One of the hard parts of doing effective social justice work is the balance between freedom and fairness. This is most easily seen in the treatment of children. In my last post, I alluded to different viewpoints of causes and blame for inequality. But no one can blame infants for making poor choices. Instead, what makes children poor is simply poor parents. To remedy this, we would have to balance out wealth levels of the entire family, which brings us back to the question of fairness. As a specific example, let’s say that a teenage girl makes an unwise choice and gets pregnant. On one hand, you don’t want to reward her for that choice by making her better off. On the other hand, you don’t want to penalize the child because he is not to blame. The extreme-freedom solution is to do nothing and let them both live tough lives as a result of her choice. The extreme-fairness solution is to take her child away and raise him in a boarding school with all children to make sure every child gets an equal opportunity. As a logical extension, my child and your children must also be taken away from us to attend this boarding school, lest they be given any unfair advantages of living in a richer household.
The TV show Mad Men provides some more examples of the trade-off between freedom and fairness, with regards to children. In one show you see a kid punished by being slapped in the face at a party. No calls to Child Protective Services. In another episode you notice kids crawling around the inside of a moving car. Some readers might be old enough to remember that only a few decades ago, there were no car seat laws, and as a kid you could happily sleep stretched across the back seat. Nowadays that’s illegal, and they continue to increase the age and height requirements. Quoting from elitecarseats.com, “Currently, there is a major push to enact laws that require children to be in a booster seat until the age of 8 or 80 lbs.” As a late grower, I’m pretty sure I was less than 80 lbs *in high school*…
So if taking children away from their parents reeks too much of government dystopia, and letting them suffer in poor homes seems heartless, what can we do? I can think of two broad categories of help:
- Child-based When kids are apart from their parents, there is an opportunity to help them directly. Schools are the obvious venue, but there are also camps and organizations for tutoring and mentoring. Christina recently profiled Tools for the Mind which aims at helping poor pre-schoolers catch up by learning emotional skills.
- Family-based I know of organizations that help teenage moms, and ones that provide homeless families with temporary housing. But I don’t have any direct experience with them, and I’m not sure what to do about recipient dignity and power dynamics. Does anyone have more experience or thoughts with helping families, or do you recommend focusing on helping kids directly?