Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kids "are" Separate But Equal

Picture this situation: a park full of drinking fountains for the general public that discriminates against a whole group of people because it fails to take into account one "minor" but crucial difference between them. Their height. If you're not tall enough, you don't get a sip without someone lifting you up.

This is the problem: one size fits all. Just being afforded a right or privilege does not guarantee you the ability to exercise it. Kids have the right to drink from the fountains, they just can't exercise that right because they may be too short. Height and age are usually positively correlated in the first 20 years of life, so ultimately, as much as it discriminates height, it discriminates age.

Children therefore, become dependent on an adult in order to help them utilize this right. They have to be lifted. So in the interest of serving everyone equally, you end up reinforcing ageist disenfranchisement against a whole group of people because you refuse to accept the genuine differences between children and adults. When in the quest to get rid of ageism by treating everyone equally, you've set up a structural inequality.

This argument for "Separate But Equal" does in fact enforce its own ageism, just as the principle also reinforces racial inequality (as seen with apartheid, Jim Crow laws, and segregation). However, unlike racism, ageism is one act of discrimination where segregation is necessary because there are objective differences between adults and children. Height is only one of them. You can overdose a child by giving them an adult dose of medicine for instance.

Children need to be given special accommodations set up for them in society in order to have equal access to resources. Children need a "Step Up" at every drinking fountain. Many people seem to agree, which is why children do have these provisions.

Unfortunately, this is also where Developmental Relativism makes its shortfall, because just providing a step is still discriminating the even shorter kids who still can't reach. You can't possibly provide for everyone in every circumstance. But, you can at least make an attempt to be more fair. Just because you can't provide equal oppertunities for all kids, doesn't mean you have to completely ignore their needs all together.
Ignoring that a child has certain needs that an adult doesn't, is more ageist, disenfranchising, and far more adult-centric, than providing for children to be "separate but equal."
Sure, water fountain discrimination is not so important. But where do you draw the line? Would you ignore a child's relative weight and overdose them? Would you ignore a child's relative writing skills and require them to fill out a form? Children need special provisions because they are still in the process of maturing. Adults, who have matured and yet still lack the ability, don't need those special provisions.

That's the difference.

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