This post is going to be about child exploitation.
In the last post, I took apart common perceptions on the subject of inspecific general exploitation. To put it simply, exploitation is no different from common employment, except that the former word is used when employment seems to be paying too little or requiring too many hours. The employer is blamed for this, though I see the problem as resulting from poverty in itself, and I think the responsibility lies in the hands of everyone who is capable of helping out, including *but not limited to* the employer. The blame, if there has to be blame, lies with everyone who is content to ignore the unecessary suffering of others.
Positive action is way better than blame and shame, by the way. If you can talk about why a situation is wrong, why aren’t you doing something about it?
My views on child exploitation are an extension of my views on exploitation in general. I believe that any work which is undertaken under a person’s own free will, knowing exactly what she or he is doing, is fine. If work seems arduous and underpaid, but people still do it of their own free will, then it must be that horrible poverty exists in that area – there could be no other reason. The poverty, and not the work, is the issue.
But – I’m sure you’re saying – children don’t work of their own free will! Well, that’s a point. Some of the time I guess children are coerced, manipulated, lied to or otherwise forced to work when they wouldn’t want to. In that case I believe the negative connotation around child exploitation is justified, and we should fight to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
There’s also the issue where children may be too immature to be able to decide for themselves what is good for them. I would obviously not recommend any child doing serious work at that age, though I doubt they’d have the ability or the focus to be very productive anyway.
But I think most of the time when we talk about child exploitation nowadays we’re making the same error as when we talk about normal exploitation. Poverty is what makes people so desperate that even their children need to work. Neither the children’s bosses, nor their parents, are to blame for poverty; whatever their other failings might be.
Image: Children protest low wages (for their parents, I believe). Source
Can Children Work?
More than that, however, I think the idea of child exploitation usually covers up a deeper error.
The error is the idea that children cannot, or should not work. “Child exploitation”, then, is the word used for any economic work done by children. People don’t even think there could be child work that wasn’t child exploitation.
But who made these rules, anyway? In Indonesia I found quite a lot of children doing economic work. It’s considered much more normal there than here. I didn’t see that the children were unhappy or even ineffective. They were much as I see children: younger adults.
No one was coercing them to do this work as far as I know. They held themselves with the dignity of someone who is doing something for their own sake. These were family businesses, and their profits would be taken straight back home.
I noticed that Western people’s reactions were almost invariably negative – and also, interestingly, very reflexive, very immediate, like they just couldn’t see a child working without commenting on it. “Shouldn’t that kid be in school?” was a common question.
You’re asking me? Well I think that the child should have choice whether he or she wants to spend time in school. If child exploitation has any meaning at all, it’s work done under coercion; yet what is obligatory schooling but just that?
Most children actually don’t want to go to school. What’s more, they mostly waste time there, and forget everything. There’s no point in them going if they don’t want to.
If a child wants to work rather than go to school, why not?
I know for sure that working is the best way to learn how to work. The best way to learn how to do anything, at least anything that won’t kill you if you get it wrong, is to do it. School, then, is a waste of time, if it’s supposed to prepare people for work. If it’s supposed to do something else, then people should hurry up and explain what that is, because as in all fields if you have an unclear goal you’re not going to achieve anything.
I’m playing dumb, though. I know what school’s goal is; it’s one that isn’t told to the general populace, but should become obvious when we consider how school fails through breach of common sense to do what it pretends to want to do.
School’s Child Exploitation
School is about training people to be obedient slaves.
I’ve talked about this in other places, but if you haven’t read those articles, think about it a moment. School fails at teaching in general; most of the stuff is forgotten, except the few things which get practised later, like reading and writing.
Learning things that are utterly useless and which are then forgotten is a terrible waste of time if we’re talking about preparing children for a working life. But it’s perfect as an obedience exercise.
School’s methodology is to force children to do things they don’t want to do, again and again, until their individual will is broken. It’s simple and effective.
So our governments have made it illegal to not go to school under a certain age. (Again, this makes no sense unless you look at it from a perspective of slave training. If school was truly beneficial, children would be smart enough to want to go without being forced). So, now that it’s legally and culturally seen as outrageous if a child doesn’t go to school, it’s called “child exploitation” if children do anything useful instead.
Stopping children taking up a productive occupation has become an industry. Children obviously have a lot of spare energy (everyone wants to do *something* with their time) so that needs to be sapped away in safe ways, such as through TV, video games, homework, football, stupid fashions and other non-threatening activities.
But before the modern schooling system, the U.S. Navy’s first Admiral, David Farragut, had become a midshipman at ten and risen up the ranks to command a ship at the age of twelve. I state this not to underline a child prodigy, but to show you what I think is the maturity that all children are capable of if that maturity isn’t deliberately retarded. I quote from John Taylor Gatto’s “The Underground History Of American Education”:
The poise a young boy is capable of was tested when a gun captain on the port side ordered him to the wardroom for primers. As he started down the ladder, a gun captain on the starboard side opposite the ladder was “struck full in the face by an eighteen-pound shot,” his headless corpse falling on Farragut:
We tumbled down the hatch together. I lay for some moments stunned by the blow, but soon recovered consciousness enough to rush up on deck. The captain, seeing me covered with blood, asked if I were wounded; to which I replied, “I believe not, sir.” “Then,” said he, “where are the primers?” This brought me to my senses and I ran below again and brought up the primers.
The Essex had success; it took prizes. Officers were dispatched with skeleton crews to sail them back to the United States, and at the age of twelve, Farragut got his first command when he was picked to head a prize crew. I was in fifth grade when I read about that. Had Farragut gone to my school he would have been in seventh. You might remember that as a rough index how far our maturity had been retarded even fifty years ago. Once at sea, the deposed British captain rebelled at being ordered about by a boy and announced he was going below for his pistols (which as a token of respect he had been allowed to keep). Farragut sent word down that if the captain appeared on deck armed he would be summarily shot and dumped overboard. He stayed below.
So ended David Farragut’s first great test of sound judgment.
You can read the full chapter online, with more examples of children acting in an adult capacity, here. You can also read my review of John Taylor Gatto or check out “The Underground History of American Education” on Amazon.
What Work Means To Children
Work isn’t the only thing out there. Personally I can’t stand the normal type that involves a boss (though this wouldn’t be so horrible if school didn’t set people up to act as slaves – and in turn make bosses into the sort of people who feel culturally vindicated, indeed entitled, to treat people like slaves). I do like doing stuff which contributes to society, though, and I do like it when I get compensated. I like being able to invest and work towards a future where I’m financially freer.
I don’t see work as an end in itself – except insofar as we humans always need some sort of meaningful occupation in our lives, economic or otherwise – but I do see it as a good means to an end, and I see it as worthwhile.
I feel being able to earn money and contribute helps people feel a sense of dignity and power. As a child, for instance, I found it particularly humiliating to always be asking for permission from my parents and asking for things rather than just being able to buy them. Obviously, it should be okay to depend on others too – but why is it that we are only allowed to depend on others when we are children, and then face the threat of homelessness if we fail economically as adults?
In the end, I’m trying to say that there is no fundamental difference between children and adults. There are younger adults, and older adults. These younger adults may need more help from us, but they don’t need to be treated differently in any fundamental way. Their reasons to earn money, or not earn money, are just the same as ours.
Stripping children of their power to decide whether to go to school or not. Denying them the ability to earn money and have power over their lives. Expecting them to be stupid – practically obliging them to be stupid – and keeping them from responsibility in life for as long as humanly possible. Obliging them to not grow up and to remain helpless for as long as possible. Preferably for life – at least that’s the hidden goal of the culture that brings about this situation.
Is this advancement?
I say this is the real child exploitation here.