Political Commentary Society Work

Capitalism vs. children

Replied to The Endangered American Childhood by Jared Yates Sexton (Dispatches From A Collapsing State | Jared Yates Sexton)

And, before we dive deeper, a reminder that the very nature of the market is this. The exploitation and dehumanization of all of us for as much profit as can possibly be extracted from us. Preferably it could be done painlessly and with a smile, but the inherent philosophy at the heart of the process harbors deep, dark authoritarian energies that will come into full focus as soon as situations demand it.

There is a abhorrent logic to it. If adults aren’t going to accept these low-paying, backbreaking, soul-crushing jobs, and if they’re going to continue agitating for labor unions and better treatment, then somebody’s going to have to show up.

The GOP’s continued assault on teachers as “groomers” and “indoctrinators” is about destroying public education, but in due time that will switch to also rationalizing why children would be “better off” laboring rather than being “subjected to wokeness.”


I don’t think it’s solely about destroying education, though that is one aspect. Part is about demonizing “the other” and creating in/out groups to turn against, especially conflating liberalism with queerness, which they also hate and fear. Part is about vilifying intellectual pursuits and devaluing critical thinking. And part is preventing kids from learning information that conflicts with their controlling doctrines.

They will wage not only culture war but also generational war, claiming degeneracy and decay demand a return to “traditional values,” including the reappearance of young people in the workplace, where they might learn the value of a dollar and the need for hard work.

I’m wary of reading too much stuff like this in case it’s alarmist reverse fearmongering, but I kinda don’t think it is — so learning to recognize and anticipate the behavior patterns of authoritarians is important 🫤

I started working at 14 and wish I hadn’t. Wish I’d given myself a few more years before I started squeezing myself into the mold of ideal worker. Our school system does enough of this already: teaching to the test, quashing curiosity, forcing kids to follow a schedule that doesn’t suit their bodies.

I recall a day I got in trouble for not coming to work on the school paper after track. I was seventeen. I’d been at school from 8 to 3:30 then practice till 6 or 6:30. I was exhausted, physically and mentally, and had homework to do plus saxophone practice. By the time I finished dinner I figured they’d be winding down and there was no need for me to go back, but apparently they worked till midnight. I “should have” gone back and worked another five or six hours.

Except in retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t ask kids to put in 15-16 hour days — for extracurricular activities or for paid work. That means recognizing that children’s work is learning, both the skills and curriculum of their classes, as well as how to be people. Supplanting kids’ free time with labor prioritizes their value as workers over their wellbeing as people.

It’s all part of a hustle for success mindset that, at least for me, started with high school, when I was 13. My parents didn’t push me, but society was a strong influence. You won’t get into a good college if you don’t do extracurriculars or score well on standardized tests. If you make mistakes, if you’re anything less than perfect, you’ll be a failure. I’m still working on purging toxic perfectionism from my system in my late thirties. And I wish I could have let myself enjoy being a kid a little longer.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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