17 April 2007

Children's rights

Guest author Antoine on the bigger issue of children and compulsion.

I think the "Educational Conscription" campaign is a good idea.

I am interested in the general theme of children's rights. I also support the choice of home schooling. However, I think the problem of educational conscription is part of a greater problem of treating children like dumb animals or criminals: electronic tagging; DNA databases; food diktats; vaccination; the ban on working; the predictable consequences of a ban on alcohol, drugs, smoking and sex; surveillance cameras; the absence of (unplanned as opposed to adult-designed) play areas; the crime rate that frightens parents into not allowing childen to play outside and drive them to school in SUVs; the consequences of victim disarmament (armed gangs terrorising the other children); the contradictions inherent in two British government "priorities" (cutting exclusions and excluding bullies); and finally the actual content of the "education," including the problem of what to do about children who have no aptitude for "knowledge work" in a post-manufacturing economy (and the problem of how to teach IT skills, when these are bound to be obsolete by the time the kids leave school).

On compulsory education I am certain that there is an age at which children should decide how they receive education, if at all. However, if their parents disagree then surely they have the right to refuse to finance a child's upbringing! So a negotiation would seem to be in order, which I think would suit many families: the child gets to take more adult decisions.

However, I am also clear that negotiating with children below a certain age is utterly pointless, because one is reasoning with the unreasonable, which actually sends a very odd message out to the child. At that point we are either putting trust in parents or in the state.

The only case for the latter is to investigate claims of abuse. I got into hot water for suggesting that the sole function of the state for child protection, other than in response to a specific complaint or allegation, was to hold an annual headcount in a public square. The home-schooled children would have to appear in public and passers-by and voluntary social workers could observe evidence of chronic physical battery (cracked ribs two years in a row?) or that a child had vanished. This, some home schoolers believe, is alowing far too much intrusion. Whereas I wanted a mechanism so that if a Fred and Rosemary West-type couple occasionally murdered one of their kids, the disappearance would be noticed within a year.

Antoine Clarke

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