Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Journeys with parenting, teaching, living - in a child-punitive world

my son's drawings, age 5

I worked in early childhood education long, long before I ever heard of anything called ABA (or applied behavior analysis, or behaviorism).  It's a low-paying, highly important, and deeply disrespected field.  From the time I was a teenager I learned to deal with well-meaning people telling me, "you are too smart to work with little children."

Because of course little children are dumb, uninteresting, unimportant.

On the other hand, I also heard, routinely, "you have a knack with children."  A knack.  I hate that statement as well, because it is a backhanded compliment.  All the years I have worked and trained to be a good and learned teacher when working with small children gets rolled up into "a knack."  I think parents often used this statement to justify my low pay (often minimum wage or just above) - since I and other good teachers have a "knack," we don't have real skills.  Therefore we don't deserve paid like really skilled workers.

The early childhood education community participates in that viewpoint by promoting the idea that early childhood education workers are "professionals," who do deserve good pay.  That this argument has never worked to help other women in low-paying professions gain any significant pay advantage other than for a few (typically white and middle-class or upper-class) women at the "top" of the profession goes unexplored.  Some of the best teachers I have ever known have been poor, elderly women with no high school diplomas, but who have a lifetime of caring for children.  These women were and are some of the greatest behaviorists you will ever meet.  They make minimum wage while caring for the children of our country.  I never hear "professionals" wanting to recognize or help them.

Working in preschools and daycares is tough.  Not just because a roomful of toddlers is daunting - and I worked in many classrooms by myself, 8 hours a day.  Me and 13 toddlers.  Oh, man, I learned so much doing that!  The other tough thing, for me, is that there are shitloads of workers in this field who have no other job choices, don't like children, don't care about helping anyone, and who routinely punish children all day long.  In my work in Tennesseee, where spanking was legal in daycare, I routinely upset the other teachers because I refuse to hit children.  Later, when I was "educated," I got jobs in certified daycares with only slightly better pay, and my sister teachers pretty routinely screamed at the kids all day.

Some of this is endemic to our culture.  We live in a world where hitting children is routinely accepted and permitted in law.  Children in the United States have few formal rights.  Legally, a child is a possession of its biological parents.  This non-caste status has massive implications, and we all learn to de-legitimize children as human beings.

Some of the worst viewpoints have bothered me for decades.  Parents and teachers tell me that kids have to learn that they "can't get what they want."  That is said so routinely and frequently that I believe it is in essence one of our most deeply held societal viewpoints.  Kids are not humans who get to have wants and needs and they sure as hell don't get to have their wants and needs affirmed and supported.  I have heard this statement millions of times in my life working with kids.  It is so routinely accepted as conventional wisdom that the punishments we as a culture dole out to children are often unrecognized.  Parents and teachers justify so much of what they do to children under the guise that they "cant get what they want."

And I disagree, profoundly.  I have been trying to help children get what they want, within the limits of safety (an important limit, and one used to justify too much abuse), when they want it, and with my own belief that being human is about wanting.  And that wanting is deeply human and good.

However, if you live in a world that believes that children shouldn't get what they want, and you are a parent and teacher who believes children should get what they want, you get in trouble.  Allowing children to have their wants in my classrooms and later as a parent has meant that I have been written up for bad teaching, had my data as a behavior analyst tossed out (for coddling the children), had other parents tell me I am "spoiling" my children, and been a distinct and difficult disadvantage during my divorce and custody battle.

We live in a culture that hates children.  We store them in "schools" that are more like prisons.  We deny them basic rights.  We tell them they don't deserve basic needs.  We hit them.  We deny them self-expression.  We force them to do things they do not want and refuse to allow them freedom to do things they want.

That is the culture I live in and since I work with kids, and have for 40 years now (oy!), that is the world I face every day.  If I want to work with kids - as a parent, as a teacher, as a behavior analyst, then I have to deal with a world that mostly hurts kids.

As do we all.

No comments:

Post a Comment