My last entry has generated enough anxiety that I will take the unusual step of clarifying my feelings on children. While it is generally true that you shouldn't call GayProf as your baby sitter, I am not actually advocating the deportation of children. I apologize for offending my readers. Indeed, I appreciate being challenged. My apologies also go out to children, but they really shouldn’t be reading this blog anyway.
Rest assured, I have no real interest in seeing social services cut off for children. On the contrary, I believe that we should be expanding the scope and range of social services for children. Moreover, I believe that children are some of the most vulnerable citizens in this nation and the ones whose rights are most often disregarded (usually by their own parents).
The last section of the previous entry was intended as a satiric comment on how quickly and easily some people in this nation are willing to shut off access to basic social services for people in our population. When we apply the same standards to another group of humans, in this case children, that notion seems absurd. Or at least that was the attempt, but clearly it functioned poorly given the distress it caused.
Every child, based on their humanity, deserves access to a quality education, healthcare, and a safe living environment. I think, though, that the entire discussion around parenting, children, and the responsibilities of this nation are far out of kilter. Right now we are totally unable to have productive discussions about parenting because it has been moved to a sacrosanct realm.
Notions of parenting, however, need to be interrogated in this nation. Having children is not, for instance, an altruistic gesture for humanity. Indeed, given the amount of resources that U.S. citizens consume, it is quite the opposite. The exception to this would be those people who actually are altruistic and adopt already existing children who didn’t otherwise have a safe home.
In the seventies and eighties, the nation had explicit discussions about the notion of zero population growth and suggested that people needed to carefully consider the consequences of bringing new humans into an overpopulated world (This idea has seemingly become so unpopular in recent years that the organization Zero Population Growth changed its name in 2002 to “Population Connection”).
The earth, however, is still overpopulated. Since 1980, the earth’s population has grown 30 percent. More people mean more consumption and more waste. It means already exhausted urban structures are going to be pushed to the breaking point.
The United States, which accounts for just 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes 25 percent of the word’s resources and produces 25 percent of greenhouse gases. One new human born in the United States will consume 30 times more than a brand new human born in India and 20 times more than a new human in Africa. Much like the individual who imagines it’s not their SUV or giant pickup truck that is the problem, parents in the U.S. assume no accountability that their individual decisions to have children have broader environmental consequences. Actually, in many cases, children become a justification for a gas guzzling SUV.
No, I am not begrudging people in the U.S. who have children, nor am I interested in the government or anybody else meddling in people’s reproductive decisions. As a nation, though, we need to remember that having children is a choice. Nobody is required to have children. Nobody. End of story.
As a nation, we must be able to discuss and accept that individual decisions about having children result in profound consequences for society (and the earth). Having children should be an informed choice that is taken with a serious eye to social responsibility. In the current atmosphere, however, even bringing up the idea that more people need to think about their decision to have children is to invite scorn (mostly because people don’t wish to take responsibility or admit that, indeed, there is a problem).
One of the main ways that we can combat the problem of overpopulation in the United States is to increase the availability and education about birth control. According to research conducted by Guttmacher Institute in New York, nearly half of all new pregnancies in the United States were unintended. That is a shocking number to me and inexcusable for an industrialized nation. Even worse, the rate of couples using contraception declined in the United States over the past five years. Most of this has to do with a simple lack of access. States have slashed funding to family planning programs. Insurance companies are not held accountable for providing birth control. As a result, people are getting pregnant when it is not best for them or their children.
Likewise, the current administration had explicitly aimed to undermine sex education classes. Studies have shown that three in ten women become pregnant at least once before they are 20 years old in the United States. In contrast, only 6 percent of French women in the same age group became pregnant; only 11 percent in Canada became pregnant. Both of those nations had equivalent rates of sexual activity (in other words, women in the U.S. are not simply having more sex and thus become pregnant). Clearly the U.S. is failing to provide basic information. Abstinence Only Education is much like asking people to believe in the Easter Bunny until they are 25 years old.
Given that people are still going to have children (though, I will repeat that this nation should have fewer of them for the sake of the environment), we could also spend more time considering how parenting is imagined. Unfortunately, the message that is being sent to most middle-class and upper class parents right now is that parenting is a competition. Rather than working collectively for a better position for all the nation’s (much less the world’s) children, parents are encouraged to look after only their own. The quasi-realization that resources are increasingly limited has resulted in the idea that parents must create uber-children who can claw their way to the top of the economic pile.
This, it seems to me, is the mentality that has resulted in the current education crisis in the United States. Middle-class and upper class parents ensure that their kids get an education while caring very little about the school ten miles away. Poorer parents, meanwhile, who don’t have the initial resources or knowledge of the system are simply not able to join the aggressive parenting of the middle class.
Moreover, I am disconcerted that we don’t construe parents as guardians of young individuals who have their own civil and human rights. Instead, this nation basically considers children the property of their parents. This, in my mind, leaves children without any real access to justice or basic guarantees to a quality of life. It also creates an atmosphere where child abuse is ignored or even tolerated. An estimated 906,000 children are victims of abuse and neglect every year in the United States. Over 1,500 children die each year because of abuse. To put that another way, four children die in the United States everyday because of abuse or neglect.
Research conducted on deaths resulting from child abuse suggested that neighbors or family often knew, or at least suspected, that abuse had been occurring. Yet, the abuse went unreported because they believed it was a “private” matter.
Finally, we should consider ways to streamline the adoption process so that the already existing children in the world can have homes. Moreover, we need to battle the creepy notion that one must have a biological child of their own. The nation has lots of children who need homes, but they are not being adopted (except newborn white babies).
For a nation that prides itself on being baby-centered, we are grossly failing the children who are actually living in this country. It’s time for less idolization of children and more concrete discussions about how to improve their actual world.