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A long run goal that I've come to believe in is what I call "children's citizenship." I have been calling it "children's liberation" but the word "liberation" seems to me to be kicked around by too many people using it in too many ways— it's already loaded with different connotations, many of them bad, and it's not precise enough anyway. So I like "citizenship" better.
What I am urging is that we abolish the institution of childhood. The fact of childhood, the fact that some people are younger than others and that in the early years of our life we are smaller, more ignorant, more inexperienced, and in many cases, clumsier than we will be later, these are facts of biology and always have been. But the institution of childhood, the decision to divide human life into two quite separate chunks, one called childhood and the other called adulthood, is historically a very recent one. Most cultures never did it, but Western cultures seem to have.
This creation of a kind of artificial, special, supposedly protective (but in fact exploitative) status called childhood is socially, psychologically, and education. ally a disaster. We have to admit it. We have to open the door, so to speak, to participation in the society, so that children can go through it if and when they feel ready. Very specifically, I propose and I urge granting children virtually all the rights and privileges and prerogatives and responsibilities and duties which we grant to adults. I favor pushing these down the age ladder as far as we can get them. I want to make available to children—available, mind you—the choice for any and all of the rights which we now think belong only to adults. I mean them to vote. I mean the right to hold, to buy, or sell property. I mean the right to work, the right to privacy, and the management of one's own life. The right to travel, the right, if you choose to live away from your own family, your blood family. If you need a guardian, the right to choose, on the basis of mutual agreement, one that seems right to you. The right to direct your own learning and your own life.
I want this as a choice. I'm not proposing that every six-year-old be fired out the front door of his house on his birthday, being told, like in a cartoon, "Never darken this door again." I suspect if this option for participation was available, if children could enter adult society as they felt ready to, that many children would stay (although not so long as they are now compelled to) in a state of subservience, dependence, protection. That's OK with me, all I want is that they should have the choice. I do not want to do what we now do, which is to lock every child into a few relationships from which he has absolutely no escape.
And the other thing I would say is this. One of the reasons our schools are in trouble is that we have asked them to do all by themselves what used to be done by culture, by the community, by a great number of people. A kid growing up in a genuine community, in a smaller town or village, was very likely to have relationships of different intensity with ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty older people. He may very well have had around him what we call an "extended family"—aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, second cousins, plus neighbors who would pay varying kinds of attention to him.
It was a whole range and repertory of adults from whom he could draw various kinds of examples,, advice, answers to questions, support, and sympathy, consolation, whatever he needed.
These networks—this is an lllichian phrase; he wants to create new kinds of open educational networks in society— have disappeared. What we now have is mom and pop and teacher. And even if mom and pop and teacher are the nicest people in the world, and they really dig this kid, and he really likes them, it is not enough—it is just not enough people.. He needs more. And in most cases, they don't like the children that much.
Today if he comes up to some adult he sees working and asks him a question that he wants to have answered, the result is probably, "Go ask your teacher. What are you doing out of school? Go ask your mother. Go on home. Don't bother me, kid." In other words, people have said "OK, children, you are the responsibility of your mother and your father and your teacher and I wash my hands of you." This is what I mean when I say we have loaded onto the schools and the parents a burden which used to be distributed among a much greater number of people and talents. These old networks have disappeared. We hardly have any communities any more, in the sense we once did. The extended family has been destroyed as an institution; it was not young radicals but industrialization that destroyed it. It had been largely destroyed even when I was growing up. I think the only way children are going to find new networks—a chance to make a whole lot of new relationships—is by giving them the freedom to make them. I do not believe we can provide the networks for them. The child has to have a kind of chance that he does not now have for finding his teachers, finding the people Who will teach him. And he cannot do this so long as he is locked into these two little boxes—one, the home; the other, the classroom.