I have been struck by the events of the past few weeks in a way that differs from past observations of society’s uneven treatment of our children. Then, last night I heard an educator comment that modern society views some children as being merely a ‘problem’. Once that occurs, dehumanization can be rationalized. If people simply become ‘problems’ as defined by society as a whole (through continual promotion of certain notions that support this labeling) –not just having problems as most everyone does –, their correction, punishment and even elimination can be legitimized – isn’t that what history has shown us?
This morning, I saw the disturbing article below. While its view may be extreme and the facts assembled into a somewhat strained opinion, it is worth considering.
Have we substantially unraveled the progress made since the Enlightenment? To quote from the above author:
“Marginalized youth, workers, artists and others are raising serious questions about the violence of inequality and the social order that legitimates it.”
Many thoughts have converged this past month, including my impressions from the haunting book by Gerda Weissman Klein (All But My Life), and the HBO documentary about Mrs. Klein, a holocaust survivor. As I read her riveting story, I had the uneasy feeling that we are living in times reminiscent of the run-up to WWII that she described from her once blissful vantage point of pre-war Poland.
When we stereotype people, put them in a category, we depersonalize them. What benefit do we derive from this? What economic advantage for humanity at large? Or is this of monetary profit to only a few narrow interest groups?
It starts by considering people as ‘other than…’, ‘not like us…’, then leads to seeing them only from that collective perspective and finally not only marginalizing them but isolating and then locking them away. It starts with ignorance and fear, progresses to anger and ends in, well, concentration camps. Only, today, we call them prisons, increasingly privatized and under-regulated. Is that civilization in the 21st century?
What happened to the sense of community responsibility for raising, literally, children to adulthood as a moral commitment, the democracy mandate, the recognition that we all rise when every single member of society is incentivized and given the tools to become productive and feel useful, appreciated, seen as an individual and kept safe from unreasonable harm?
We have a pernicious drop-out phenomenon in this country that continues unabated, yet we cast certain groups in a light that diminishes them in the eyes of the populace, but even worse, reduces their value in their own eyes. All this while our nation slips behind third world countries in STEM skills.
This is certainly first and foremost a parental guidance issue and we have people who take little interest in educating themselves as to proper child rearing based on the science of human development.
But, it is also an education system concern. Instead of gutting the public school system and degrading teachers, we need to do what Denmark, South Korea and Singapore do: treat educators as professionals on a par with attorneys and physicians, and pay them accordingly. Then have them in turn provide counseling and solid data to parents to elevate a child’s self-esteem, setting the bar at the right level for each individual child and then providing him or her with the tools to attain and surpass that bar.
Meanwhile, this trajectory is troubling in itself. Labeling anyone as a ‘problem’ is retrogressive and demoralizing. How do we expect to continue to be a forward-thinking society when we allow this insidious trend to continue, stealthily, and unchallenged? And just imagine what it is like to live your entire life under the shadow of a presumption of wrong-ness that you did not earn and from which you may never divest.
My primary aim in life has been to think through, long, hard and independently, for myself, issues of this complex nature and not to succumb to the influence, however overt or occult, of others who seek to manipulate me for any end beyond those I choose myself. Viewing the world through the harsh lens of reality, unfiltered, is almost impossible but it is the only way to real freedom and human responsibility at the highest levels. Again, this is where awareness and consciousness play a vital role. More on that, to come.