Children’s rights: hard to hear.

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It’s not often that I talk about my work from a cold start. From that, what I mean, is with someone or in an environment where there is little or no understanding or awareness of the issues.

I made a conscious choice a couple of years ago, for self-care and affective activism, to direct my energy to connecting, building and collaborating with other innovator/early adopter folk, folk who already ‘get it’ and are working on the same problems, with a view to it being the best use of energy to result in actual tangible change. This group still has loads of problems to tackle, overcome, and strength to build, before things can change on a wider scale, and I still ascribe this strategy and encourage other activists in the area of children’s rights in the home and education to do the same.

However, this week I happened in to a cold start conversation, when I was at a soft play with my son and his friend. Someone that works there, a place we’ve visited on and off for about 7 years, asked me “what it is that I do” over a coffee order. And it was a really interesting experience to follow that conversation out.

It is, almost impossible, to broach the subject of children’s rights and schooling/family life, without in someway triggering the person that you are talking with. Some people respond differently depending on their current life circumstances and personal history, and the person I was speaking to this time was a parent to three children, all of whom were either currently in school or at university.

Sharing that I work on the issue of children’s rights in school, prompted the question: “is the idea then that children’s rights aren’t respected in school”. My work is problematic for a person who is sending, or has sent, their child into a school environment every day. Talking about children’s rights in the home, with the same implication that there is a problem there too, isn’t a lens that is comfortable for most parents, or anyone really seeing as we all have our own experience of the parent child relationship. The conversation soon shifts from one that was curious about the ‘work’, to something that is felt on a personal.

While I am very happy to talk about what I do, discuss it conceptually, theoretically and in practice, this becomes almost impossible when the person you are talking to has been triggered, and has hit the start of the grief curve (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). We went from talking about what it is that I do, to a space of denial, justification of school as ‘surely not that bad’, a need for validation. The shift from curiosity to self-protection was tangible, even though it took me a few moments for me to remember and realise what was happening, and adjust myself to the new nature of the conversation and the needs of the person I was talking to.

The conversation a book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to While People about Race”, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which I had heard about but not read yet. I’ve just started listening to it and highly recommend. From the book:

“The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings. Even if they can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave our mouths and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further.”
― Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

The underlying and constant concern and motivation of my work is addressing the systematic and interpersonal violation and disregard of children’s personhood and rights – a critical element of intersectional feminism, and essential for deconstructing patriarchy and enacting social and environmental change. For many reasons, it isn’t always easy to hear.

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