Why Hasn't There Been A Social Justice Movement For Children?
Social justice has been centered on adults.
Why hasn’t there been a social justice movement for children?
It’s odd when you think about it. If social justice is about protecting the vulnerable, the minority, and the oppressed, then there is no minority more vulnerable or oppressed than children.
It’s also strange when you consider how many other social justice movements exist. There is a social justice movement for every identity group. There is a movement for racial justice, women, gender identity, queer identity, disability justice, fat studies, decolonization, indigenous people, neurodiversity, etc. Why not children?
In Epistemic Injustice: Power and The Ethics of Knowing, Miranda Fricker suggests that “we try hardest to understand those things it serves us to understand,” and “a group’s unequal hermeneutical participation will tend to show up in a localized manner in hermeneutical hotspots.” In other words, people seek knowledge when it benefits them.
If a group is oppressed, they will seek out knowledge to understand their oppression. Critical social justice has a lot of very useful tools for any minority that wants to organize for power. However, dominant groups might not seek the same level of knowledge or understanding when there is nothing for them to gain. How do adults benefit from understanding children?
The obvious answer to why there hasn’t been a social justice movement for children is that it doesn’t benefit adults to have one, and adults are the ones with access to the epistemic tools of social justice and critical theory.
There are vast bodies of knowledge about children. Yet there is very little knowledge for children. When adults do study children, they center their understanding on what benefits adults. Everything from parenting to pedagogy is centered on the question: how do we get children to do what we want?
If all of the literature on another class was centered on the question “how do we get this group to do what we want?” we would assume there was serious exploitation and oppression going on. Yet adults often miss this, because they view children as extensions of themselves or the property of adults rather than whole persons with their own unique needs and way of seeing the world.
Even social justice literature often ignores the needs of children. Most social justice literature is focused on how to use children to meet the needs of adult identity groups. The entire field of critical pedagogy looks at how to educate children in social justice ideas but never questions the compulsory government institutions children are locked in where this teaching occurs.
As far as I know, Children’s Justice is the first book of its kind to envision a social justice movement for children. I wrote it because I was still connected to my own inner child and childhood experiences. I think if anyone looks honestly at their own feelings and experiences as a child, they will see significant injustices, some of which might still affect them to this day.
Since what we do to children affects the adults they become, the issue of how we treat children intersects with every other social justice issue. We won’t have full social justice until we have Children’s Justice.