I’ve just been reading about childism. I should have known Libby Anne would bring this up eventually, and it’s a relief really.
From the moment I went to university, I was bombarded with demands to express my concern for women’s rights. I was shocked. I know the wage gap isn’t equal and there is still sexual discrimination, but I don’t see this as a pressing issue I need to show my allegiance to. I have never been sexually discriminated against in a professional environment like work or school, but I have encountered class and aged based discrimination and I have observed it hundreds more times. It seems to me insane that nobody is standing up and saying “Help us educate people about the benefits systems” or “Do you think children are people too?” When I expressed my lack of concern for the cause of women’s rights, the response was either shock or hatred. By virtue of being a woman, I was pressured to be active for women’s rights, an issue which I think everybody should incrementally advance by day to day reinforcement of fairness, not by advertising women speakers as a novelty – which disempowers them – or lecturing bypassers about the strife of womanhood. It’s just not true like it was.
But I do think the other two issues are still live and important. When I was in school, my mother had to phone up and tell them that forcing people on free school dinners to take their lunch at a certain (less popular) time was discrimination. I still remember the shops which limited the number of children who could enter. And these things were considered normal and okay.
What really bothers me is the acceptance of horrific phrases like “I don’t like poor people” or “I don’t like children” as though the properties of poverty of childhood were the defining characteristics of people in these categories which determined what they were like and whether you could get on with them. If someone said, “I don’t like women” (unless talking about sexual preferences) or “I don’t like black people” we would be shocked, but we think not liking children is okay?
In simple form. Children are people.
Yes, childhood influences what these people are like. So does being poor, being a woman, being gay, even being black or disabled – because these affect your life experiences. Children have not got so many experiences; this does not dehumanise them. They are still people with individual thoughts and personalities.
I’ve also realised that most people when dealing with children try to deal with children. They start with the prejudice that children interact in a certain way and they need to find that formula to click. This is a direct contrast from the Victorians who didn’t realise children were any different from adults and were just smaller and tried to treat them like adults. This is also wrong. You can’t just decide what people are like – you have to find out. You may start from assumptions like children are unlikely to be able to do certain things (understand quantum mechanics, say, but I refute that: it depends upon the level of quantum mechanics… and since when did most adults understand it?), but treat every individual differently. When you are communicating with a child, it’s your job to discover what level of communication they need, and as the adult and therefore most likely higher level communicator, to suitably simplify. It is the same process you’d go through when communicating with a less intelligent person, a person outside your technical expertise or a person with special needs.
And “I’m not good at communicating with children” or “I don’t have much patience with children” would be better explanations of a failure or surrender to work with kids because it rightly expresses limits to the speaker’s ability rather than blaming their inadequacies upon integral, unchangeable properties of children. And when you realise that difference, you can perhaps realise that the situation is always one that can be worked upon and improved, not something that will never change and you should give up upon at once.
…Over time, it may even get easier to talk to children!