The Politics of Children

By Mike Konczal |

Not the politics of having children, but the politics of actual children. Long-winded, but three things.

One. Katie Baker has written some of the best things I’ve read this month, but one thing stands out: Here to Make Friends. It’s about the difficulty reality show television producers have in making children compete against each other for prizes, as the kids naturally want to cooperate.

“In the beginning, older Kid Nation contestants helped younger, weaker kids out and the dusty air was rife with auspicious anti-grownup sentiment … host Jonathan Karsh, a fully grown man, showed up halfway through the first episode and announced that the kids would be separated into a socioeconomic hierarchy … From then on, the kids were more interested in climbing the ranks of the pseudo-feudal class structure than subverting it.

[Although the] MasterChef Junior … structure was ultimately every-kid-for-themselves, the contestants still found ways to support one another by giving each other hugs and high-fives, tearing up when their new friends lost, and celebrating their competitor’s victories.”

It then goes into the Hunger Games. Definitely worth a read.

Two. From New York Daily News, 4 and 5-year-olds are taking standardized math tests. “Teachers said kindergartners are bewildered. ‘Sharing is not caring anymore; developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,’ said one Queens teacher, whose pupils kept trying to help one another on the math test she gave for the first time this fall.”

Sarah Jaffe likes using this story as a good example of what people mean by neoliberalism subjectivity creation. There’s something awful in a teacher having to break up 5 year olds trying to help each other learn and overcome obstacles, saying that they can’t help other, but instead should be looking to compete and win.

Three. In early 2006, I decided I was going to visit a variety of churches across Chicago, both to see the ceremonies and as an architecture tour. I grew up attending a Catholic Church with an aggressively modern design that shocked the Poles in Chicago’s Gage Park when it arrived, so I always had a fascination with church architecture.

One stop I wanted to make was at First Unitarian Church of Chicago, in a gothic Hyde Park building. I checked their schedule and Melissa Harris-Lacewell was giving a talk on “The Ethics of Getting Away With It.” (“How can our diverse religious and humanist traditions help us to understnad why bad acts so often seem to bring prosperity and reward?”) I had seen her give an interesting talk on public access when my DVR box recorded that instead of the normally scheduled Chic-a-go-go, and I was intrigued. (Harris-Lacewell is now Melissa Harris-Perry, of the weekend show on MSNBC. I debated trying to bring this story up during commercial when I was on that show, but thought better of it.)

Before the ceremony, the children in the audience were given a bunch of pieces of wrapped candy and told that they could pass them out or do whatever they want with them. And the kids handed them so that each person in the church got some. They didn’t stockpile them, or only pass them out to their friends, but ensured that there was something for everyone. A basic distributional concern that society would eventually try to remove from them.

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Mike Konczal is a Fellow with the Roosevelt Institute, where he works on financial reform, unemployment, inequality, and a progressive vision of the economy. His blog, Rortybomb, was named one of the 25 Best Financial Blogs by Time magazine. Follow him on Twitter @rortybomb.