Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What Is Childism?

Are you ready for some good news?

Suppose that cultural liberals claimed that they had found a new oppressed group and everyone laughed.

As you know, cultural liberals are working hard to find new groups that have been persecuted and oppressed by rich white males. Their politics involves enlisting these groups in a grand struggle against the white males who are presumably oppressing them.

Considering the burgeoning number of oppressed groups by now they amount to something like 99% of the population.

First it was the proletariat. Then it was minority groups. After that women were told that they were the vanguard of the revolution. Next there were illegal immigrants and the unemployed and labor union members. Now we also have homosexuals, transsexuals and lovers of BDSM.

Obviously, some members of some of these groups have suffered discrimination. Yet, culture warriors want all members of all these groups to identify with their cause: overthrowing the white male patriarchy.

If you belong to an aggrieved group you owe your life to the cause.

Cultural revolutionaries want to see world history and world politics in terms of a mythic grand struggle between capitalists and workers, plutocrats and employees, imperialists and the poor, colonialists and third world peoples, heteronormals and everyone else. They want more and more and more people to live their lives within the parameters defined by this myth.

Now the late Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, a fearless culture warrior and psychoanalyst, has nominated a new candidate for oppressed group: children.

In a book that is being published today she declared that our nation is suffering from what she calls “childism.”

Young-Bruehl wants us all to know that we are being too hard on children, that we are making them do too much homework, that we oppressing their creative spirits by burdening them with rules and discipline.

In her world children would be allowed to do as they please. Parents would abrogate all parental authority and children would be allowed to run wild.

This sounds like a caricature. Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s a reductio ad absurdum of liberal cultural politics.

You will not be surprised to discover that Young-Bruehl feels a strong antipathy for the Tiger Mom. As a trained psychoanalyst Young-Bruehl expresses her antipathy by declaring that the Tiger Mom suffers from an unanalyzed pathology.

Pretending to be offering scientific fact, Young-Bruehl suggests that the only way we can save the country is to allow children to do what they want.

Clearly, she is grievously wrong. She fails to see that, if anything, American parents are too holistic. They want their children to grow up to be wholesome, healthy, well-rounded, high spirited, popular and in tune with the natural world.

When your competitors are insisting that their children master higher mathematics, to the exclusion of many of the fun aspects of childhood, you are not doing your children any favors.

Your well-rounded fun-loving creative child will not be able to compete against a cohort that has mastered multivariable calculus and convex optimization.

Now, for the good news. Young-Bruehl’s book has elicited exasperation and ridicule, even from more liberal journalists.

Writing in New York Magazine Lisa Miller calls out Young-Bruehl for her mindlessness.

In her words: “To the tally of those requiring protection from the constant, corrosive prejudice of the dominant culture, another group must now be added. It turns out that American children—whose wants and whims support untold industries and whose very existence causes property taxes to rise in the neighborhood of a better-than-average middle school—are victims of a previously unidentified ism: childism, the widespread but unfounded belief in the inferiority of children.”

Miller continues: “Until taught to do so, kids can’t dress themselves, control their emotions, or distinguish between concepts like 'today' and 'tomorrow.' They are, by nature, ‘unreasonable and selfish,’ in the words of Thomas Phelan, author of the parenting classic 1-2-3 Magic. ‘Inferior,’ in fact, seems like a fair word to describe them. Perhaps Young-Bruehl’s got it the wrong way around. Only by seeing themselves for what they are—older and wiser, superior to their offspring—can parents begin to do the job right.”

On the Jezebel site Erin Gloria Ryan also takes Young-Bruehl to task. After granting the point that Baby Boomers have become a rather selfish cohort—largely, as it happens, because they learned to live according to the principles that Young-Bruehl is espousing--Ryan adds that it is absurd to apply this idea to the way we bring up children.

Ryan adds a salient point: “Children are children because they haven't lived long enough to understand how to control their own impulses or developed the motor skills to be trusted with grown up scissors.

“No, Skittles for breakfast is not an idea that warrants consideration. No, not everyone should ride gleaming white horses with pink manes to work instead of cars. No, we shouldn't clone dinosaurs so that all kids can have a pet triceratops. No, scientific resources should not be devoted to developing a nuclear bomb that will kill all the cooties. Yes, bedtime is important. No, you can't watch The Shining, even though there's a kid in it. And no, children should not be given the opportunity to wield kid-sized splitting mauls, no matter how much they wish they could chop firewood like their mommy or daddy.”


n.n said...

Young-Bruehl seems to have suffered from infantilism - a Peter Pan complex. It is a fantasy everyone would enjoy, but then the harshness of reality sets in and we enter adulthood. We recognize the opportunity we had to develop ourselves during our childhood, and the integral role played by our parents and other adults to direct our time and energy.

Her kind are by their perspective (or rejection) of reality predisposed to extremes. Her extensive education does not moderate the outcome.

I guess that in hindsight, you are educated and successful, so there is no need to invest in your future.

JP said...

If higher math actually paid well, I would probably have pursued higher math.

In fact, if I thought that a Ph.D. in mathematics would help me in some way financially, I might consider doing it now.

I'm pretty sure we have a massive surplus of Ph.D.'s. Granted, we also have a massive surplus of J.D.'s, but when I got out of law school, the jobs were plentiful and easy to get. These days, a J.D. is more likely a millstone than wings because of the associated debt.

Anonymous said...

Actually higher math does pay well.

JP said...

I already have a degree in chemical engineering.

One problem with engineering is that the companies are always replacing 50+ year old engineers with 21 year old engineers.

I suppose I should qualify what I mean by "paid well". Once you are above $150,000 per year then you start to catch my attention. Otherwise, there's no possibility for me to recoup my financial investment in education given future salary loss.

Anonymous said...

"The whims and preferences of children should always, always be sublimated to the sense and judgement of their elders. And what if the student finds this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable, Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted. It is being formed."
Flannery O'Connor, defending the teaching of the Western Canon.

Susan Lee

Anonymous said...

It appears that none of you have actually taken the time to read the book.