Kids Rights: schooling

Everyone I know is talking about the California Supreme Court’s recent decision declaring gay civil unions legal “marriage.” A good and reasonable decision, in my opinion. However, the California court system is only 1 for 2 over the past few months.

If you’ll recall, their last notable case involved criminalizing teaching your own children. The appellate court involved ruled that children 6 to 18 must be taught by a teacher who is credentialed by the state. Over 150,000 kids are now truant and parents are now liable for damages because of this ruling, which is a travesty.

Kids learn best when they are given choices; when they are given the freedom to follow their own interests to the end and pique their natural curiosity. Public school may be the right environment for some kids, but it’s definitely stifling for many and some of them are comparable to prisons for kids. Parents need choices and kids do as well.

As I alluded to in my post on the Village Free School, I came up in a Montessori private school, and find Montessori, free schools, and Waldorf schools very alluring. These are environments where kids learn to learn. They learn to teach themselves skills that they need. They are perfect for producing well-rounded and grounded adults who can navigate their own lives without someone telling them where to go and what to do. They also usually produce students who have the skills necessary to succeed in college.

I never went to public school, so I don’t know if I’m entitled to question what goes on there, but it seems to me that a state-run institution is not going to produce people who question the state. Questioning your leaders is a long-time American tradition, and hopefully one that is not being lost as we speak.

So, just like kids should have a right to vote, trade, and declare themselves adults, they should also have a right to learn what they want to learn and to be taught by whoever they or their parents believe will help them learn. No state (even California) should be able to take those rights away.

Village Free School

A very good friend of mine from college is one of the founders of a very interesting place. It’s called the Village Free School in Portland, Oregon. I’m afraid to say very much about it because I don’t want to tell you lies, I’m honestly not entirely familiar with what they do, other than that they are a very good school and their philosophy seems to be in line with my own.

My understanding of what a “free school” is is rudimentary. I think that the essential idea is that the kids and teachers work together to determine what the lesson will be on and how it will be taught. Whatever topics are piquing the interest of the kids at any given time are explored thoroughly until their curiosity and interest has been satiated. Teachers are there to facilitate, and I’m sure they can inject any good ideas they might have into the learning process if they are so inclined.

I compare this to my experience in lower and middle school. I went to a Montessori style school from pre-kindergarten until I entered undergraduate. The way our school worked was that we had to fulfill certain requirements; say, four “humanities” assignments, three “math and science” assignments, and two “writing” assignments. We were given fairly large leeway to do these things, and a range of activities to choose from. You could generally also “think outside the box.”

For example, my favorite activity was the “shark report,” where you choose a type of shark and write a few paragraphs about it, making sure to answer some basic questions. One day, a friend and I were working on an assignment, and my pencil point hitting the paper was bothering him a lot. So, we got together and decided to learn cursive (I think this was in the second grade). All we got done in a single day was one shark report, but since it was in cursive, we had impressed the teacher enough that she said it was okay. That’s the kind of good feeling that comes from taking initiative, following through, and accomplishing something you can be proud of, and that feeling can only come when you have the freedom to do those things.

The free school seems like it’s even more along the lines of what I support. I support freedom, in all its forms, and giving people, especially kids, the ability to learn responsibility, entrepreneurship, and self-motivation. I think the free school is an exemplar of this attitude, whereas public school is the exact opposite.

The Village Free School in Portland is accepting gifts of money or materials so that they can continue their mission of providing a great learning environment for their students.  Just taking a look at the materials they are looking for gives you a sense of the enabling environment they are building.  I plan to donate and I hope you will too.

Kids Rights: rites

Kids have to be protected and guarded by their parents, this is a biological fact. And yet, all human beings have rights by their very nature to freedom and the pursuit of happiness. These values can sometimes conflict, and when they do it can be difficult to sort out who should have the say: the kids or their parents.

This is why most societies around the world have rites. Once children go through these rites, they become adults in the eyes of the community, and that is the point at which they are given the full freedom accorded to every human being. In my opinion, smart parents will give them a good deal of freedom before this point to prepare them, but once the person goes through the rite of passage, they are guaranteed both adult freedom and adult responsibility.

Unfortunately, in our country, we don’t really have something like this. Some religious organizations still have something along these lines — Bar Mitzvahs, Confirmations, or Rumspringa for example. And there are a few things we can point to — getting your driver’s license, graduating high school, turning 21 — that might give the young person an inkling that they are expected to be an adult, but all of these are based on age.

All people are different, and there isn’t a specific age at which people are ready to be an adult with all the rights and responsibilities that attach to it. Some people as young as 14 or 15 are ready, whereas others might not be ready until 22 or even older.

I’ve been trying to think of different ways that something like this could come about in our society.

  • John McCain has a plan for expanding a national service system, where people would volunteer to go into the military or into a domestic program like Americorps for two years before or after college.  Many think his idea is to make this mandatory, which I am dead set against, but if it were simply encouraged as a good idea it could fit this bill.
  • Rites like this have traditionally been some sort of test, either of strength, or courage, or moral turpitude.  It could be like that, sort of like the SAT of being a responsible person.
  • One friend suggests that it could be something like what a teenager in the video game The Sims II has to do:  choose an aspiration like love, money, books, or family.  Maybe they could have to do some sort of project toward that end, like an eagle scout would, for example.
  • Another possibility would be to have a program where people who die donate their estates to a fund that gives young adults some “starting out money.”  Once they take that money, their parents aren’t supposed to give them any more.  This could help to equalize society in a pretty interesting way, giving poorer kids a shot at making it and lessening the number of trust fund kids.  If you believe in taxation, you could create a system like this using taxes.

Any possibility, I think, should be purely voluntary, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start a tradition or even a strong social more to follow them, which after all, are pretty much what rites of passage are.
The whole reason for my idea is to eliminate the current levels of age discrimination in the law, those arbitrary ages preventing people from driving, drinking, voting, suing, buying things and all the things that responsible adults get to do, and responsible young people should be able to also.

Do you have any ideas?

Kids Rights: trade

If you’ve ever talked politics with me, you know I have a thing about voluntary trade.

When a voluntary trade takes place, it is always mutually beneficial. Both of the people involved are getting what they want out of it, no one is being coerced, and the world is a better place because the exchange took place.

And yet, good kids are getting suspended for buying candy in school.

Being an entrepreneur at this early stage can give more valuable lessons than can be learned in a classroom. A child can learn that being a good citizen means helping others by fulfilling their needs and providing a useful service. They can learn math skills and simple economics.

These principles were recently demonstrated by season 4 of HBO’s The Wire, which I know is a favorite of the blogosphere. That season, focused on kids in a Baltimore city school, showed one character, Randy Wagstaff, who was selling candy in school, and got in trouble for it. The trouble he was in cascaded until it ruined his life, and all because he showed some initiative, and the system shut it down. I don’t think that is the way to help kids who are just trying to do right by themselves and everyone around them.

Suspending kids who engage in this kind of trade is counter-productive, and a travesty. They should instead be lauded for having that spark of ingenuity and the drive to not just sit around playing video games, but to DO something.

Finally, you all know, or should know, my take on black markets. When something like candy is banned in a school, a black market will form. Obviously! And participation in the black market should be lauded! Free mutually beneficial trade is a boon to all who participate in it, and when your participation is underground, it can’t be taxed or have other extra burdens placed on it.

Kids Rights: around the blogosphere

I plan on writing plenty more posts on the rights of kids to have more power over themselves, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you. I came upon two links today on this topic though, and so I thought I would share them:

On kids choosing their own schooling: The purpose of government schools is to train your children to love the government by Rad Geek

On the drinking age: Some Good News by The Agitator

These are two very informative blogs, in general, though you may already have to be libertarian to appreciate them!

Kids Rights: voting

There are far too many freedoms that are denied to children in our society.

I’ve always thought that children and young adults, while definitely in need of guidance, would also be better off learning how to govern themselves and make intelligent choices at a younger age. In order to learn these things, they need to be given the opportunity and the freedom to decide some things for themselves.

I don’t have kids of my own, yet, so my opinion may change when I do, but I hope not.

I intend to be doing many posts on this theme on various topics. The first I’d like to address is voting.

Why does the right to vote accrue to us in this country at the age of 18? Like many age restrictions, it is entirely arbitrary. Some young people at the age of 14 are more informed and smarter than the average adult, and there is no reason to keep them out of the ballot box. Other young people are less informed, but it is likely that they will simply not want to vote. Children in this way are just like the general population.

I am interested in hearing arguments as to why the voting age shouldn’t be lowered or done away with altogether. If you are old enough to know how to work the machinery of voting (and most kids use far more advanced computer systems every day), you are old enough to make a decision for yourself how you wish to be governed.

I’m not a big fan of voting in general, because I don’t think it is of any use given the system we are living under now. Perhaps in a different system, things might be better. But I think that whether to vote and who to vote for is a decision that each person should be able to make for themselves. Children are people too, and deserve to be counted.

So, I am proposing that the voting age be lowered to 0. I don’t know if this requires a constitutional amendment, as lowering it to 18 did, but if it does, then I am proposing that we make such an amendment.

Please, won’t someone think of the children?