear of the parent.

9. "Yes" Environments
Beyond simply "child-proofing" homes against poisons, electrical sockets, sharp things, etc., people doing care-giving for youth should attempt to make "yes" environments, wherein they need not constantly be saying "no", because everything accessible to the infant is something that they are free to touch, mouth, eat, or play with freely. Rather than constantly saying "no", adults should attempt to remove their precious things from view, thus eliminating potential conflict.

10. American Sign Language
Before youth can use spoken language, they are able to use sign language. Thus, even before the first birthday, youth may be able to communicate using words. Having seen toddlers that have learned 30 or so words in sign, I've been amazed by how much less fussy they are. They don't need to cry in order to get what they want -- they can tell you! [By learning ASL, the acquisition of basic language can occur earlier, thus bumping up the initiation of the YL period.]

[I think I've listed too many items here. I'm going too in-depth into child-centered parenting when I start talking about toilet-training. And anyway, these concerns exist now -- they don't really sound like "the world post-YL". They're too much about the personal choices of parents, too little about institutions. Maybe I should reframe "no spanking" in terms of law or child-rearing advice books -- or maybe I should save the "discipline" issue until later, for the parenting section.

Should I mention something about Ritilin here? ...It starts seeming like I'm listing all of YL's current issues -- which was not what I set out to do here.]

IV. School

[Numbering my points isn't working out quite how I'd hoped. I'm going to revert to a freer style of writing.]

I envision schools as being less incarceration facilities, where youth are bussed to each day, and must stay under threat of truancy and daytime curfew laws -- and more as voluntarily community centers.

As a sort of community center, the schools [or whatever they would be called] would offer a variety of services. Free food and clothing programs, psychological and career counseling, possibly even overnight beds, could all be linked to a central building. If youth won the right to vote, then school buildings would be good sites in which to place voting booths.

School attendance would not be mandatory. Instead, youth would have three main educational options. They could leave the school system and instead opt for unschooling. They could participate in student-led curriculums that allow for self-directed learning. Or they could take standardized classes in traditional subjects. [This last option keeps open the ability for students to "coast" if they want a basic education without taking charge of their own lives.]

The maintenance of some form of public school system, rather its complete abolition, is an important counter-balance to the power of the parents. If schools didn't exist, some youth would be trapped 24-hours a day with their abusive parents. School is an institutional way of trying to guarantee youth contact with the outside world.

Youth should have access to free "higher education" as well as basic education. I've heard that some states have done this by guaranteeing admission and a scholarship to a community college if your grades are good enough, and then similar access to a state university if you do well there too.

If schools become a central location for multiple services, then perhaps the line between "adult education" and "primary education" should be blurred as well. Rather than having an age apartheid in our society, where youth are kept in scholastic gulags for 12 years (thus exacerbating a sense of difference between adults and youth), both adult and youth learners could perhaps co-exist within the same building.

The schools would be run democratically, as has been modeled by the Sudberry Valley School created by John Holt. This does not mean that youth would have a powerless "student council" -- rather, students would have direct power over hiring, firing, and funding decisions. [Establishing real democracy in the schools is an important step toward winning the vote in federal, state, county, and city elections. Once youth have power in the schools, it will seem much more natural, culturally-speaking, for them to participate in running the country.]

Running schools democratically raises questions about scale. I don't know what an ideal size is for this sort of structure -- does it require a small student body? Are there ways in which a student body could deal with hiring and firing in small groups -- the groups that are going to be impacted by a particular educator? Would, then, votes by then entire student body of several hundred or thousand only be required for budget issues and hiring administrators, such as the principle? ...If this sort of democracy only works for small groups, then that would undermine the notion of grouping social services together in one building. It would also raise costs, in terms of having to build more buildings.

Teachers' job security will undoubtedly be an issue. If students themselves can vote out an ineffective teacher, then the teachers may fear for their jobs. Teachers' associations will fight youth control tooth-and-nail as we work to make this change. I'm not sure what we could do to make being a teacher more desirable. ...Perhaps all teachers would be more like substitute teachers, moving around as needed. Or perhaps people who are doing actual research in chemistry, literature, etc. would be called on to teach younger people, rather than reserving themselves only for adult (college) learners.

Curriculum-wise, it would be in youths' interest to have introductory, one-day workshops available regarding many topics. Youth can be trusted to learn when they are motivated by genuine interest -- which largely leaves the question of exposure: making sure that students get a taste of all the possible things that they could study. Once they know what exists, then they could choose either to hire an expert to help advise them on their own educational explorations -- or they could choose to enter a more traditional class.

Classroom dynamics, as a rule, would be non-hierarchical. Desks would not be arranged in regimented lines (intentionally designed to discourage student interaction) -- they'd generally be in circles. Bells that chop the day up into 50-minute segments would also be abolished, allowing students to go deeper into their studies. [See John Taylor Gatto's discussion of bells.]

Montessori techniques might be integrated into how younger children are taught.

School uniforms, security personnel, metal detectors, locker searches -- these typically draconian measures would not necessarily be ruled out -- but students would have to vote on such things, deciding for themselves whether they're necessary, and whether the gain in safety is worth the loss of personal privilege.

Yes, you could still be expelled for bad behavior. Disrupting the other student's experience or endangering them should not be tolerated. But by the same token, you should be able to stand up and freely walk outside without consequences if you want to enjoy a sunny day.

[I have an interesting idea, related to the section on infants, that maybe ASL should be a core skill that everyone learns. I can see some easy arguments for how it may be more useful than learning Russian or Japanese, at least for most people.]

[Another useful service to have on site: daycare, for students who have children of their own.]

IV. Home Life

[NOTE: Essay fragment ends here.]

Posted by Sven at February 9, 2005 12:00 PM