by Glenn Reed
(Swans - January 14, 2013) A little over a week into December, I'd completed an article about child abuse in America. Then on December 15, 2012, with the horrific mass killing of twenty children (and seven adults) in Newtown, Connecticut, that piece took on a whole new meaning. I had to step back and look at it again. Then I started over.
No, this article was not specifically about parents who physically or psychologically abuse their children. Nor was it about adults in institutions like the Catholic Church or school sports coaches who sexually abuse them.
The article was about how this country as a whole is abusive of children. Yes, that means the United States (U.S.): The "land of the free and home of the brave." The place of "the American dream." That "shining beacon of hope and freedom on the hill," or whatever it was that President Ronald Reagan called it.
It was about the nation where children are required to pledge allegiance to the flag at the start of each day. In schools. The article was about a land of institutionalized child abuse.
It was about very deliberate or unconscious policies that leave children and others who are among our most vulnerable open to constant exploitation. It was about a system that penalizes them for conditions for which they are not at all responsible, such as family situations or neighborhoods into which they are born.
It was about corporations that dominate our government and that treat children as consumers, target audiences, and as future bottom line gains. It was about a country that doesn't really value children in terms of their true individuality, for their talents and potential, as an essential part of a common good that should run beneath the fabric of our society. It was about an attitude towards children based on neoliberal capitalism, nationalism, and the military-industrial complex model rather than one that views a whole community as taking responsibility for all of its children, such as is prevalent in Native American and other cultures.
I had written about an economic system that gives corporations the same rights as people, but few of the responsibilities. I had written about how such corporations are allowed to directly target all of our children, even the youngest, through advertising and other marketing techniques. I had noted how those corporations take advantage of a child's innocent and trusting nature, their malleability, their respect for authority figures. I had emphasized how these corporations and advertisers drool at the prospect of creating "brand" devotion among two- to four-year-olds exploiting that these toddlers can't yet distinguish reality from fantasy.
Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald would never lie to you!
I had written about elected officials who continue to push deregulation of such corporations because it's "good for the economy," and who won't raise a finger against those corporate executives meeting in back rooms who deliberately plan how to get six-year-olds to buy junk food that will make that child obese in a few years and subject to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other maladies.
Yes, let the market do its magic. The responsibility is all on parents' shoulders!
I had written about the politicians, special interest groups, "think" tanks, and media shills who exploit children for their own gains, whether it be more votes, more money, or higher ratings. I had pointed out how many of these same people are often the ones that want to balance the budget by cutting education and social programs for those in need. I had noted how many millions of children are born into poor and otherwise struggling families that may depend upon food stamps, nutrition assistance, school lunch, and other programs in order to help feed those children. I had pointed out how difficult it is for a child to go to school on an empty stomach and how this adversely affects the ability to learn.
When a "fiscal cliff" approaches, many of these people/groups just turn blindly away as they shove the most vulnerable over the edge.
Women and children first, indeed.
My article had said how those same power brokers in the United States do all they can to preserve a vastly bloated military budget, fund endless wars, provide tax breaks for billionaires and corporations, and allow banks and other institutions to get away with murder. At the same time they turn a blind eye to the U.S.'s high rates of infant mortality, children in poverty, childhood obesity, and high school drop-outs.
Sure. Blame the parents once again. Don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain guiding the advertising and other systemic messaging that bombards a child wherever they turn, 24/7.
I had emphasized how these warped priorities have created what our "leaders" term "painful choices" for the schools our children attend. These include what needs to be cut to pay for the excesses of the 1% and not what more can be done to optimize public schools as safe, happy places that provide equal learning opportunities for our children. These "choices" include skimping on textbooks and other supplies, turning off the heat in winter, slashing art and music programs that nurture creativity and help develop well-rounded individuals, eliminating physical education and sports programs that engender self-esteem, teamwork, and that recognize the ties between sound, healthy bodies and minds.
Now, some of these same "leaders" think we can find money for armed guards in every school.
I'd written how our country has ostracized teachers and blamed them for budget problems and social ills and turned the profession into one that is focused on teaching how to take a test and conformity.
Yes...I pledge allegiance to my freedom to choose dying in Afghanistan for Exxon-Mobil, working at Walmart for low wages, or programming a computer so it'll guide a drone.
My article talked about a system that drains local dollars into the military machine, forcing neighborhood schools to beg for assistance from the same corporations that view them, with reptilian eyes, as a whole new "market" for exploitation through candy and soda machines, cafeterias serving greasy French fries and Pizza Hut, science lessons sponsored by Weyerhaeuser, sports uniforms emblazoned with Nike logos.
I had written about drastic budget cuts to mental health services that benefit youth, of an increasingly privatized prison system that needs the "chaff" of juveniles funneled into its 21st century plantations/factories, and of the racist "War on Drugs" that adds millions of youth to a growing under-caste of people who may be deprived of the right to vote, the ability to get a job, the chance for stable housing, the opportunity to just live without fear.
I had written about all these and many other things that are systemic child abuse by the United States. As well as one more. The US gun culture. And its resulting violence.
On December 15, all that my article said about systemic child abuse became inadequate. No words would suffice for the brutal, senseless slaughter of 20 six- and seven-year-olds in an elementary school.
This country is one that abuses its children in many ways. The lack of any reasonable checks on the proliferation of guns and easy access to them is just one more, increasingly deadly, symptom of that sickness.
Another is denial.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. He currently resides in Fair Haven, Vermont. (back)