“I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions – a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.”
– bell hooks
Children are not allowed to partake in the democratic processes of this world, generally because they are considered incapable of addressing complex questions. When we imagine a world ruled by children, it is a world not unlike the one in The lord of the flies, a chaotic world without logical rules, regulations or boundaries, a world where the most demonic aspects of humanity are at the forefront of decision-making.
This view tells us a lot about how we see children, and why children are often discriminated and controlled in ways that only prisoners and mental patients are otherwise subjected to.
Whether we do it implicitly through institutionalized structures or with deliberate intent, we tend to believe that children must be broken down, not unlike feral horses or circus animals, to become civilized members of society.
We cannot blame ourselves; we were brought up the same way; taught that our mistakes and wrongdoings meant that there was something wrong with us, that we were ‘bad’ and ‘malignant’, when all we did was emulating what we saw adults doing.
The thing is: there is nothing that exists within children that didn’t first come from adults – and this is the very fact that we are so much in denial about that we make children scapegoats for our own demonic nature; the spite, the jealousy, the nastiness that we somehow delude ourselves into believing comes directly from them, and not possibly something that they could be learning and picking up from us.
We believe them to be incapable of making common sense decisions, we say that they lack of experience, but we fail to ask ourselves whether the decisions we make, that make up the world, are at all supportive for the purpose of sustaining this planet.
When we take the premise of our prejudice towards children out of the equation, it is becomes redundant to argue that children should not be allowed to partake in the democratic process. To put it bluntly: As adults, we are the ones making a mess of this planet and we have no idea what children could contribute with if they were allowed to – because they have never been allowed an equal voice.
So I conducted a survey among my friends where I asked them to ask their children (or any child) what they would vote for if they could vote. They could vote for anything they wanted to; causes, people you name it.
This is what they said:
8 year old: “Peace and a world without any gangsters.”
11 year old: “Equal money and that everyone has as much as Adele. Not harming any animals and no more weapons!”
5 year old: “Free money so I could buy all the toys I wish for.”
10 years old: “Freedom as a right for everybody to be who they are and do all they want, – without hurting anyone.”
13 year old: “No testing in animals.”
16 year old: “For all parents who don’t educate their children to be forced to.”
8 year old: “To stop bullying. To have cool technology like hover cars and teleportation devices and time machines. That everyone have equal access to these things, the more the merrier. Another thing is better jobs and careers – and that everyone needs to have a fascinating and exciting work life.”
15 year old: “One vote for equality.”
8 year old: “1. I would like everyone to have equal amount of money. 2. That everyone have a home. 3. That everyone would get enough to eat. 4. That all children go to school. 5. And everyone feel well/good.”
10 year old: “To live in a mansion.”
16 year old: “Freedom, no wars, that everyone would be equal no matter what race you come from, what color you have you would be equal to the rest. That we take care of those in need for example refugees.”
11 year old: “Chocolate and world peace!”
7 year old: “Would like to vote for Hillary because I want a girl to be president.”
9-year-old girl: “For women’s rights, for women to not be teased or abused by men”
8 years old: “No more Wars, that everyone has enough money, more much more space for animals to live. Not harming any animals and no more weapons!”
If these kids were allowed to vote, we would have a world with world peace, a world where everyone is supported equally, where men and women are equal, a world without bullying or abuse towards animals, a world where everyone is taken care of – and yes: plenty of chocolate and hover cars and toys and mansions for everyone.
Would it truly be so bad if children could vote? And aren’t we overestimating our own capabilities for making smart political decisions considering the current state of the world?
According to the Gapminder foundation that work to provide a fact-based world view in a world with much ignorance, children currently make up a whopping 27 % of the world’s population, almost a third of the total population of humanity. The world could therefore potentially look very different if children were allowed to vote, and according to an article on the Children’s Rights International’s website, there are plenty of arguments that speak towards that being a smart choice:
1. Children have rational thoughts and make informed choices. They often display very sophisticated decision-making abilities, for example when dealing with a bully at school or an abusive parent. Some claim young people are ignorant of political affairs, but if this is true, it is a truth that extends to many adults. Democracy requires that everyone should have a voice in making the decisions that govern their lives.
2. Children should not be prevented from making decisions simply because they might make the wrong ones. It is important not to confuse the right to do something with doing the right thing. Some argue children would cast their vote frivolously, but many adults do the same or choose not to vote at all.
3. Mistakes are learning experiences and should not be viewed as wholly negative. Children, like adults, grow through a process of trial and error. Decisions made by adults are far from infallible as evidenced by wars, nuclear weapons, global warming and many more bad judgments that have led to pain and suffering. To deny children the right to make mistakes is hypocritical. If the argument is really about competence and not age, then it is not children who should be excluded but the incompetent.
4. Setting age limits on the right to vote is relativistic and arbitrary. Limits vary from country-to-country when it comes to criminal responsibility, sexual maturity and political rights. The negative definition of children as “non-adults” is simplistic. The ages from to 18 encompass an enormous range of skills, competencies, needs and rights. A 16-year-old is likely to have more in common with a 19-year-old than a three-year-old but, according to conventional accounts, the 16 and three-year-old are equally “children”. There is no better example than that of a 17-year-old who dies in a war before even having the right to vote.
5. The exclusion of children from decision-making is unfair because they can do nothing to change the conditions that exclude them. If incompetence was the issue, the stupid could grow wise, but children can not prematurely grow old. This argument confuses particular children with children as a group.
6. The argument for the exclusion of children from decision-making is little more than ill thought through prejudice dressed up as “common sense’”.
Schools such as Sudbury Valley, the Freinet schools and other democratic schools have already with success implemented voting as an integral part of their educational environment where children are equipped with voting rights equal to adults and get to vote on things like what the school budget gets spend on and whether to hire a new teacher. From an early age children who attend these schools, not only learn that their voice and perspectives matter, but they also become familiar with democratic processes involving policy development and they are more likely to grow up being interested in, and caring about being active participants in the general democratic processes within society.
As adults we tend to overestimate our own capabilities of effectively directing the world, but at the same time we also underestimate children’s abilities to contribute and it can even be argued that their perspectives are in fact greatly missed in the political debates and debacles.
Allowing children to partake in the democratic processes of the world could be a progressive step towards world change – and it is not like the world can get much worse than what it already is. As a smart child said once: “If you can’t fix it, then at least stop breaking it.”
I for one, would like to see a world where children had an equal vote to decide what to do with the world and its resources, how to care for animals and poor people and refugees, because I am sure that they would contribute with valuable and common sense perspectives, not to mention creative and compassionate solutions to solve the problems of the world.
We could certainly benefit from seeing the world more like children sees it and I am sure that if we let them, they would gladly help us change the world – and the world would be better off for it.
A really interesting question that I will bring up in my next post is the question of why children so often bring these common sense perspectives to the table and why we as adults do not. What is it that happens in the process of growing up that causes us to loose that ability to look at the world with common sense and actually see the big picture in simplicity?