Mr. Finiti’s recent thoughts on the use of children as political props got me thinking…and remembering.
Over the years as a union activist I often found myself working with a group planning an informational picket line, protest, or demonstration. Often these involved education employees, but not always.
Whatever the group or issue, someone was sure to suggest that we ask parents to bring along their children. They would also suggest that we invite the students from our classes to attend. The idea was that prominently displayed children would humanize our position, and by implication demonize our opponents as anti-child. Most of all, it would attract the newspaper photographers and TV cameramen looking for an interesting shots. (The media people were almost always friendly to our causes, and worked with us to get the most sympathetic images possible.)
That would always (if I were in the room, anyway) trigger a mini-debate on the legitimacy or cynicism of such tactics. Many would defend the children-front-and-center approach, arguing that it the children would certainly agree with us if they could understand the issues. Others would claim it as a parental right. But most would argue that the children were the whole point, since we as an education employee organization were naturally motivated by the interests of the children.
Others would counter that our role as trustees of other people’s children should forbid us to enlist them into what were in fact adult conflicts. Others would cite the dust-covered “Code of Teacher Ethics”.
Where I could veto the idea, I would. But where majority voted, I was sometimes overruled. Elsewhere it might never have been questioned.
And so the photo-op demonstrations flourished. Cute 2-year olds in strollers would hold up signs reading “Don’t Cut My Mommy’s Pay”, while 5-year olds waved posters reading “Don’t Close My School” or “Vote NO on Proposition X.” The kids usually smiled because it was an exciting spectacle, and people would smile at them. But it is an ugly thing to do, if you think about it.
When I see a demonstration with children, especially if they are holding signs or expressing opinions they cannot understand, I know I am watching the work of cynical, self-serving adults who treat children as pawns on their private chessboards.
I realize that enlistment of child protesters is not as bad as drafting child soldiers, as happens in some benighted corners of the globe. But it is a lot worse than adults being willing to stand up on their own and hold their own signs and fight their own fights.
I know it wouldn’t pass, but I’d like to see some legislature somewhere consider an act criminalizing the use of children as political props.
Or maybe some Fair Labor Standards Board could declare it to be child labor and require that they ought to be paid minimum wage.