Sunday, August 17, 2008

Freedom ... for 10 weeks a year.

The back-to-school propaganda machine is in full swing these days. The news media makes light of both the collective groan from children, mourning the loss of summer freedom, and the cheers from adults, anticipating the return of "free" day care in the form of compulsory public education. Advertisers swoop in with the diversion of back to school shopping. New clothes, fresh supplies, the latest electronics - all to distract parents and children alike from the scary reality of ever-increasing government control over our children, our time, our entire lives.

Children are right to groan, but not for reasons that they are fully conscious of. Learning is about making sense of the world, but too many children are shut out of that world. They're stuffed in a classroom for eight hours a day after a too-early-in-the-morning bus ride and spend even more time away from family on homework or extracurricular activities. Caged like animals from dawn to dusk, separated from their natural instincts to explore, observer and learn, they turn into adults who can't make sense of the world around them. Their survival instincts were arrested at an early age. Good for a government that wants dependent and docile citizens, but a horrendous assault on individuality and the sanctity of a child's development. Children know it isn't right or natural, and I suspect, deep down, parents know this, too. But, just as in school, they are blinded by the status quo. They numbly go along. They shut up and put up, because they've forgotten how or never had the opportunity to think for themselves. They accept, essentially, government-mandated control over how their family spends its time.

Here in North Carolina, it's still over 90 degrees outside, hurricanes are churning in the Atlantic, summer thunderstorms wash away the day's heat, the ocean water is the perfect temperature, the cool air of the mountains still beckons, not a single leaf has turned color, tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, mosquitoes and fireflies still flutter in my backyard. Yet students are returning to school next week, unnaturally ending a season that naturally meanders into late September. Every year, I feel excitement with a twinge of sadness as seasons pass. But as a child, returning to school in late summer was met with unspeakable sadness and anxiety. It unnaturally cut short time with siblings, time to enjoy summer, to read, sew, garden, swim, be with friends or be alone, even do nothing at all.

The language of the back-to-school blitz makes me flinch. A "Kickoff to Kindergarten" event at a local museum was described as boot camp for 5-year-olds; a lifeguard described the change in demeanor among children in the past week saying "It's just like they put their heads down and look at their feet. They know what's coming."

A headline declared "Last week of freedom." I'm afraid that's old news. Our freedom was lost a long time ago.

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