“Why did you have to get political?”
“I didn’t come here to read about political stuff.”
“This page used to be great until it got political.”
These is a small portion of the feedback I get whenever I post about current events and social problems that affect children and families. At first glance it’s an odd response, given that I don’t write about political figures, ballot initiatives, elections, or what is happening on campaign trails.
What does it mean to get political?
The word “politics” comes from the Greek word politiká, which refers to affairs of state, including the distribution of resources and status. It refers to what happens in the wider world beyond our own homes and families. Political issues refer to those that affect a lot of people, not just you, your family, and your immediate neighbors. When I see someone say, “I don’t want to get political,” I translate this to mean, “I don’t want to get involved in anything that isn’t directly relevant to me or my family.” This is not the type of attitude I want my kids to learn, so we will be getting political.
Getting political brought about equal rights under the law, even if we still have a long way to go in practice. It brought about voting rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and children’s rights. During each of these movements there were the people who did the work and spoke out about pressing issues and there were the people who opposed them or sat idly by on the sidelines because they didn’t want to get political. These same distinctions exist today. If you care about children and families today, the fight for equality is still going on.
Interested in pregnancy and childbirth?
Draw attention to the fact that Black and Indigenous mothers in the U.S. die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth three to four times as often as white mothers. This puts their maternal mortality rates at levels comparable to developing countries like Uzbekistan and Malaysia. We can do better than that in the richest country in the world, but we have to know and care about the problem first.
Interested in breastfeeding?
Although 85% of U.S. mothers initiate breastfeeding at birth, only 69% of Black mothers do. In addition to the lack of lactation support provided to Black mothers in hospitals, there are stark economic disparities to contend with. Black, Indigenous, and Latina mothers are less likely to be eligible for paid leave and less likely to afford unpaid leave following a birth compared to white mothers. They are more likely than white mothers to return to work within 12 weeks of childbirth, and more often return to inflexible jobs that would facilitate pumping or breastfeeding breaks. These are key issues for lactivists to tackle.
Interested in early childhood education?
Children from middle class or wealthy families often have the opportunity to attend high-quality preschools with tuition rivaling that of state universities, or receive similar learning opportunities at home. Children from less wealthy families, disproportionately children of color, are too often locked out of these opportunities. When they do attend, unfair treatment abounds. Black children account for only 18% of preschool enrollment but 48% of suspensions. That’s right, preschool suspensions.
At the K-12 level, school segregation is alive and well. In fact, a full 60% of Black children attend high-poverty schools that serve mostly students of color. In some of these schools, children are not only being suspended, but also handcuffed or arrested by police for common childhood behaviors. The school-to-prison pipeline affects children as young as ten. It’s no wonder homeschooling is on the rise among Black and Brown families.
Interested in homeschooling?
Most white parents who choose homeschooling do so to ensure that their children get an education that matches their interests and needs. Black parents, research shows, usually opt out to remove their children from a racially hostile environment.
Unfortunately, Black parents sometimes also feel unwelcome in homeschooling communities, which are often comprised entirely or almost entirely of white families, half of whom view themselves as “raceless” and attempt to pass on a colorblind ideology to their children.
On the academic side, some popular homeschooling curricula (also used in private schools) ignore the contributions of Black Americans to history or even go so far as to downplay the horrors of slavery, claiming that southerners of all races “long lived together in harmony.”
Fellow homeschoolers, we have to do better.
Interested in restoring children’s connection to nature?
As Richard Louv famously noted, “Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child.”
The truth of this statement is not matched by the reality of the world today. Children of disadvantaged social groups often lack access to green spaces and room to run and play. They are more likely to live in proximity to hazardous waste facilities and industrial zones that pollute the air. These problems contribute to asthma, childhood obesity, and other health problems.
American society also suffers from an adventure gap. Although Black people make up over 13% of the U.S. population, they make up only 2% of National Park visitors. This is in part due to lower levels of disposable income and leisure time among BIPOC families (itself a product of racism), but even when local visits are possible, they do not always happen. For example, Latinx visitors long made up only 2% of visitors to Saguaro National Park in Arizona, despite being located in a county in which 40% of the population is Latinx. Of course, many National Parks were carved from lands actively inhabited by Indigenous communities, which turns the term “visitor” to the parks on its head. The reality is that we have a long way to go before natural spaces are safe and welcoming for all.
Nature enthusiasts, we have to do better.
We can’t solve any of these problems single-handedly, but we can all contribute to the solutions. Choose a topic close to your heart, study it, seek out diverse voices speaking up about it, teach your kids about it, find local organizations working on it — and when you are able, contribute some time or money to the cause.
As Mr. Rogers put it, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”