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Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Tragedy of Children's Rights from Ben Franklin to Lionel Tate

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Hidden in Plain Sight
    Book Description:

    Hidden in Plain Sighttells the tragic untold story of children's rights in America. It asks why the United States today, alone among nations, rejects the most universally embraced human-rights document in history, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This book is a call to arms for America to again be a leader in human rights, and to join the rest of the civilized world in recognizing that the thirst for justice is not for adults alone.

    Barbara Bennett Woodhouse explores the meaning of children's rights throughout American history, interweaving the childhood stories of iconic figures such as Benjamin Franklin with those of children less known but no less courageous, like the heroic youngsters who marched for civil rights. How did America become a place where twelve-year-old Lionel Tate could be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 1999 death of a young playmate? In answering questions like this, Woodhouse challenges those who misguidedly believe that America's children already have more rights than they need, or that children's rights pose a threat to parental autonomy or family values. She reveals why fundamental human rights and principles of dignity, equality, privacy, protection, and voice are essential to a child's journey into adulthood, and why understanding rights for children leads to a better understanding of human rights for all.

    Compassionate, wise, and deeply moving,Hidden in Plain Sightwill force an examination of our national resistance--and moral responsibility--to recognize children's rights.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2965-1
    Subjects: Law, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Ruth O’Brien

    We’ve all met children who push their parents’ limits. These children challenge their rules, criticize their decisions, and complain about their incompetence. Visiting a household with children behaving like this, we might well find them annoying. But, guess what? Cultural anthropologists, most notably Annette Lareau, argue that this so-called argumentative child now found in middle-class and upper-middle-class homes is not a “problem child.” Quite the contrary, they are on the road to having a happy, productive life. It is precisely the pushing, tugging, and pulling at their parents that gives children voice and agency, teaching them how to effectively manage...

    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. 1-14)

    The boy I shall call Tony was not very tall or strong for his age, but he was intense, intelligent, and articulate. Tony had been removed from his mentally ill mother’s care at age four because of medical neglect. He and his younger half sister had spent the previous nine years in various foster homes. He saw his mother often but she remained unable to care for him. When Tony was thirteen, the attorney for the state had decided to file a motion, known as a TPR, to terminate the parental rights of Tony’s mother. A TPR is the ultimate...

    (pp. 15-28)

    Childhood has many meanings.² To physicians and psychologists it is a stage of human development to be studied and analyzed. To historians it is a term whose meaning varies from epoch to epoch and according to race, class, and region. To anthropologists it is a social phenomenon to be observed in cultural context. To lawyers it is a time for invoking age-based legal protections and imposing age-based legal disabilities.

    A relatively new academic field, “childhood studies,” has emerged committed to studying the meaning of childhood from all of these perspectives. As an advocate for children, I had always been convinced...

    (pp. 29-48)

    Children have a present value of their own as young humans, not just as potential adults or as a means to adult ends. This was brought home to me at the 2002 U.N. Special Session on Children, when a young delegate from the Children’s Summit spoke the words that begin this chapter. How can we translate this vision into a scheme of rights? Thinking about rights from the perspective of the child’s developmental journey and the surroundings in which that journey unfolds provides a framework for resolving the paradox of attributing rights to persons who are not yet fully autonomous....

  9. Part 1 The Privacy Principle:: Stories of Bondage and Belonging

      (pp. 51-74)

      As a boy growing up in slavery, the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass acknowledged and reflected on his common bond with children everywhere. In his bleakest moments, during a time when his master was trying to break his will at hard labor, he took comfort from the fact that his bondage did not set him so far apart from his peers. “I am but a boy,” he reflected, “and all boys are bound to someone.” Looking around him, as an American child in the early 1800s, Douglass could see that no child was really free. All were subordinated to...

      (pp. 75-92)

      Frederick Douglass’s story illustrates how history has been blinded to the implications of his status as a minor by the spotlight it has shown on his status as a slave. What about the enslaved children whose stories were even more marginalized because they were not only young and black, but also female? While we are used to thinking of history in terms of the lives of famous white men, modern scholars, seeking to explore the interlocking roles of seemingly separate aspects of identity and status, are rapidly building a more complex and nuanced history. Old studies are being reexamined to...

      (pp. 93-108)

      In chapter 3, we saw that emancipation did not free black children. Thousands of children who had been enslaved were taken from their parents by the state and placed in involuntary apprenticeships or indentures. In those days, an era when most children worked, these children were put out to work as servants and field hands, often with their original masters, and effectively reenslaved. I thought of these children when I learned of three young children in a rural county who had been forced to work in the tobacco fields by their foster family. This enslavement occurred in 2006 and involved...

  10. Part 2 The Agency Principle:: Stories of Voice and Participation

    • CHAPTER 6 THE PRINTER’S APPRENTICE: Ben Franklin and Youth Speech
      (pp. 111-132)

      Terms like “agency” and “voice” and “self-expression” have a modern ring. Americans might be excused for believing that assertive children were something new, a plague we have brought upon ourselves by failing to exercise appropriate dominion over our young. It is no accident that we, the adults, have tended to cleanse the histories we teach in school of tales of rebellious children and youth. But, as the next two chapters will show, youthful expression and youthful activism have played pivotal roles in American history and in the struggle to perfect our freedoms. Children of all ages have equal claims to...

      (pp. 133-156)

      In the last chapter we looked at children using their voices and expressive symbols to make their views known and their agency felt. What about children who go beyond expressing their opinions in the public square and challenge injustice in their acts as well as words? One of the proudest achievements in American history was accomplished by young people arrested while engaging in the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. In this chapter, we will look at the involvement of American children in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

      The killing in 1955...

  11. Part 3 The Equality Principle:: Stories of Equal Opportunity

    • CHAPTER 8 OLD MAIDS AND LITTLE WOMEN: Louisa Alcott and William Cather
      (pp. 159-179)

      Historically, American boys and girls, whatever their parents’ status, inhabited different worlds. Childhood invariably reflects society’s expectations for adulthood and, in nineteenth-century America, gender cut a wide swath across every form of cultural expectation. Boys were expected to graduate into manhood, and full political and social citizenship was reserved for men only. Girls were expected to graduate into motherhood. Spinsterhood was an aberration. The great divide between men’s lives and those of women widened during the Victorian era, with the growth of a potent ideology of femininity often called the “Cult of Domesticity” or “the Cult of True Womanhood.”² Modern...

    • CHAPTER 9 BREAKING THE PRISON OF DISABILITY: Helen Keller and the Children of “Greenhaven”
      (pp. 180-210)

      Although there are differences between males and females, we generally assume they are born with equal if different capacities. What about children who are not born equal or suffer traumas that render them unequal? Whether we call them handicapped, exceptional, disabled, or differently abled, many children must face obstacles due to differences that cannot be regarded as primarily culturally or legally imposed. Looking at the lives of children with disabilities forces us to think more deeply about the meaning of equality as well as other human rights principles such as dignity and empowerment. Here is one such story, already familiar...

  12. Part 4 The Dignity Principle:: Stories of Resistance and Resilience

    • CHAPTER 10 HIDE AND SURVIVE: Anne Frank and “Liu”
      (pp. 213-233)

      Children everywhere, in common with the young of many species, instinctively know and love to play the game of “hide and seek.” I remember the delicious suspense of hiding with my best friend Sally, packed like sardines in a kitchen pantry and suppressing our giggles, while the big boys prowled the house, bragging that there was no place we could hide that they could not find us. We knew better—eventually they gave up and admitted we had won. Like much of the play of children, this game had a very serious purpose. Hide and seek has its roots in...

    • CHAPTER 11 CHILDREN AT WORK: Newsboys, Entrepreneurs, and “Evelyn”
      (pp. 234-256)

      Dignity is not an abstract right but a developmental dialogue between the child and his or her environment. In the first months of their lives, infants learn that they are individuals through interaction with those around them. “The ability for self-observation comes from the ability to observe oneself and another in a relationship.”³ Children’s individuality both requires and grows from the meeting of their basic needs for nurture. As children mature, they interact with a larger world. The dignity principle requires that their needs for protection be met, but it also requires that their capacities for autonomy be respected and...

  13. Part 5 The Protection Principle:: Stories of Guilt and Innocence

    • CHAPTER 12 TELLING THE SCARIEST SECRETS: Maya Angelou and “Jeannie”
      (pp. 259-278)

      I have kept the protection principle for last not because it is less important but because I fear the focus on protection of children viewed as “victims” plays too dominant a role in American child policy. Removing children from their families is always far easier than creating an ecology of childhood in which they can grow up healthy and strong. The systems we have created to protect children from harm at the hands of their parents may benefit many children, but they often end up doing as much harm as good. The harm is rarely intentional. Instead, it comes about...

    • CHAPTER 13 AGE AND THE IDEA OF INNOCENCE: “Amal” and Lionel Tate
      (pp. 279-303)

      The protection principle obligates adults to protect children—the small, the weak, and the vulnerable— from harm at the hands of adults. But what about children who are perpetrators of violence? The right to protection has another face quite different from the protection of crime victims. Children have a right to protection from the most severe consequences of their own immaturity. A hundred years ago, in an earlier movement for children’s rights, juvenile courts were created in recognition that children’s immaturity makes them less guilty when they commit a crime and more amenable to rehabilitation. But today, when children are...

  14. CONCLUSION The Future of Rights
    (pp. 304-314)

    In May of 2002, over three hundred child delegates from around the world traveled to the United States for a Children’s Forum, the first of its kind to be held in connection with a U.N. Special Session. They produced a document titled “A World Fit for Us” and presented it as a message to the Special Session of the General Assembly on May 8, 2002.¹ Quickly dubbed the “U-18s” (for delegates under age eighteen), they participated on an equal basis in the Special Session programs, appearing as panelists, offering comments, and asking questions from the floor. Their participation transformed the...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 315-336)
    (pp. 337-348)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 349-358)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-360)