Selling Out Youth

I’m beginning to bring together the vast amounts of reading I’ve done over the last 10 years, combine them with my experience, and make some sense of it all. I’m excited! Some poor soul on Wikipedia just wrote to me to ask why the histories of children’s rights in the United States and the United Kingdom appear to be steeped so heavily in childhood criminality and abusive systems of care. Here’s what I replied with:

With the coming of the Industrial Age a mass labor pool was discovered in the requisite population of children, particularly those who were not well-off. However, at some point the titans of industry realized their labor pool needed to be better-prepared for the developing technologies of industry, both as laborers and as consumers of the production. These titans needed mechanisms which fostered that preparedness through training, and when the labor pool would not participate accordingly in those mechanisms, additional mechanisms were needed to either rehabilitate or remove those participants from the pool entirely. Threats to industry needed to be handled by a specialized labor pool, as did the recuperation of wounded laborers. Thus were born the social manipulations of schools, prisons, hospitals and the military – all of which were primarily targeted at “youth,” a classification in Western society which was not existent until the late 19th century. Phew!

All of that said, the modern functions of those institutions has been tweaked to meet modern needs: schools are largely for training the labor pool to become mass consumers as well as productive laborers; prisons are largely for the complete debilitation of entire segments of society that are regarded as having questionable value to consumerist culture; hospitals have become mere extensions of the marketplace; and the military serves the same function it always has, with “nation-building” (aka “marketplace expansion”) thrown in for good measure.

That’s my two cents, and is largely rooted in my conception of neoliberalism. While it doesn’t quite answer your question of where Montessori fits in, I think it rather reflects why she did not fit in – and rightly so. When interpreted against the backdrop of this analysis, Article 5 of the CRC, which wholly acknowledges Montessori, seems so far astray of the mainstream children’s rights movement that its no wonder neither it, nor she, gets any significant attention today – beyond the branding of schools in this country which weakly attach her name to their practices.

That’s the most clear statement I’ve made about the subject so far – even though I’ve tried to make it before. The analysis that is implicit here is supports my contention that kids aren’t just neglected, and that youth are just subjected to prejudice; rather, there is a systematic and thorough discounting of their innate abilities, and furthermore, a wholesale reprogramming of their roles in society, in order to further the economic mobility of the most upper classes. That sucks.

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Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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