Monday, April 23, 2012

Exclusion Is an Exercise of Privilege

Upon reading the title people will have a tendency to become defensive.  In part this traces itself to the American civil rights experience, something that explicitly, or at least implicitly, comes to mind when one mentions exclusion.  The idea of privilege is just as likely to bring forth defensiveness.  On the one hand, you have people who think wearing blue jeans means that you are one of the people, and on the other hand you have a pretty strong streak of denial over the issue of privilege in the US.  In this case, I'm not going to be making a political statement.  I am simply going to seek to establish that exclusion is indeed an exercise of privilege.  I am not making an argument over prudence or establishing a principle of action.

The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of my favorite books.  A bastard child comes about from the union of a serf holder and serf.  The child knows of his mother and her husband, but he is separated from most of his family as a youth.  The child is conflicted about his real father, but the symbol of power he represents intrigues him.  He detests his mother as a weak woman, and he doesn't have all that high of an opinion of his step-father.  Without giving an extended treatment of the plot, the book needless-to-say does address the topic at hand.   The child comes to an understanding of the love his poor parents had for him.  He even manages to de-romanticize his real father.  Despite the peasant marriage, the step father was unable to exercise exclusion.  And while his mother might have been able to cry rape or its equivalent, it would have fallen upon deaf ears.  She would have been made to suffer, as would her husband.

As I approach midlife, I appreciate more greatly the amount of privilege I've enjoyed.  I have done such things as choosing which family members will enjoy influence over my children.  I have very heavily influenced my children's social circle.  Other choices I've seen but not indulged are things such as homeschooling.  While I would no longer count myself among the supporters of homeschooling, it simply is the embodiment of privilege.  Sure, there are a whole pattern of just-so stories about how homeschooling was the norm, and they are simply nonsense.  Private tutors were the domain of the wealthy.  Literacy among adults is a wholly modern phenomenon, so let us not pretend that teaching reading to one's children was universal.  As we continue on the anti-community streak in America, we pretend that we are protecting our children from various evils when in fact we are often little more than projecting our own insecurities.

Obviously we don't desire suffering, especially for our children.  But it is quite easy to declare our choices as those between suffering and not suffering.  It allows us to escape criticism, particularly since great deference is granted to parental choices.  This is probably as it should be.  But as the adults, it is sometimes necessary to attempt to peal back the emotionalism.  Study after study has shown that this is one of the safest eras to be a  child.  This includes such things as bullying that while awful are by objective measures lower than in prior decades.  While even acting to protect is often just an exercise in privilege - albeit the kind we all support - much of the debate around children is a near arbitrary exercise in privilege.  Be it good or bad, I'll leave others to judge, but perhaps it is time to at least entertain the conversation.

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