What does it mean to remake childhood, and especially to remake the childhood of other people’s children?
In the decades after the Civil War, the consolidation of American control over the last spaces between the coasts was a cultural and economic project as much as it was a military project. Debating the future of contested land and the people who held it, policymakers divided into two camps, either arguing that native people would physically fade from the scene and literally cease to exist or arguing that they would cease to exist as native people. James Earle Fraser’s sculpture The End of the Trail, first conceived in 1894, depicted the exhaustion of people whose time had passed, leaving them on the edge of collapse and disappearance.
The Dawes Act of 1887, famously described by Theodore Roosevelt as “a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass,” turned reservation land owned in common by tribes into individually owned parcels of 160 or 320 acres, meaning by the act of allotment to destroy collective identity and reorganize native people only as individuals and families — American citizens like anyone else. Cultural assimilation was economic standardization, making individually held private property the prevailing form of land tenure outside of public lands. The Free Labor ideology that was offended by slavery as an economic system was similarly offended by the claim of collective tribal ownership over enormous pieces of land; many of the same men fought both wars.
If military conquest and allotment were two legs of the assimilationist stool, education was the third. Indian boarding schools took reservation children and assigned them new names — you will be Mary, you will be John — burning their clothes and starting them over in a new culture. Native languages were forbidden, and boarding school children lost them. They were meant to lose them. Richard Henry Pratt, a Civil War veteran and the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, famously took one side in the how-will-they-disappear debate with a statement that reduced coercive cultural assimilation to a single sentence: “Save the man, kill the Indian.” Destroy the Indianness in a person, and let him live as the new person he becomes. Boarding school officials took before and after photos, to show how students had been repaired, buffed up and modernized. The historian David Wallace Adams calls this Education for Extinction: still there, but turned into something else.
This is the behavior of people who won their wars, who defeated another way of life on the battlefield and set to work ending it in the culture. People who remake other people’s children are conquerors, consolidating a victory, and the people who did this to the children of native people were anticipating a series of economic outcomes. They were standardizing, making farmers and industrial laborers for a society built on Free Labor ideology. Remaking childhood, they anticipated productive adulthood, and saw their students as people who would take their place in the economy they would grow into. They made 1900 and 1920 by remaking children in 1880, seeing the trajectory of their project.
So. What kind of societal trajectory do the people engaged in this project…
…see in their minds? What kind of adults do they intend to make when they argue for gender-affirming medical care for children, and when they argue that it’s morally wrong to ban it or limit it, and when they center gender identity and drag queens in the discourse of childhood? What do they intend to make? Beyond the sexual implications, how does this effort reshape people as citizens, as economic actors, as members of families?
My first pass at an answer to my own question would start with a single word: dependency, and not just medical and pharmaceutical dependency.
Who remakes childhood, and why?
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I think they hate the traditional family because it is easier to control an atomized society. They also do not like masculine men or feminine women. They want to invert the normal social dynamic between man and woman.
Thank you Chris, it is extremely simple, control and indoctrinate children and you control the future. Control their language and you control their minds and thoughts. The Germans knew it, the Soviets knew it, the Spartans knew it; I needed you to point it out and my head almost exploded. It is really all so simple; thank you for all that you do.