By: Emily Weiland ’15
I’ve got a simple new metric for figuring out whether a person’s ethical arguments are worth my time: what protections should be in place for children?
When I say children, I mean legal minors: humans who, wherever they’re living, do not have quite the same rights and responsibilities as adults do. Individuals who aren’t able to completely control their own lives.
I understand arguments against free health care for all and for large-scale welfare programs. We don’t want to reward people who don’t work, we don’t want to make the can-do kind pay for the can’t-do-anythings. I don’t agree, for the most part, but I can understand. It’s natural to want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and it’s natural to assume that most people have had a life similar to yours, with the same kinds of opportunities and chances you have had. Closed-minded, short-sighted, hopelessly naïve, but natural.
What I can’t understand are people who believe that a person who has had little or no part in determining their place in life should be essentially forced into the same social stratum to which their parents belong.
In a debate this past January, Newt Gingrich proposed that children living in poverty should work as janitors to help support their families. In addition, Rick Santorum recently described Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as his “model Justice.” Thomas has repeatedly said that the constitutional bases of national labor laws and many civil rights laws are “at odds with the constitutional design,” including the minimum wage and child labors laws—among disturbing others.
For a child from an impoverished family to make the most of their education and have the best chance at succeeding in life, for them to rise above their parents’ station, they have to have the same opportunities as other students. You can’t spend much extra time at the library, or out playing, or in an after-school club if you also clean the school toilets every day.
It’s those kinds of advantages that consistently prevent lower-income students from achieving as much as their middle- and upper-middle-class peers. I’m pretty smart, and so are most of you; you also probably had access, as I did, to parents willing and able to help you with your homework, who provided as many books as you could read, and encouraged participation in large array of activities outside of class, which helped you develop your interests and learn about the world around you.
I was a Girl Scout for eleven years, I did karate, I traveled with my family regularly, and when I got sick I had access to medical care and got to stay at home with my Mom watching TV.
What happens if you’re sick? If you happen to be a child and a student who doesn’t have the best medical treatment? You’ll miss an extra couple days of classes, maybe; and maybe one of your older siblings or parents will try and get off early from work to spend more time with you. If they’re making an hourly wage, that’s some money they’re not bringing home.
It’s a cycle, and everyone agrees it’s one we need to break. But how can some claim to want children to have the best chance to help themselves in life if they’re too busy pushing a mop to pull up their bootstraps?
Contact Emily Weiland at email@example.com with any questions or comments.