John Rawls & Early Childhood Development

The Jungle Book movie, apt for an article about semi-feral children

Having spent a lot of time in Special Ed and currently working on disability issues and also having done lots of sociology and political science, I spent a lot of time thinking about how those fields intersect. One of the places they intersect is in the area of childhood neglect which has serious negative consequences for the victims of it. In my life this was a problem and it is a part of why my development was so delayed. Not so much because my parents were neglectful, although my father’s liberal verbal abuse and liberal use of corporal punishment didn’t help, at all, and it wasn’t the most wetly empathetic environment and was, indeed, callous and mostly nonchalant when it wasn’t emotionally negative. The callousness and kinkiness of my home life contributed to problems. Yet, I had two working parents and I spent much of my time from age two-and-a-half onward at school.

                This is the place where John Rawls intersects with early childhood development. As I’ve written in earlier articles, schools are conditioned to be as Rawlsian as possible to avoid liability. Lots of case law has set precedents to the effect that schools must have as minimalistic a value system as possible and as dryly liberal and bureaucratic an oversight as possible. Rawls is hyper-liberal in the classical liberal sense. While he supported some economic relief for the masses, his view on the relationship between the public sphere and the individual was libertarian as possible. Since schools foremost fear is of liability, it is the custom that schools be as libertarian as possible. When they aren’t libertarian, they use Giuliani tactics of excessive punishment and punitive measures to sanitize the hallways rather than risking softer measures that may still leave them liable.

                This means schools both neglect students and, when they don’t, use fear and intimidation of various kinds to get compliance. Schools therefore take a very pure rights-based approach more than a responsibility/rights-based approach. This is one of the greatest problems with John Rawls. He envisioned a world with all rights and almost zero responsibility except to respect those rights. In the schools system, this translates to the fact that the public institution is disincentivized to intervene or create programs that facilitate social interaction because from their perspective the popular students have a natural right to self-segregate from the unpopular and it is not the place of the public institution to interfere with that. They are against the metaphorical forced bussing policies that should happen. Thus the kids with neurological conditions and others who are prone to loneliness are left to have their psychological ailments exacerbated through the Rawlsian approach of the institution.

                Lifetimes of mental torment and anguish originate, partially, in Rawlsian philosophy. It’s passive neglect. Whether or not the parents are the most nurturing, if the parents aren’t present for much of the day on most days, the school system becomes a lesser version of the Bucharest Project for all of those students. Likely, this accounts for much of the difference in performance academic and otherwise between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds since the parents of poorer children have to work more and this worsens the problems of the lack of social interaction at school. There is no help from the sides or above and the children are isolated in a libertarian wasteland ever decreasing in intellectual ability and functionality. While callous and kinky, my parents were present and whatever pains I would be plagued with, intellectually (in terms of intelligence) I came out well.

                Yet, the school system did not help in almost any way.  What is needed, on a philosophical level, is for the school system to recognize their responsibility to intervene in society. That cliques should be integrated and made less exclusive and that measures need be taken to ensure that socially students don’t remain isolated. Indeed, popular cliques won’t like the idea and will resist it. Popular kids in college have found it very difficult to befriend my Asperger’s self. When in situations where they must interact with those socially beneath them, they squirm, get anxious, and want to escape yet making them feel that way is not a violation of liberalism except according to the most orthodox Rawlsian theory. The libertarian approach needs to end and metaphorical forced bussing needs to occur.

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