Some feel that the issue of children's rights will become the civil rights movement of the '80s. It's doubtful, since until they are allowed to vote (admittedly a problematic notion), they will never have a full and equal participation on the political process. This simple fact, however, has not prevented will-meaners and not-so-well-meaners from trying to frame a progressive child social welfare policy.
This past summer the National Educational Association (NEA) pressed for the splitting of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare into a separate Department of Education, a proposal supposedly motivated, if you listen to them, because of their great concern for our nation's children. They were notably hush about the fact that President Carter had promised them such a department, with a secretary most likely from among their own ranks, in return for their first endorsement of a presidential candidate in their history. And when you're talking about an organization numbering almost two-and-one-half million teachers (read: not children), that's more than just peanuts.
Juvenile justice in this country is one of those subjects that everyone's got an opinion on, but few have hard facts. When you see unruly and disobedient teenagers nightly terrorize elderly women in the South Bronx on your television set, you naturally feel that they all belong behind bars, with the keys thrown away. Yet almost half of the girls (and an almost as large percentage of the boys) currently in child detention facilities are serving time for crimes no more serious than truancy or running away from home. The bureaucrats in Washington call such juveniles "status offenders"; one of the pet projects of the Department of Justice is to "de-institutionalize" these inmates. They've allocated all sorts of post-Proposition 13 taxpayer dollars to combat the status offender problem, but so far very little of it has made its way out of Washington.
This year is officially (according to United Nations decree) the International Year of the Child (IYC). The only visible American commemoration so far this year has been typically mercenary: the Postal Service last month issued a stamp to honor the event (and to rake in loads of dough from stamp collectors). Last year Dr. Peter Bourne (remember him?) was temporarily in charge of the U.S. national commission to coordinate IYC activities in this country.
Bourne was succeeded by Mrs. Andrew Young at the height of her husband's unpopularity. The Senate passed, then repealed, and then passed again a resolution to appropriate a minimal amount of funds for the commission's operating expenses. The House never passed such a resolution, because the lobbyists of the President, who had spearheaded efforts in this country to participate in the IYC, "forgot" to introduce such legislation in that body. At this point the United States and a few African dictatorships comprise the select group not participating on a national basis in IYC activities (whatever they may be).
Such is typical of the importance this country has traditionally conveyed upon its children. It is high time that we recognize the connotations, both political and psychological, of Erik Erikson's prophetic statement, "We were all once small." Edward Zigler, of Yale's department of Psychology, will discuss "Principles of Child Development and Social Policy for Children." Be at William James room 1 on Friday at 4 p.m. to learn and enjoy.