Episode 3

Published on:

5th Feb 2020

Sophie Christophy - Children are people, not property - 003

In this episode of Queers & Co., I’m joined by Sophie Christophy, feminist, children’s rights activist and co-founder of a self-directed, consent and rights based education setting called the Cabin.

We chat about children’s rights and how the dominant parent culture is a representation of patriarchy, how schooling is not designed to allow for individuality, queering education and the importance of ed positivity.

If you haven't already, be sure to join our Facebook community to connect with other like-minded queer folks and allies.

Find out more about Gem Kennedy and Queers & Co.

Podcast Artwork by Gemma D’Souza


Sophie’s website: https://sophiechristophy.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @schristophy

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/schristophy 

The Cabin: https://www.downatthecabin.com/

The Phoenix Education Trust: https://www.phoenixeducation.co.uk/

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC): https://www.unicef.org.uk/what-we-do/un-convention-child-rights/

Ban the Booths campaign: https://banthebooths.co.uk/

bell hooks: http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com/

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Teaching-Transgress-Education-Practice-Translation/dp/0415908086/ref=sr_1_1?adgrpid=53999208955&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI56Som4S45wIVTLDtCh0Ylg6YEAAYAiAAEgISDvD_BwE&hvadid=259061695134&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=1006984&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t2&hvqmt=e&hvrand=5078044356646694407&hvtargid=kwd-299674323339&hydadcr=10364_1752646&keywords=teaching+to+transgress&qid=1580823978&sr=8-1

Full Transcription:

Gem: Hi Sophie.

Sophie: Hi Gem. How are you?

Gem: I'm good, thank you. How are you?

Sophie: I'm fine, thank you. I'm fine.

Gem: Good and so I'm really excited to talk to you and it feels a bit weird because we're friends in real life. It would be really great for other people than me if you could introduce yourself.

Sophie: Yeah, sure. Okay. So I'm Sophie. I have a few hats. I'm a children's rights activist fundamentally but I am also the Co-Director of a consent-based self-directed education setting called The Cabin. And I'm a trustee for an education charity called the Phoenix Education Trust as well as being a parent to two children who are unschooled and yeah, living life basically. I'd say that's probably a summary for the moment.

Gem: There's lots to explore there. I guess lots of new terms that people might not have come across if they're not familiar with unschooling or home ed for example. So I guess my first question will probably be the fundamentals of what are children's rights.

Sophie: Okay. Sothere's a legal document, which is helpful, called the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And it was created over a couple of decades actually and finally ratified in 1990 by the UK but every country in the world has, symbolically at least ratified the treaty apart from the United States.

Gem: Interesting!

Sophie: I know it's a long story. The UNCRC lays out a whole bunch of rights that apply to all people aged under 18 and it was created largely to recognise the fact that that group have particular vulnerabilities in our society that other groups may not have in quite the same way and are deserving of a list of rights basically to help support them in living in a dignified and respected way. Like I said it was ratified by the UK in 1990 so it's been around for a while now but what I've found over my time of engaging with this issue is that it's not that widely known and it's not that widely practised, is the kind of important part. But I mean the basic principles of it are that children are people, they're not property of anyone, that their rights holders, that they are entitled to a voice, that they're entitled to be themselves and to live a full life. I would say that's the basics.

Gem: Yeah and I guess they sound like obvious things, but when you dig a bit deeper, you realise that children actually don't benefit from a lot of those rights in multiple scenarios.

Sophie: Yeah, definitely. I mean, traditionally family culture the culture we have in schools, kind of general social norms and values don't accommodate children's rights. The norm doesn't sit in a place that makes the UNCRC easy. You know? And so it was realising that that my activism, I would say, because I think it's one thing to feel as an individual that perhaps our culture around childhood and children isn't right but it's another thing when you realise that actually there is kind of a legal consequence to that and the responsibility that people have mutually agreed to that isn't being upheld. And that's the point at which I sort of realised that this is a social justice issue and not just an opinion

Gem: Yeah and I know we've talked before together that, well I definitely have come across it and I don't want to assume that you have, but I imagine you might have, that when you're in other circles with other activists doing work in other spheres, they're generally aware of potentially other movements or other marginalised groups, but not children. And I find it really frustrating when I come across people, particularly queer people so in my own community who wouldn't dream of saying something about another marginalised group but will be really negative about children.

Sophie: Yeah. It's, it's really fascinating actually. And I think even when you get into intersectional feminism and are working towards appreciating how different identities and different circumstances and oppressions overlap and converge and affect each other to, you know, create an overall experience it's not common at the moment for the condition of childhood to be included in intersectionality. Like you said, it will usually include issues around race, issues around gender and sexuality, issues around ability and disability. But children are not included generally in that approach and that lens which is fascinating because it's the one experience of oppression that everyone has. And it's also the space where we learn all the others. So in a way childhood should be the base starting point to understand why we have all of these other issues in society. And knowing that because of discrimination and prejudice against children, knowing that that's what makes these other oppressions possible is critical. Because if you don't, if you're not taking that perspective, then you're essentially trying to fight the fire by throwing water at the flames rather than coming to the root cause of it. And you can't make lasting change unless we address how children are socialised.

Gem: Absolutely. And this idea of like having agency that all of a sudden when you're say 18, now okay, you can make decisions for yourself and you can live the life that you want to, but you haven't grown up understanding how that actually looks and so everyone's sort of re-learning or I guess just making it up for themselves as soon as they get to adulthood and then they return their experiences on their children if they have children and just think it's like normal parenting. I wonder if we could give some really kind of clear examples of where maybe parents might be going against the UNCRC basically.

Sophie: Well, I think probably every parent, unless they're actively and consciously engaging with the idea of children's rights, will not be behaving in a way that's in accordance with rights because it's contrary to our mainstream culture of parenthood. And it's very difficult to be in relationship with your children in a way that's different to the relationship you were in with your own parents, unless you're making a really intentional effort to think critically about your own childhood experience and to allow yourself to explore alternatives. Our dominant parenting culture is literally a representation of patriarchal dynamic. It's a power-over dynamic where the parents are in a position of unaccountable authority. I mean that's not necessarily true or what will happen in their relationship life if they behave in that way, but that's the perception that a parent has unaccountable authority and the child is a passive recipient of that authority and isn't entitled to a voice. I mean they might be privileged to some agency and some voice, you know, in the relationship at times, but it's not seen as their fundamental rights. And yeah, I mean it's, it's difficult. The relationship between the parent and the child is, I think, the most difficult place to be activated in because it's so emotional and it requires people to engage in a lot of personal exploration at a time when they are really busy and quite vulnerable because they've just become a parent. Yeah. Sorry, can you remind me of your question?

Gem: No, it was great. I was just going to ask if there were to sort of... We can both do it, whether there are any real life examples where... because I think talking about this in the abstract, people would probably be on board, but if they realise maybe what parenting they experienced or potentially what parenting they are giving to other children, what does that look like? What are those examples?

Sophie: Yeah. I guess anytime a parent feels that they are acting in an identity that is other than themselves in order to be a parent, that's a warning sign. So if they feel like they're having to behave like an authority or a police person or you know, but that they're moving into that place. So it's like things for example around policing your child's body, telling them what they should or shouldn't wear, what they should or shouldn't look like, you know, controlling how they have their hair, controlling what food they put in their mouth, how much of it and when. Those are all areas where you think, "Hang on, what is the power dynamic here? Is this between people that are considering themselves to be equitable or is this where one person is really considering themselves to have authority over the other and to essentially own the other one? I think it looks like also when the parent is engaging in a good or bad binary with that child; that something that they do could be good or something that they do could just be bad and punishable. Then that's also another example. Also when there's a response to something that a child does or says that looks like wanting to make them feel worse to change their behaviour, then that is another example of behaviour that isn't rights respecting. I think when I first became aware of this issue, I was just a bit overwhelmed because everywhere that I went with my own children and was with other families, it was like triggering constantly because of how normalised it is for parents to behave in a way that isn't respectful to their children. I mean, if a parent grabs that child and pulls them across the place, you know, unless they're in imminent danger, right? Like unless there's a genuine, real threat. If they're just taking their child, as if they're an object like that isn't rights respecrting.

Gem: Yeah. And the thing that I found really useful when I first sort of started looking into it was to think about how you talk to say a friend or a family member compared to how you might talk to a child. And if you wouldn't say that to a friend or a family member, then why the hell are you saying it to a child?

Sophie: Yeah, definitely. I mean, language and speech is so important with this because we have a tendency to have a really patronising way of interacting with children, like a diminishing way, even if you're saying something nice, you know?

Gem: Oh aren't you cute?

Sophie: Yeah, when you think you're being complimentary and oftentimes that's the thing is, you know, none of this behaviour generally speaking is coming from a place of malice or unkindness or ill intent. It's not that people want to be mean children, quite on the contrary. I think generally people feel within themselves that desire to be loved by and show love to children, but it's about how that manifests in behaviour and what impression that leaves on the child and the extent how that then affects that child's perception of themselves. And if you're constantly being patronised or you're constantly having your own identity reduced to like really strict gender binary for example, which is so so common where I think maybe for want of something else to focus on an adult will really emphasise their perception of a child's gender identity in the interaction. So everything's centered around, "Oh, you're such a good girl" and has a strong lean towards stereotypical girly things, for example, in that relationship.

Gem: Or "He's such a typical boy isn't he? He's so wild or like running around all the time. A typical boy.

Sophie: Yeah. And you just wouldn't, you don't see that in adult life. Like if you walk down the street, and you look around you, you're going to see a huge diversity in the people that are there. I mean, I think we'd see a lot more if children were raised in a rights respecting way because they would be a lot freer in adulthood to express themselves than they currently are. But even now, you see women with short hair, with long hair, dressed in more masculine ways, dressed in more feminine ways and the same for guys, but the fact that there's such a gap between that and how children are allowed in our society to be and to present themselves is another example of how adults project and control children into a particular way that doesn't acknowledge their individuality, doesn't acknowledge their own potential exploration of themselves.

Gem: Yeah, absolutely. And so I guess that feeds into the idea of schooling. So we've talked... Well, the thing is, I feel like there are so many questions that it'd be useful to cover. I guess it would be good maybe if we can chat a bit about how that feeds into school. We have this kind of situation at home where children are oppressed essentially by the traditional parenting methods and then they go to school and then what?

Sophie: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, there's a couple of things to mention as we get into this. Firstly, I want to acknowledge that there are definitely people within the mainstream education system that have strong desire for change and there are people within the system who are doing their best to create a more respectful culture for children that are in their schools. So I want to just make that clear because when we talk about this, we're talking about an institution and a system, you know, rather than wanting to cause pain to individuals, right? So that's really important to say. Second thing I think that is important to say is that the tradition of schooling was never designed to be rights respecting. So in its construct, the design of it, doesn't make it easy for children to be respected. That's due to lots and lots of factors. Traditional schooling started before children's rights existed, a long time before and it was created through definitely a patriarchal lens. And there's lots of limiting beliefs about children that went towards how schooling manifested and loads of things we can explore in the history of that. But those two factors are important before we start doing critique. Schooling is not designed to allow for individuality. It's not designed to allow for curiosity, really. Not in a broad sense. There's often policies in place that limit and police children in ways that are unnecessary and aren't for health or safety reasons. They're not in their best interests. You know, the whole dynamic of schooling as a principal doesn't account for the personhood of a child. It requires children to be the property of the school because they're being coerced and forced to learn particular things that are decided by other people. That relationship isn't mutual. It's not collaborative. It's one where it's one of imposition and that is a big problem if you want it to be rights respecting.

Gem: Yeah. And I know you've shared quite a few things recently around isolation or the removal of toilets or the conversion of toilets into isolation units and I just wondered if you could say a bit more about that maybe.

Sophie: Yeah. I mean I think one of the things that came up for me in my research around the education system was how unprotected children are actually in school and how much free reign schools have in terms of giving out or delivering on what they would see as like punishment or consequences. At the moment, schools aren't regulated in their use of isolation rooms, isolation booths, which is really worrying and I mean, it's in breach of human rights. You can't put someone in isolation for just an arbitrary amount of time, it's just not right. And lots of places outside of schools you wouldn't be allowed. So the problem that is happening is that some schools are putting young people in isolation for long periods of time in conditions that are unacceptable for perceived misdemeanours that are quite nominal. For example, if they have the wrong colour socks on, if they have the wrong type of shoe on, if their hair is looking a particular way, I mean other things which are also rights issues. But it's awful. There's research to suggest that it's very bad for children's mental health. It should be obvious that being isolated in that way isn't good. It's not healthy. And what's great is that a campaign has emerged from within the system to challenge this and to ask for guidance around it from the government to try and protect children within schools. It's called Ban the Booths if you want to look it up.

Gem: Great, I'll put that in the show notes as well. And so I guess we could talk a lot about school and the different ways that children's rights aren't respected, but maybe it'd be interesting to talk instead about what the alternatives are. We both are not sending our children to school. And yeah, there, there are different options available. I guess if people are listening and thinking, " Okay, well you're saying school is so bad, but then what's the alternative?"

Sophie: Yeah, definitely and I'm a solutions-oriented person so for me, once I realised that there was a problem with school in terms of rights and children's experience and that that was such a big problem - it's a systemic...

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About the Podcast

Queers and Co.
A podcast for queer folks and allies on self-empowerment, body liberation and activism.
Hi, I'm Gem! Join me as I chat to queer folks and allies about self-empowerment, body liberation and activism. My guests are at the forefront of change-making, working in areas like fat activism, sex positivity, intersectional feminism, drag/cabaret, LGBTQ+ activism and children's rights.

I'm a transformational coach, activist and founder of the Queers & Co. zine, podcast and community. Through my work, I support LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.

Find out more about my work: www.gemkennedy.com
Find out more about Queers & Co.: www.gemkennedy.com/queersandco

About your host

Profile picture for Gem Kennedy

Gem Kennedy

I’m Gem. I'm the founder of the Queers & Co. zine, community and podcast, as well as a transformational coach and activist. I’m also queer, fat positive, an intersectional feminist and Mum to two free-range children.

I help LGBTQ+ folks and allies to reclaim their personal power and take up space so that they can impact the world in ways they have only dreamt of.