Tag: childism

For Mothers AND Fathers, On Parenting, On Making Big Change: Childism

With Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, May 13, and Father’s Day a month later on June 17, we are focused on good parenting, a gift to be commemorated with flowers, chocolate, and cards. Yet in her new book Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl reminds us how, for many children in the U.S. and abroad, good parenting is something that is sorely lacking. Jesse Kornbluth recently wrote about his “shattering” experience with Young-Bruehl’s project for a Huffington Post article titled, “Who’s the Bully?”

In the book, Young-Bruehl, who passed away in December, proposes the introduction of the term “childism” as the first step in identifying and counteracting a prejudice against children that she sees in everything from child imprisonment, fetal alcohol syndrome, abuse, and many more widespread phenomena. Although the author acknowledges that “We do not need more useless social science verbiage,” she cites the 1965 coinage of the word “sexism” as a means for understanding the systemic stereotyping and mistreatment of women, and hopes that “childism” can foster a parallel process of recognition. “Giving it a name is the first step,” Young-Bruehl wrote in an op-ed for Time that appeared last month.

In that same piece, Young-Bruehl argues that “Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognize because children are the one group that, many of us think without thinking, is naturally subordinate.” She continues: “It seems normal to insist ‘honor thy father and thy mother’ without any reciprocal ‘honor thy children.’”

Young-Bruehl calls for an effort to work against these assumptions, noting that childism comes in many forms other than the abuses registered by social workers. Children are manipulated, neglected, and dominated by their parents, and deprived access to food, shelter, and education under an entrenched system of poverty. The U.S., Young-Bruehl points out, has thus far failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national legislation does not adequately defend children’s rights or provide for their developmental needs.

As student at the New School, Young-Bruehl worked with political thinker Hannah Arendt and went on to write both the biography Hannah Arendt: For the Love of the World and Why Arendt Matters for Yale University Press. In Childism, she follows in the footsteps of her mentor, offering an incisive and articulate critique. Drawing on her work as a psychoanalyst in addition to legal, philosophical, and even literary sources, Young-Bruehl illuminates prejudices that often go overlooked, drawing her reader’s attention to an injustice that affects an entire generation, and a problem that is crying out to be solved.

Childism Continues

In the past weeks, we covered the deaths associated with a book on childrearing, bringing it into conversation with Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children, a new book by psychoanalyst and writer Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. All too sadly, it was not long before we shared the news that Young-Bruehl passed away at the beginning of the month.

Both the book’s subject and its author stay at the forefront of our minds, as recent news headlines continue to show the necessity of Childism. On Friday, the Associated Press reported on the case of an autistic schoolboy stuffed into a duffel bag; this was a disciplinary action conducted by his teachers. That he was autistic seems irrelevant to his treatment: in Kentucky, where the incident occurred, “there are no laws on using restraint or seclusion in public schools, according to documents on the state Department of Education’s website,” writes Bruce Schreiner for the AP.

Engaging deeply rooted ideas in our culture, Childism invites us to look at the societal thinking that allows this structure. In its final chapter, “Education and the End of Childism,” Young-Bruehl writes:

[T]here will always be people and societies that act against the principle Aristotle articulated in his Nicomachean Ethics: “The parent gives the child the greatest gifts, its existence, but also cherishment and education; . . . and because the child receives, it owes the parent honor and helpfulness.” Adults who do relate to children according to the natural principle, provisioning them for healthy growth and development, protecting them, preparing them for participation in family and community life, will never be able completely to change those who behave immaturely and harmfully toward children. But they can influence the conditions that provoke, permit, and even encourage such behavior. And they can work to identify and address the prejudice, childism, that legitimates it.

Who could imagine “disciplinary action” against an adult in this manner, autistic or not? Without debating the typical “cruel and unusual,” we seem to carry out those more imaginative and sadistic punishments on children, both as a reflection of our own insecurities and as an exercise of control in their lives. This is the book written to confront the culturally embedded devolution of the natural relationship between parent and child into identifiable prejudice and abuse, and how we must all work together to improve the welfare of children.

In Memoriam: Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

We at Yale University Press are very sad to report the untimely passing of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl last Thursday, December 1, at age 65. As a psychoanalyst and philosopher, Young-Bruehl brought her interest in the ideologies of prejudice to her many books, including her YUP biographies of Anna Freud and mentor Hannah Arendt.

Combining not only psychology and philosophy, but literature, history, law, feminism, humanism, and above all social conscience, Young-Bruehl was a vocal advocate of anti-prejudice thought, most recently giving a talk for the New York Institute for the Humanities to discuss the work behind her last and forthcoming book, Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children. Early reader Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, wrote “Childism is an alarming analysis of the policies and behaviors that are so harmful to our children. Young-Bruehl’s deeply humane insights should be required reading for policymakers and parents.”

Only a month ago, we posted an article to our blog in response to the front page story about recent deaths connected to the disciplinary practices espoused in a book on child rearing, relating it to Childism, which explores the mistreatment of children as comparable to other forms of discrimination like racism, sexism, and homophobia. The post started quite a buzz on Facebook and Twitter from users anxious to engage with the controversial nature of the book, and of course, spanking.

“The struggle against childism is one of the most important battles we will ever wage, for it is a fight for the future,” writes Elisabeth in the Introduction to her new book. Next month, when we publish Childism, we will also have an interview with Young-Bruehl, conducted earlier this fall. Reading all the social media attention had excited Elisabeth to contribute more blog pieces on the book, but in her memory, we will champion her cause to not only raise awareness within our society, but to suggest and provide ways that we can fight oppression of children. We have been well-advised by Elisabeth’s echo from Dominique Browning’s memorial post on Young-Bruehl’s “Who’s Afraid of Social Democracy?” blog: “Cherish the time you have. Cherish this world. Be gentle, but be strong. Live in love.”