In each of the six examples below, I’ll provide my observation as a child, my perspective on it at the time, and my adult understanding of why it happened that way. Emphatically, that does not constitute a defense of any of these things. The world absolutely should not be the way it often is.
I do not by any stretch of the imagination intend to rationalize or justify these problems, only attempt to explain with the benefit of age and hindsight why adults (and some children) behaved back then in ways which seemed capriciously, needlessly cruel through the eyes of a child.
In most cases it wasn’t because they were sadists, more complicated factors like legalism, economics and social forces were at play which required that morality take a backseat to pragmatism. I admire those activists who persist in their efforts to create a gentler world while also understanding parents who choose to prepare their children for the world that is, rather than the world which ought to be.
Without further delay:
Observation 1: Parents spank me or reach back to painfully squeeze/twist my limbs (when I am in the back seat of the car and thus impossible to spank from the front seat) to halt/change undesirable behaviors
Child perspective: Violence must be an effective and acceptable way to force compliance. “Violence never solved anything” is a lie, and I can use violence myself to get other people to do what I want.
Adult perspective: Children are mentally undeveloped, inherently unreasonable and often do not respond to verbal admonishment. It is critical to their socialization that they learn not to behave in dangerous or socially objectionable ways before they reach adulthood, when consequences for misbehavior become drastically more severe.
During your formative years, parents are your practice stand-in for the state, teaching you what society expects from you, reacting patiently while you test the boundaries.
Your parents love you and will let you get away with a slap on the wrist so long as they felt you learned your lesson. The state does not love you and will react much more severely to transgressions. Your parents punish you as a child so the state does not punish you later.
Observation 2: Teachers are indifferent to playground bullying
Child perspective: Authorities are not just. They do not really care what happens to anybody under their control, instead primarily concerned with appearances and protecting themselves from liability. I cannot rely on authorities for protection, I must protect myself. I will do this using violence, having learned it is an acceptable means of halting or changing undesirable behaviors.
Adult perspective: Teachers have a large workload, are always exhausted, and do not receive the pay or other resources to investigate who is responsible in all of the many, many altercations between students which happen every day. If they were to, as a matter of policy, investigate and arbitrate every student conflict, school would be 10% recess and 90% judicial hearings.
Besides, the legal climate in this country makes disciplining bullies dangerous for school administrators. If the bully is already misbehaving to that extent, probably it’s because of bad parenting, which increases the odds that the bully’s parents won’t appreciate the school disciplining their child and will react in a defensive, litigious manner.
Observation 3: Authorities punish me for fighting back when I am physically bullied
Child perspective: Not only will authorities not protect me, but I am not allowed to protect myself, despite having learned violence is acceptable from my parents. I can only infer from this that it is acceptable to use violence against me, specifically, but it is not acceptable for me to use violence against anybody else, even in self defense. I must therefore accept going forward that I will be routinely abused by people who are either physically stronger or have more authority, who will go unpunished either because they are the highest local authority or for fear of legal reprisal.
Adult perspective: School administrations are primarily concerned with education. It is irrelevant to education who started a fight, it is impossible to thoroughly investigate every altercation when they occur every day, it is legally dangerous for them to take sides, and the nature of the altercations often seem trivial to adult sensibilities.
For example, it isn’t worth provoking a lawsuit that may bankrupt the school because of a fight between two children over possession of a Pokemon card, or whatever else. As bleak as this sounds, part of learning to live with 7 billion other humans is discovering that you and your concerns are not infinitely important. Sometimes other considerations take precedence.
Observation 4: Teacher punishes me for “not listening” because I do not consistently come when called, accuses me of lying about hearing disability, does not apologize when I prove the disability is real with note from doctor and parental testimony
Child perspective: Authorities are not accountable for their errors. I am without recourse and must hope that, at the very best, the punishment will cease without explanation or apology once the relevant authorities become fully convinced they were mistaken.
Adult perspective: It is a characteristic of children that they test boundaries. A large part of their socialization is finding out where the limits are, what they can get away with and what happens when they cross various lines.
If they learn there is no real lasting consequence to crossing those lines, they will never take rules seriously again. While adults chafe at authoritarian rule, able to live lawfully within a more open, trust-based community, children lack in empathy and need structure.
This requires at least the illusion that the authorities in their life are absolute. The purpose of this is not to teach them how to talk their way out of consequences, but how not to incur those consequences to begin with.
Observation 5: Teacher puts a girl in position of “classroom judge” to teach us about the court system. The girl she has placed into this position of authority, who none of us voted for, proceeds to rule in favor of girls every time when the other person is a boy, or in favor of the boys she has a crush on when both the defendant and claimant are boys. Confronting her about this at recess leads to her running to the nearest adult, crying crocodile tears and pointing to me, resulting in my punishment.
Child perspective: Women should not hold power. They have the disposition of a trembling chihuahua which lashes out aggressively because it assumes the worst of anything larger and stronger. I will never get fair treatment from a woman. They will reliably empower other women at the expense of men regardless of merit, because they hate men for making them feel small and imagine us as inhuman, unfeeling ogres because we are not as overtly emotional.
Adult perspective: This incident had more to do with age and maturity than gender politics. Authority does not equal maturity, persons in positions of power they were not voted into and cannot be removed from often exercise that power in corrupt ways, including favorable treatment of those in their in-group and harsh treatment of those they either dislike or simply don’t value.
Observation 6: Middle school banter appears to be a game wherein individuals jockey for position in a social hierarchy by attempting to humiliate one another. It is a contest of who can be the most comically hurtful to others. I am ridiculed as weak and overly sensitive if I object to being treated in this way.
Child perspective: Finally, now we’re getting somewhere. This must be how human society works. Thank goodness it’s no longer a confusing self-contradictory mess, but rather a clear and unambiguous game of sorts, with informal but well defined rules which I can study, practice and become proficient at. By learning to be as hurtful as possible I can elevate myself over those who have already been hurtful to me, gaining social success and the satisfaction of revenge without involving adult authorities, who would do nothing to protect me anyway.
Adult perspective: It turns out this is not actually how human society works and is pretty much confined to middle/high school, becoming wildly inappropriate and swiftly punished any time after that. I have formed communication habits during this time which I may not reliably notice but which strangers will find intensely objectionable. I absolutely must un-learn everything I learned in this stage of life as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
This concludes the article. Clap if you found it insightful or compelling in some other way, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.