Where Have All the Children Gone?


I drive a delivery van for a living. There is something saddening these spring mornings about cruising through the back streets of Boston and Cambridge. As my truck swishes past the three story wood frames and the apartment buildings and the housing projects, I catch glimpses of the little animals that have found a niche in the backyards of Boston: birds and squirrels and dogs and cats. Yet on all but two days of the week, something, someone, is missing.

Missing are the little yells, bouncing down the alleyways, drifting lazily on a soft breeze, arriving muted, tempered, by distance, and crosswind, and the rustle of new born leaves. Lacking are the bright, fascinated pairs of eyes that stare unblinking from porchstep and curbstone as my big blue truck rolls noiselessly past.

A four year old sits listless, lonely on his tricycle. No one to push. His older sister goes away every day, all day. Elsewhere, teenage boys sit in their cars, lined up in a row by an old brick building, their radios blaring, their engines idling, their minds stalled, awaiting the 3:30 bell that releases from captivity their younger friends. The neighborhood dogs run in groups, playing with each other; their children spend the day away. Late in the afternoon, the loyal slip away from the pack to meet their children at the school yard. Sometimes there is detention, and the disappointed dog must wait.

Swish, swish, swish: the soft sound of my vehicle's passage is reflected intermittently by the newly-washed bodies of the cars that line the curbs of the narrow streets I roll down. The wind blows freshly through the open windows of the cab. The sun makes the dingy gray houses look quietly happy. It is a perfect day.

Perfect for hopscotch, or street ball, or rollerskating, or exploring a musky garage, or fixing a flat tire, or tuning an old car, or reading a book on the front porch until, the kids stop by to ask you to play football. A perfect day for all of it, for anything in the world, yet the streets are…empty.

Where have all the children gone? Saturday they were here. Where are they now? Who has taken them away from this joy? Who would destroy this perfect day, their day? And why?

You know the answer. You served your time, and now your children are serving theirs, a twelve year stretch in the prison system euphemistically referred to as free education. For six hours a day, five days a week, nearly all of America's youth are forced to remain in ugly old (or new) buildings, where they must perform inane tasks that destroy their capacity for pride, joy, ingenuity, integrity, and rational thought. For most of six hours they are required to sit motionless and silent in tiny pieces of furniture called "desks." They have to listen and remember in at least some detail whatever they are told to by the prison's caretakers (referred to as "teachers"), five or so of whom they meet with in the course of a day, one at a time for about an hour at a time in communal cells ("classrooms") where thirty or so of the prisoners sit at their "desks," which are arranged in rows to face the "teacher," who does a lot of things well described in three books by John Holt, a Boston-based teacher who'd like to see the keys thrown away—after the prisoners were set free.

If what is happening to American children in the public (and private) educational system is terrifying, then the thought of that happening to our own children should be even more horrifying, for they are our children, our joy, our responsibility, the object of our love. We all know how bad—in both form and content—our government-run schools are. Why, then, do so many knowledgeable parents allow their children to be subjected to that rot, allow then daily to be kidnapped and tutored into insanity?

Could it be the laws? Is it the laws that stop parents? But laws are only laws; there are ways around them, if one gives the matter the thought it deserves. I've heard of several people who have managed to raise their own children despite the legal proscriptions.

Could it be money? But there are ways to get one's tax money back (never mind vouchers) and in any event those who have children were not unaware of taxation when they conceived them. Taxation is a fact of life and those who would ignore it operate on much the same psychological premise as does many a New-Leftist, who blames his unhappiness on the anti-life, anti-joy nature of the regime. Well, it's possible to be at least partially happy in any society if one is willing to work for it. Similarly, the state's fiscal irresponsibility does not excuse one's own monetary mismanagement. Both taxation and the various regulations against personal child-raising must be viewed, not as excuses for inadequacy, but as real, unavoidable costs of child care, costs which must be paid, if not by you, then, without choice, by your children.

Is it lack of time? But have you ever thought about pooling efforts with other couples in your city? Most large towns contain enough enlightened parents to make effective a division of labor. The best qualified of the commune could be hired by the other members as teachers. I've heard that something of this sort is planned in San Francisco. (Could someone fill me in?) Alternately, one might make use of the already existing Montessori schools; they offer distinct advantage over the stagnant socialized system.

Whatever reason a parent might have for leaving his children in the care of the state, it will not diminish their intellectual death, nor mitigate their emotional torture. If you wish to see your children happy, you must do the necessary things. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Somehow, parents must plan their children's rescue from the monster. (How, we'll talk about in future issues; any ideas?) It's too bad we can't liberate all the tots (America's youngest political prisonets), but social change just doesn't work that way. Chip loose your own youngsters and you'll have done probably as much as could be expected.

Perhaps someday there will be some one there to push the tricyclist, hug the dog, and follow with incredibly wide eyes my truck as it rolls silently past in the spring morning.