Dissent

 

One day the children went insane. All of them, under age twelve. The youngest refused to wear any clothes. If adults attempted to clothe them, the little ones screamed and thrashed and broke out in hives.

Children aged six to eight refused entirely to speak. Many were brutally spanked for this. Some screamed and cried involuntarily but none spoke.

Children aged nine to eleven reacted in one of two ways – half refused to leave their bedrooms, while the other half ran away. If the runaways were caught and returned, they attempted to escape even if locked up.

Since parents and other adults assault children every day and thousands of children die in this way every year in the U.S. alone, perhaps it was to be expected that the day all the children went insane, adult homicides of children skyrocketed further.

Scientists and other experts worldwide met to discuss this phenomenon of child insanity. Leaders from every nation gathered together. “What has happened to our children?” they asked one another in endless repetition (while also finding a moment to deplore the increased child abuse.)

For months, the children remained naked, silent, unmoved or in flight. Few of the children when they reached age twelve seemed inclined to continue their lives in a typical manner. This influenced some of their elders bit by bit – first those closest in age to themselves, and then a number of the elderly, and finally a smattering of people in between.

Eventually, having arrived at no definitive answers let alone solutions, the consulted scientists and experts returned to their pre-crisis work. And the leaders of nations went back to their peoples and proclaimed, “This is how it is now. The children shall remain insane.”

Immediately, all the children gave up their insanity. The runaways came home, the bedroom-bound went out, the silent spoke, the naked got dressed. When any of these youngsters were asked, “Why did you do it? Did you hear voices? Who commanded you to do these things?” children everywhere always gave a single cryptic response, “This is who we are now.”

 

One other unusual day, months later, all the children between ages five and twelve vanished from their homes. They did not show up at the schools and could not be found at any of their usual hangouts.

Mass panic ensued. Searchers went out, and by late in the day the children were discovered in gatherings large and small in abandoned houses and warehouses, in overgrown lots, in secluded forests, fields and caves, and crouched in camouflage amid nearby clumps of trees.

It was learned that the children had collected themselves with the purpose of deciding how to improve their lives. In addition to widespread traditional child abuse, the children had had more than enough of polluted air and polluted water and toxic chemical laden food. They had had enough of unavailable health care, and grotesque TV violence, and stultifying schools. They had had too much. And so they questioned – What do we do about the adults?

Get rid of them. This was the focus of many early suggestions. But soon this notion was put aside when several children pointed out that adults were good for some things. Like washing clothes. And providing food. Also, usually, shelter. Despite all attendant dangers.

Enslave them. This was a widely popular idea, having leapt quickly to the minds of many. Eventually however, adult enslavement as a solution to the world’s many problems was rejected as being impractical, given the current distribution of power. And a few children spoke out against the proposal as being not altogether humane. After much discussion their perspective came to be respected as well.

Punish them. This was perhaps the most heartfelt suggestion put forward for the difficulty of dealing with adults. Dissenting voices were at first few and far between. Then after endless, tearful and often bitter discussion, no consensus or near consensus could be reached, and so the idea of retribution was tabled.

Educate them. As the day stretched on, many of the children began to conclude that adults were simply incorrigible, that there was little or no hope of their ever reaching maturity. Bleak depression engulfed the children. All seemed futile. Soon however determined young voices began to argue that they, the children, must either give education a try or give up altogether. And who wanted to give up? No one. “We need to educate the adults,” a few children declared. “And we need to educate ourselves to be able to educate them better.” Much discussion and tumult followed. The lively day grew late. Children argued and squabbled and philosophized and analyzed. They pouted. Grew excited. Minds wandered. Thoughts sharpened on the issue at hand. They considered and reconsidered, all the children caught in struggle.

Eventually the adults began to discover their presence. Rarely did the children give up their gatherings quietly or easily. Nor did they return home or to the schools completely in the manner the adults wished, if they arrived at all. The children had decided to make their new thoughts and opinions clear to all who would listen, as well as to those who could not help but hear.

A number of groups of children were never found.

The returned children claimed that those who were missing were neither lost nor victims of some secret tragedy but had opted to remain in superbly hidden places of their own choosing. It was said that they had had enough “incarceration” by adults.

Were the children developing a secret government? Or a whole new way of living and thinking? Mounting concern among adults grew widespread, and amid no few shivers they began to mutter among themselves: “All is lost. The young have arisen. The center cannot hold. We are under siege.”

One adult claimed, “The gnomes have gone back into the woods, the faeries are escaped and once again ancient spirits are loosed upon the land,” but mostly he was ignored.

Meanwhile, the returned children continued to dialogue and act anew—the inevitable results of which they hoped adults could not help but come to understand and engage. If not, the children vowed they would again disappear to reopen intense discussion, to review all options, even the most unpleasant ones.

“We will challenge the basis of all things,” the children declared.

 

Months later, the children emptied the schools. Every elementary in the nation shut down for one week while children camped out on lawns and playgrounds or found other more convivial places to congregate. Much fun and good times. Singing, laughing, dancing. Serious talk and planning. Lots of play and purposeful action.

Everywhere the children’s demands were essentially the same: We wish to pursue our own interests. We wish to do what we find important.

The adults seemed baffled. They claimed never to have heard such ideas, certainly not from children. “How can children know what is important?” they asked. “How can children know what is of interest?”

The children reminded the adults of the progressive schools of the past and present in which every student was regarded as “a successful student, where there was no sense of competition, no ranking of students.” The students reminded the adults of the good Deweyite schools, of “education not in the sense of slapping paints on paper, but doing the kind of work and thinking that you were interested in. Schools where interests were encouraged and children were encouraged to pursue their interests working jointly with others or by themselves. Schools with lively atmospheres and the sense that everyone was doing something important.”

“This is what education should be!” the children declared.

“Impossible!” the adults replied. “These are the pipedreams of children!”

“We know it can work because it has! It does!” the children insisted. “We know it!”

There was talk of mobilizing riot police and the National Guard against the children. The captain of one National Guard unit declared, “Even if it means fathers and mothers waging chemical warfare against their own children, even if it means cracking a few unworthy skulls, we stand prepared to do our duty for the sake of our country, so help us God!”

But other security agents were not so eager to use pepper spray, tear gas, and riot batons against their young and so the idea was quietly scrapped, much to the chagrin of the President, and like-minded officials, owners, employers —most all of whom, it must be said, seemed to desire workers and citizens who would simply follow orders rather than exercise minds of their own.

Hawks in Congress called for military air-strikes against the children. Doves thought sanctions, cutting off food to the mouths of the little ones, would be more effective. The national political police—the FBI—attempted to infiltrate the young, but aside from a few exceptionally youthful looking teenage recruits, these agents were quickly identified by their bulk and their inability to fit in and keep up in the games. The children laughed merrily and made no attempt to exclude the spies.

Meanwhile, there proved to be no greater enemies of the young ones than fathers, mothers, and administrators. Teachers mostly sat in their empty classrooms, took roll, and did nothing. But the parents and administrators would not let up, hounding the children day and night, night and day. An occasional teacher, perhaps missing old times, came forth and joined in the harangue.

Finally at the end of a week, the children had had enough of this action. All across the nation, they stormed the schools and turned everything upside down. If it could be moved, it got up-ended—tables, desks, chairs, bookshelves, and—very carefully—TVs, computers, and VCRs. Nothing was dumped, spilled, or destroyed; the items were simply rearranged bottom-side up—a point to be made.

Then the children re-inhabited the schools and carried out plans they had made in previous weeks. They ran the schools their own way. Some of the young ones were surprised that most of the teachers, after a period of time and tutoring, seemed willing to assist in one way or another. But such progress was not to be sustained. The President called upon the military to reinforce the schools’ regular guards. Heavily armed soldiers moved in and patrolled every hall and classroom in every school.

“We will not be intimidated by strong-arm tactics,” the President declared in a televised nationwide address. He further noted, “This country celebrates Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, not Children’s Day, for a reason.” He did not elaborate on what that reason might be.

“Long live the resistance!” the children shouted. Then they were overpowered and restrained in traditional fashion within the school cells.

The media applauded “the appropriate stern treatment of subversive elements” in countless articles and programs and celebrated the President’s “expert handling of this treacherous situation.”

In this manner, order was restored to the schools and to the nation. The children were subdued. For the moment.

 

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