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Issues Concerning the Rights of Children.

In this issue of "Among the Periodicals," Susan M. Hill reviews current articles related to children's rights, paying special attention to safety, health, and education.--J.A.

CHILDREN'S RIGHTS, PARENTS' PREROGATIVES, AND SOCIETY'S OBLIGATIONS. Westman, J. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 1999, 29(4), 315-328. From its early beginnings as an agrarian nation desperately in need of cheap labor, the United States has shifted its societal focus more towards one that protects children and promotes their individual abilities. In this article, Westman argues convincingly for competent parenting being the responsibility of the parent and the right of the child.

Westman constrasts parents' legal responsibility to provide for their children's health, education, and welfare with their prerogative to raise their children as they see fit. Westman calls for the United States to support the institution of the family and parenthood by funneling more money toward health care, education, and family incentives. "It is through the committed, sacrificial parenting they receive that children become the productive, informed citizens essential for a democratic society" (p. 323).

FRIENDS, FOES, & NONCOMBATANTS: Notes on Public Education's Pressure Groups. Kaplan, G. Phi Delta Kappan, 2000, 82(3), K1-K12. Who will decide education policy for the 21st century? Due to both its real and perceived shortcomings, public education has become an easy target for politicians, helping to fuel mistrust of public education.

Gone are the days when school policy was decided by those most qualified to make such decisions--state superintendents, professors, and others who have studied or taught education. George Kaplan details five formidable forces he considers to be the shapers of public education in the United States: big business, which is intent on pushing rigid standards; education's own splintered interest groups; the cultural conservatism of the religious right; the information providers, who, while conducting sound research, unfortunately cloak it in jargon-laden intellectualism; and, finally, the politicians, who preach the need for accountability while cutting education funding.

Kaplan cuts through the altruistic veneer worn by many and exposes their true motives. He notes that with 21 percent of American children living in poverty, "the incongruities and disparities that torment urban schools are a palpable blight on one of history's most affluent societies" (p. K-11). Maintaining that the public school is again gaining ground, the author expresses his concern that those now exerting influence in the decision-making circles will promote only the private domain to the exclusion of the public school, believing that "the common good no longer exists" (p. K-4).

The article concludes with a poem written by a middle school student about her neighborhood in Southeast Washington, D.C., near the Capitol. She vividly describes a place where crime, violence, poverty, and hopelessness thrive. Kaplan issues an impassioned plea for ensuring that these children receive the same opportunities as those provided by well-funded schools in better neighborhoods. He marvels that some of these children are still able to succeed, and calls it criminal "that a prosperous, ostensibly well-meaning democracy shortchanges" so many of its people.

THE SECRET SERVICE'S SAFE SCHOOL INITIATIVE. Vossekuil, B., Reddy, M., & Fein. R. From Safe School Initiative: An Interim Report on the Prevention of Targeted Violence in Schools. February 2001, www., pp. 4-10. As part of its Safe School initiative to prevent school violence, the U.S. Secret Service interviewed perpetrators from a number of school shootings that have occurred since 1974. The study indicates that revenge is the typical motive for an attack. In addition, it was discovered that, in most cases, the attackers told someone, usually a peer, of their intention, but the informed person rarely notified an adult. No profile of offenders emerged, since personality and social characteristics varied so significantly. Educators will find four particularly salient pieces of information described here: 1) so as not to sound an alarm unnecessarily, educators must distinguish between a student who makes a verbal threat and those who pose a threat that appears to be backed up by certain behaviors; 2) students must feel secure in sharing information about a possible attack with adults, anonymously if need be; 3) due to the fact that "in over 2/3 of the cases studied, the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident" (p. 9), we must find a way to combat the problem of bullying in schools; 4) most attackers had experienced a significant change in or loss of personal status prior to the incident.

Although most enlightening in view of recent incidents on school property across our nation, I was disappointed that the report offered no guidelines or recommendations regarding the importance of teaching respect for one another.

THE COSMOPOLITAN SCHOOL. Elkind, D. Educational Leadership, 2000/2001, 58(4), 12-17. In this article, David Elkind helps the reader bridge the gap from modern to postmodern education. He credits the civil rights movement and the women's movement for promoting "the acceptance and valuation of cultural diversity" (p. 13) evident in today's schools.

With postmodern education has come an emphasis on inclusion, multiculturalism, full-day kindergarten, and character education. Elkind presents a well-documented case for these being social issues rather than curricular ones, and maintains that the danger lies in redirecting the focus in this manner. For instance, social acceptance should be the goal of inclusion, just as multiculturalism should be a basic recognition of our common humanity. Elkind insists that the need for additional child care, which helped bring about full-day kindergarten, should be examined in light of contemporary attitudes regarding the competent child. Is it appropriate, for example, to continue "pushing down" a 1st-grade curriculum to ever-younger children? Elkind also addresses character education, and the potential misuses of Internet research, E-mail, and distance learning. Elkind contends that, "When we fail to see cosmopolitan innovations as social problems to be solved and misread them as subjects to be taught, we force curricular changes that do not achieve their intended social aims" (p. 17).

MAKING CYBERSPACE SAFE FOR CHILDREN. Pittman, J., & McLaughlin, B. Educational Leadership, 2000, 57(6), 68-71. Along with the endless opportunities provided by computers and the Internet come serious responsibilities for parents and teachers in protecting a child's right to privacy. In support of this goal, the U.S. Congress passed the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA. According to the authors, however, this law is being circumvented by numerous Internet sites, thus creating a very real danger for young Internet explorers. In response to this alarming news, however, research indicates that some developers are becoming proactive concerning children's rights. These companies are creating their own software filtering systems that restrict certain communications and block particular personal information. Programs basically fall into three categories: list-based, lockout, or pattern-matching. This article cites the manufacturers of each and includes excellent descriptions.

The authors acknowledge that many educators feel "increasingly inadequate to the task" (p. 69) of choosing and operating such applicatons. Fortunately, some education associations and technology firms are providing useful guidelines on their Web sites to help ensure a safe on-line experience. Specific suggestions and Internet addresses are listed in the article.

SHOULD PARENTS BE ALLOWED TO OPT OUT OF VACCINATING THEIR KIDS? Fisher, B., & Shelov, S. Insight, 2000, 16(15), 40-43. One study estimates that there are more than a million vaccine-related health problems--including hospitalizations, injuries, and, even, death--in the United States each year. According to the National Institute of Medicine, there seems to be a serious scarcity of research material on the side effects of vaccines. Consumers today are insisting on "more information, more choices, and more decision-making partnership with doctors" (p. 41). Some parents question the safety and necessity of their children receiving so many immunizations, believing that this practice violates their constitutional right to individual freedom. Some are calling for examination of state vaccination laws and informed-consent protections.

Not everyone agrees, of course, contending that allowing optional vaccinations would "open the door for epidemics of some deadly childhood diseases" (p. 42). The crux of the issue here is the minimization of risk afforded by this kind of medication. Obviously, the failure to innoculate a child puts not only that child, but also other children and the elderly at risk.

CHILD LABOR IN THE USA. Cray, C. Multinational Monitor, 2000, 21(7/ 8), 4. This article describes how some Latino children in the United States are, according to the group known as the Human Rights Watch, working as farm laborers for some 12-14 hours per day, without access to bathrooms or adequate drinking water. The children suffer from pesticide poisonings, heat-related illnesses, and machine-induced injuries, injustices that continue in the United States despite international labor reforms.

According to the author, this travesty has occurred because of exemptions to the Fair Labor Standards Act and inadequate enforcement of existing standards. An urgent call is made to change this situation so as to protect the basic rights of all children living in the United States.

Susan M. Hill is a doctoral student in early childhood education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Association for Childhood Education International
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Author:Hill, Susan M.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Aug 6, 2001
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