How Government Programs Ruined Childhood

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times entitled “We Have Ruined Childhood” offers disheartening data about childhood depression and anxiety, closely linked to school attendance, as well as the disturbing trend away from childhood free play and toward increasing schooling, standardization, and control.

“STEM, standardized testing and active-shooter drills have largely replaced recess, leisurely lunches, art and music,” says the writer Kim Brooks, who is the author of the book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.

While many of Brooks’s insights are spot-on, the undertones of her article make clear that she is focused on the collective “it takes a village” narrative of childrearing. Indeed, her book praises “the forty-one industrialized nations that offer parents paid maternity leave—to say nothing of subsidized childcare, quality early childhood education, or a host of other family supports” (p. 50).

The assertion is that most parents are desperate and alone and they must rely on government programs to help raise their children. She writes in her article:

The work of raising children, once seen as socially necessary labor benefiting the common good, is an isolated endeavor for all but the most well-off parents. Parents are entirely on their own when it comes to their offspring’s well-being…No longer able to rely on communal structures for child care or allow children time alone, parents who need to work are forced to warehouse their youngsters for long stretches of time.

This narrative is backwards. It was the expansion of government programs, particularly in education, that weakened the family, led many parents to abdicate responsibility for their children’s upbringing, and caused them to increasingly rely on government institutions to do the job for them. These institutions, in turn, grew more powerful and more bloated, undermining the family and breeding contempt for parental authority. What may seem like a charitable endeavor to help families ends up crippling parents and emboldening the state. As President Ronald Reagan reminded us: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Brooks knows better than many of us the terror associated with granting the state more power: Her book details her harrowing ordeal of being accused of child neglect and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service for leaving her child alone in a car for five minutes while she ran a quick errand. The village shouldn’t be in charge of raising children; parents should.

So how did we get here? While the seeds of mounting state power and institutionalization were sown in the 19th century and spread throughout the 20th, it was Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson who dramatically accelerated these efforts in 1964-1965 with his “Great Society” legislation. One of the most consequential effects of Johnson’s Great Society proposal was getting Congress to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) which gave unprecedented control of education to the federal government, mainly through the funding of a variety of government programs. In fact, expanding the government’s role in education was a stated goal of the Great Society plan. As Johnson himself stated: “And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.” (Heaven forbid a child be unschooled!)

The result of Johnson’s plan was the establishment and enlargement of programs such as Head Start, which was initiated in 1965 to provide government preschool and nutrition programs to low-income children. Despite billions of dollars spent on the federal Head Start program over the last half-century (the annual Head Start budget is over $10 billion in 2019), the results have been disappointing. As researchers at the Brookings Institute noted, the most in-depth studies of Head Start show that any initial gains disappeared by the end of kindergarten. More troubling, by third grade the children in the Head Start program were found to be more aggressive and have more emotional problems than children of similar backgrounds who did not attend Head Start.

Not only are these outcomes concerning for the children involved, they also indicate how government programs can strain family relationships. Notably, it was the parents of the Head Start children who said their children were more aggressive than non-Head Start children of similar backgrounds, suggesting that parental bonds could be compromised at the same time that government early learning programs could foster maladaptive social behaviors. When parents, not government, are in charge of determining a child’s early learning environment they may rely on informal, self-chosen networks of family and friends, thus building social capital in their communities, or they may choose from among various private preschool options where they retain control over how their child learns. If parents are not satisfied, they can leave. When government increasingly controls early childhood programs, reliance on family members, friends, and other private options fades. Grandma is no longer needed, and she becomes less of an influence in a child’s life and learning and less of a support system for her daughter or son.

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Johnson’s Great Society plan had other consequences that served to weaken family roles and strengthen government. The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 greatly expanded the National School Lunch Program, allocating additional funding and adding school breakfasts. While no one wants a child to go hungry, relying on government programs to feed children can cause poor health outcomes, strip parents of their essential responsibilities, weaken informal family and community support systems, and lead parents to hand over even more control of childrearing to the government.

Perhaps the most far-reaching impact on education of Johnson’s Great Society was the lasting legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that paved the way for ongoing and amplified federal involvement in education. It was the ESEA that was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that led to the standardization of schooling through Common Core curriculum frameworks, as well as regular testing. No Child Left Behind morphed into the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, again a reauthorization of Johnson’s ESEA, that tried to shift some curriculum standard-setting to states but retained regular testing requirements under federal law.

In her weekend op-ed, Brooks laments the increasing role of regimented schooling in children’s lives. She writes:

School days are longer and more regimented. Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful.

She is absolutely correct, and the culprit is increasing government control over American education through the ongoing reauthorization and expansion of federal education programs. Longer, more regimented, more standardized, more test-driven schooling is a direct consequence of the government’s education policy.

The inevitable result of these expanded government powers is less control over education by parents. As parents lose this control, they cede more authority to government bureaucracies, which in turn grow more powerful and more bloated while parents get weaker and more vulnerable.

I agree that childhood is being ruined, as children play less, stress more, and find themselves in institutional learning environments for most of their childhood and adolescence. I also agree that the problem is getting worse. The solution, however, is to weaken government and strengthen families, not vice versa. Put families back in charge of a child’s education. Grant parents the respect and responsibility they rightfully deserve. Remember that the government’s role is to secure our natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—not to determine what those pursuits are.

Childhood is being ruined and parents are the only ones who can save it.

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My Scary Manifesto

You do you; I’ll do me.

I accept that I, as a human being, have no right to initiate force or violate property rights– both those concepts being covered by the statement: I have no right to archate.

You also have no right to archate, but if you do anyway it’s your problem.

I believe that if you are doing something you have no right to do, you are doing something wrong. If you make a habit of it you are one of the bad guys.

I don’t believe in punishment, which I see as revenge.

I do believe in defense.

I also believe in justice, which is punishment’s polar opposite. I won’t go after you claiming “justice”, although if you violate someone and don’t pay restitution I will not lift a finger to help you in any way. I will then advertise the fact and hope you die alone, exposed to the elements and starving for food and water. But it’s not my job, nor any human’s job, to do what nature will take care of just fine without my help.

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a “right to govern” and see all attempts to govern anyway as archation; as attacks on the life, liberty, and property of others. I’m not obligated to stop you– but I won’t step in and prevent consequences from paying you an unpleasant visit. Play stupid games; win stupid prizes. And I may exercise the right to defend myself and others from your violations– at my discretion. If you choose to violate others, watch your back forever.

I don’t recognize your political government nor its “laws” as anything other than thuggery. The reality is that there will always be bad people around. I won’t let them dictate the terms of my life. Some bad people aren’t somehow “better” than others. If you continually choose to archate you are the same as every other person who continually chooses to archate.

If I try to impose myself or my values on you, you have the right to stop me. Whatever it takes. I have the same right if you are the one trying to impose on me. It doesn’t matter if this imposition and violation is called a “law” or an opinion.

Live and let live. Anything less is barbaric.

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A Rude and Unreasonable Demand

You can’t compromise liberty. There is no compromise between liberty– doing all you have a right to do– and someone’s unreasonable feelings.

And yet, that’s what rude anti-gun bigots demand.

No one has the right to demand someone else “give up some liberty”. There is no such thing as “too much liberty“, so there’s never any conflict.

When you are living your liberty you aren’t violating anyone in any way. It simply isn’t possible.

Those whose feelings are hurt by this truth just need to grow up and get out of the way. If they are scared or offended it’s a sign they are not sensible. If they demand you “compromise” your liberty for their feelings they are the bad guys. You have no obligation to deal with them. You certainly have no obligation to give up some of your liberty to make them feel better.

It wouldn’t work anyway. People who demand you compromise your liberty are broken people. They’ll never feel better because the problem is inside them. Nothing you give up will ever be enough for them. They’ll always demand “just a little more”.

No.

I don’t want to be mean to anyone, but I’m not going to act as though anyone demanding someone else give up “some” liberty is being reasonable. They aren’t. They are being rude, nasty, childish, and irrational. They can’t be taken seriously, but they are a serious threat.

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Understand What You Ridicule

I’m beginning to wonder if the person more dangerous than the overt anti-liberty bigot is the person who doesn’t even understand what liberty or natural human rights are to begin with. Ignorance may be even more dangerous than openly advocating evil. Of course, ignorance can lead one to openly advocate evil, too.

I saw a lot of ignorance after the evil losers’ recent shootings.

Scott Adams is a prime example.

He advocated (while denying he was advocating anything) a lot of anti-liberty ideas founded on his utter lack of understanding of liberty and rights, and of guns and human nature (which surprised me*)– and on his rejection of the concept of ethical principles. Of course, he claimed anyone who stood firm for human rights is “dumb” and hinted they are not part of “the adult conversation”– his go-to for shutting down people who disagree on principle because they actually have principles. (Although many of his listeners seem to be as unprincipled and ignorant as he is, judging by the comments he mentions.)

He’s dead wrong again.

He’s not the only one.

If you don’t understand brain surgery, should you be making fun of the opinions about brain surgery held by those who do understand it? Only if you are arrogant and foolish.

Well, if you don’t understand what liberty is and why it matters you have no business preaching at others against it. If you don’t understand guns or the natural human right to own and to carry them, your opinions on the topic are invalid. Of course, this probably won’t matter to you if you laugh at the notion of ethical principles, and only want to have things your way.

Principles are scary to those without them. Principles take some options off the table. You can’t excuse slavery and democide without ignoring principles or making up fake “principles” which leave room for such things. They don’t even know how to talk about things and events without relying on utilitarianism and pragmatism. So they try to trivialize or ridicule principles.

Adults have principles.

The childish person just excuses whatever they feel like doing by finding ways to justify it after they’ve decided to do it. If you can’t grasp the fundamentals of the topic of conversation– be it brain surgery, liberty, or guns– this is even easier for you to do.


*He suggested that in a hypothetical world where all AR15s are pink, losers wouldn’t feel “cool” using them to murder people. He’s wrong about that. In a world where all AR15s are pink, pink guns are “cool”. Just like black guns are “cool” in our world. It’s not the color which makes the gun “cool”, it’s the gun that makes the color “cool”. I’m almost shocked someone who claims to understand human nature so well could miss that so badly.

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Err on The Side of Liberty

There are many things I don’t know. There are things I think I know but I get wrong. There are also things people may believe I’m wrong about, but I’m not — a topic for another day.

When I’m wrong, I want to be wrong in the least harmful way possible.

I’d rather make the mistake of allowing you the liberty to live your life within your rights than to make the mistake of violating you for your own good. Or for the good of society.

Since I’m going to make mistakes either way, I’d rather make the mistakes that won’t make me into the unethical twin of those I dislike.

I don’t know the best way for you to live, the best way for you to make or spend money, or the best way for you to pursue your own version of happiness. It would be a mistake for me to try to rule over you.

It might be a mistake to let you carry a gun. It’s definitely a mistake to allow government to make and enforce rules that make it harder for anyone to carry one.

It might be a mistake to respect your decision of what to ingest — food or drugs. It’s definitely a mistake to allow anyone the power to cage or kill you in the name of a war on some drugs.

It might be a mistake for you to not wear a seat belt. It’s definitely a mistake to allow armed officers of the government to infringe your right to travel and to extract money from you for failing to do so.

Honestly, it’s not my place to “allow” or forbid anything you choose to do until it violates someone else’s rights. Since it isn’t within my rights to do so, I have no right to send hired guns to do this on my behalf. And neither does anyone else.

No one can delegate a right he doesn’t have.

As much as I don’t know, there are some things I know for certain.

I know you have the right to make your own mistakes and the obligation to pay restitution when your mistakes harm others. I know that all humans everywhere have equal and identical rights and deserve the liberty to exercise them to their fullest, regardless of the opinions of the political class.

To err is human. To err on the side of liberty and human rights is to make the ethical choice. It may not even be a mistake at all.

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The Anti-Gun Bigots’ Silly Strawman

Anti-gun bigots have a “new” favorite strawman. They demand to know why the right to own and carry weapons (they’ll sometimes mischaracterize this as “Second Amendment rights”) is more important than the right to not be murdered.

The dishonesty– or ignorance– displayed by such a question is absolutely stunning.

You and I have the natural human right to own and to carry weapons. No one has the right to use those weapons to harm someone who isn’t currently violating the life, liberty, or property of another. There is no conflict, and at least some of those anti-gun bigots know it.

You also have no right to make up “laws” which violate anyone’s rights in any way. And since that’s what all the harmful “laws” do, those who support these “laws” are currently violating life, liberty, and property. Not smart.

You have no right to make up anti-gun “laws”. You can’t delegate a right you don’t have (because it can’t exist) to someone else. If you try to do either of those things YOU are the bad guy. Just as bad as the evil losers who inspire your calls to action.

Anti-gun bigots would have us live (and die) in a failed society where only the government goons and freelance thugs are adequately armed. That’s not civilized. It’s prison.

Burn their strawman to the ground and leave them exposed as the bad guys they are.

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