Authoritarianism creeps in from seemingly unlikely places.
Government officials will start with a premise that seems pretty legit.
“Kids need to be protected. In order for parents and officials to protect them, kids can’t have full rights like adults.”
As child labor, compulsory schooling, and other “protective” laws have accelerated over the last 100 years, the definition of “child” has gone from something like under 14-years-old to 16, 18, and 21 in many cases.
But don’t worry, it’s just “kids” that don’t have rights. It’s just that American society considers people in their early twenties “kids.”
In fact, you can’t even run for the House of Representatives until age 25. According to what America fought its war of independence over–“No taxation without representation”–people under 25 should be exempt from federal taxes.
And yet the media has manipulated teens into marching not to have their human rights restored, but to take more of their rights away. They want to make sure no one under 21 can protect themselves.
This again is one of those things that sounds like a reasonable idea.
“Teenagers are unstable, we don’t want them having guns!”
Of course, 15-year-old gang members already seem quite capable of getting guns. And basically any 15-year-old in America can get cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
So instead of protecting “kids,” and protecting society from “kids,” these rules serve only to infantilize teens. It is a spiral–as teens are more restricted, they lash out in protest, which is used as further evidence of the need to restrict them.
“Disturbing Schools” and “Disorderly Conduct”
Teens are deprived of their liberty by being forced to attend public schools. And while forced to attend, they are subject to arbitrary and vague laws.
In South Carolina, almost 10,000 students under 16 have entered the criminal justice system due to laws against “disturbing schools,” and “disorderly conduct.” Ironically, students over 16 were not included in the statistics because they were charged as adults. So they don’t have the rights that adults have, but they can still be treated like an adult by the criminal justice system.
Students were charged for things like recording a school resource officer pulling a girl from her desk, throwing her to the ground, and handcuffing her.
Students sued with the help of the ACLU. The court found that the laws chill freedom of expression and present a credible threat that students will be prosecuted for exercising their rights in the future.
[The Court] determined [PDF] multiple students arrested and charged with violating the state’s “disturbing schools” law and “disorderly conduct” statute made sufficient arguments that the statutes are too vague for students to know what conduct will be interpreted as violating the law.
The appeals court found the claims that they chill students’ exercise of free expression, “forcing them to refrain from exercising their constitutional rights or to do so at the risk of arrest and prosecution,” were valid. It vacated a district court decision and remanded the case.
Some people think schools need to be tough on teens to teach them discipline. The problem is that this only teaches obedience to arbitrary authority, and filters the resistance into the prison system.
Hardening schools is not the way to go.
School is alleged to prepare kids for jobs. The key difference is that jobs are not compulsory. You can choose a job based on a number of factors. There are countless options if you don’t like the rules or atmosphere of one workplace.
But school is forced on kids. Without their consent, they are placed in a building where they have to obey orders, ask permission to use the bathroom, eat at specific times, and study what they are told to study.
They have no choice in the matter. But cracking down on the dissidents with more and more authoritarianism, unfortunately, does prepare them for real life. Hardening schools shape students to live in a hardened society. They may not learn math and reading, but they learn how to interact with the state: obey or meet violence.
Schools are starting to look more like jails. What do you think will be the result on society, when generations of children have been brought up indoctrinated to think that it is normal for the government to search them, monitor them, question them, and dictate every second of their day?
Removing arbitrary laws like the ones in South Carolina is a great start, but it doesn’t get at the deeper problem. But there are other positive signs that solutions are brewing to cure the underlying disease.
Free Range Parenting
Utah passed a law to clarify that parents cannot get in legal trouble for allowing their otherwise well cared for children some autonomy. For instance, if a child is not otherwise neglected, allowing them to walk to school and play alone at the playground at an appropriate age cannot be considered child abuse or neglact.
This cuts to the core of the problem because parenting styles that are not as mainstream cannot be considered illegal.
A sponsor of the law had it right when he said:
Kids need to wonder about the world, explore and play in it, and by doing so learn the skills of self-reliance and problem-solving they’ll need as adults. As a society, we’ve become too hyper about ‘protecting’ kids and then end up sheltering them from the experiences that we took for granted as we were kids.
The state cannot properly design a society from the top down. It has been tried and always fails.
The reason free-range parenting works is because it admits that even parents, with the best interests of their children in mind, cannot always know how to dictate the best course for their children. So instead of helicoptering, they let go of a little control and allow their children autonomy.