by carla joy bergman
“If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children, it might be this: be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.”
—John Holt, Freedom and Beyond
“Children need to be raised in loving environments. Whenever domination is present love is lacking.”
—bell hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody
“Kids are fully formed human beings the moment they come into this world. They know who they are, they know what they love, they know what to do! It is our job to be stewards of their humanness and provide the opportunities that they need to thrive. Not what you think they need to thrive, but what they tell you they need to thrive.”
—Melody Sherwood (in conversation)
This is a book about relationships and love.
These are some of the stories; there are many more.
It’s a book filled with curiosity, hope, and love.
Trust Kids! began with me thinking about how we can create more autonomous communities through deepening our relationships with children. And how, if we can shift these relationships, continue to bust open the patriarchal-nuclear family, create strong intergenerational connections, even in our radical communities, we may have a chance at long lasting change by co-creating a future that is local, decolonial, and autonomous, all amid the ongoing destruction of capitalism. I, and many others, feel these relationships across ages are vital to nurture and grow because, as long as there are seeds of hierarchy in our relationships, we will never fully escape our subjugation—those oppressive seeds will grow and spread, thwarting our collective capacity to be fully free.
I started using the phrase Solidarity begins at home because, as an activist and organizer I was seeing one of two things: that children and youth oppression is widely ignored or, alternatively, the conversation remains confined to schooling and school resistance. I could also say Liberation begins at home, or Justice begins at home, but those phrases lose a bit of what I am after here. At the heart of it, Solidarity begins at home is to be curious about, figure out, and affirm how adults who inhabit home and other public and private spaces with children and youth can have a concrete role in co-creating the conditions by which the children in their lives can enjoy justice and thrive. I truly believe that we must begin where we live, and start with our relationships—especially including the young folks—where power is palpable. If we can shift this power dynamic, truly undo ageism, including in our homes, the possibilities are endless for creating better worlds. I see these acts as solidarity.
I don’t suggest that there’s one path toward solidarity with children, in fact, part of trusting and listening to kids is being open to what the path forward can and will look like with them. Inclusion of kids also means that some kids may not want to be involved! Kids deserve the option, like all of us, to say no.
With this anthology, I was very interested in looking at and talking about the social borders between adults and youth, and also the ones between home life (whatever your configurations, but especially those beyond the nuclear family) and radical organizing life. In particular, I am interested in amplifying and affirming all the ways these borders and walls are continuingly being dismantled.
Youth oppression is still going strong
As much as I tend to write and engage in theory that is affirmative, sharing and amplifying these kinds of stories, I do wish that I didn’t have to put this book together in 2021. I spent the summer of 2021 revisiting the works of the brilliant child and youth advocate John Holt (1923–1985) because he was committed to thinking about, writing about, and doing something about many of the themes in this book. In many of his letters to friends and colleagues, he was grappling with the treatment of kids, and aiming to get across how fundamentally vital it is to trust kids. And, while I am always inspired by his work, I also felt sad and a bit hopeless because, in all honesty, Holt was saying the same things, or fighting for the same things that many of us are still saying and fighting for today: that kids and youth are already full humans and deserve to be treated as such.
This is not to say that things haven’t improved. Some things, such as the physical rights of a child and other examples of individual rights, have—especially in the public realm. These changes are the result of many decades of committed and fierce advocacy by activists and organizers, like Holt, who were working to break down the barriers young people face every day. You’ll read some of these incredible examples and stories in this book, and perhaps you’ve experienced the changes yourself. Beyond the headlines and individual testimonies of youths who are being heard, there are still a devastating number of kids facing oppression in subtle or deadly ways, especially in their private lives. One only needs to look at the news to see that youth depression and suicide are on the rise.
Social change often comes in waves, and past movements and actions provide the necessary scaffolding for current generations to work off of—change is incremental and not one grand win. The all-ages work of carving out ways to thrive together amidst disasters, building friendships across differences, centering solidarity and generosity, and of course trusting kids, is not a straight line. It’s an entangled tapestry of different voices, and it’s beautiful. But there is still a lot of work to do.
Youth oppression is part of the machine that keeps the forces of Empire together. The deepening hold of capitalism on our everyday lives has made it more difficult than ever to imagine and enact social change and autonomy. Even when kids live in radical and supportive homes, they still face oppression and adult supremacy in their encounters with other adults. We’ve all been kids, and rather than collapsing us into sameness here, I’m instead highlighting this shared experience amid and within this uneven and unfair world. With this in mind, I suggest that, alongside a global movement for social transformation and change, the means and ends of organizing should be our everyday lives. To me, this means: solidarity begins at home, with the human and more-than-humans we depend on. From this perspective, this book is about amplifying stories and actions that reveal the liberatory potential in undoing the social borders that cut us off from each other and the world. This work attempts to amplify more stories about the neglected field of understanding and enacting social transformation.
Weaving past and current lineages
With a bit of hopelessness in my heart, I started thinking more about the curation of this anthology. I wanted to invite folks who haven’t before been in the conversation about youth autonomy, or perhaps not in conversation with the other folks who’ve been writing about and working for youth autonomy for decades. I intentionally included folks who do not have kids of their own, or who haven’t previously written about these ideas, because many of my mentors and some of the most incredible organizers and allies for liberation and youth autonomy over the years are adults who did not parent. My desire was to create ways to bring together these (newer) voices with those who have been in this conversation for a long time, and all the folks in between.
The scope and the structure of the book
At the heart of the book are conversations about the ways that children can be included, loved, and cared for in more generative and just ways. Essays explore the liberatory potential of consent, autonomy, love, and care, in relationships between children, youth, and the adults in their lives. Some essays trace where and how child oppression took root in our society and how it is part of the colonial, white supremacist system. Some essays more directly discuss adultism/ adult supremacy (often called childism or misopedy), offering a critique of adult supremacy as a barrier to transformation and to children’s thriving, showcasing how child oppression as it is lived today in many places isn’t the “natural” way of being in kinship with the youngest members of our families and communities. There are essays that expose the violence and non-consensual interactions that kids face every day and explore the ways in which these patterns can continue into adulthood, reproducing child oppression in future generations.
While institutionalized oppression in schools, school resistance, and the alternatives of deschooling/unschooling are touched upon in some essays, school is not the central focus of this book. In this sense, Trust Kids! aims to disrupt the notions that school is central in children’s lives, and that the oppression of children hinges on schooling. Instead, we take a step back and start at home, in our most private places. Because children can’t live alone, power and privilege are necessarily at play there, no matter the configuration. So home is crucial to explore. Home can be the site of some of the most deeply rooted forms of oppression or it can be a place of safety.
Trust Kids! is also part inspiration, exploring, and amplifying other ways of being with our youngest (no matter what our role is in their lives), ways that are liberatory, decolonial, democratic, love-centered, and joyful.
As I arranged the different elements of the book, my intention was to create a flow between the pieces, weaving together many different voices and stories. My goal is not to erect borders and boundaries, but rather to create intersections. At each intersection in this layout there is a poem by the anonymous writing collective, Curiousism Cyphers. Here’s what they say about the role of Introduction their poem: “New Thorns was inspired by themes and essays in Trust Kids!, as well as our own interests in the topic. Our hope is that our weaving poem can provide a way to pause and reflect—kind of like a beat, or perhaps be like a chorus in a song—and create a space for listening.”1
So, there is a flow and it’s something like this (although many of the threads run through the book): The first group of essays are from home, or relationships across ages that go beyond the home. The second group looks more at school, the alternatives to schooling and institutions, and school resistance. The third group shares essays and stories about breaking down the social borders between private and public life, while also weaving in themes and stories from the first two sections and also includes a fictionalized piece. The final group of essays focuses in on the historical and ongoing horrors that kids face, as well as some of the pathways toward youth autonomy. It’s the more theoretical and historical part of the book, and it also aims to untangle the roots of childism/adult supremacy while highlighting ways of cultivating autonomy with kids all amid the ruins. And finally, an outro, titled “Back to the Beginning,” which is poetic and to me, sums up the book.
What Trust Kids! is not
Trust Kids! is not a parenting handbook. It’s not saying that parents suck, or that you suck. It’s not showcasing the only people who have it figured out—though there are personal stories of beautiful everyday relationships with children that are inspiring for us all to read, and worth celebrating! One thing that’s certain: there isn’t one guiding ideology for this work, and not everyone in this book follows the same path toward youth autonomy and liberations. As such, then, this book doesn’t provide a road map, but instead many different and creative paths toward trusting kids more.
On embracing different writing styles, and being a weaver instead of an editor
“Better to kill everything in their writing they DON’T love as much. Until only the darlings remain.”
—Brian K. Vaughan, Saga, Vol. 313
I am very interested in amplifying different voices and writing styles, sharing voices not always heard, alongside more seasoned writers, and weaving them together in a beautiful tapestry (at least that’s the goal!). I aim to break down barriers that often say who can and who cannot write, supporting neuro-differences (and neuro-fabulousness) along the way!
My aim with this “weaving” together is to show that resistance and autonomy is always in motion. I want to also amplify the words and actions happening today, but not erase all the work that came before.
“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”
—Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935–1942
In many ways, this book has been in the works for over twenty years, but I always hesitated writing about it in a direct way because, when adults write about youth oppression, especially us parents, we tend to center ourselves. It’s a paradox. But, I believe that this collection of essays has done something different, thanks to all of the amazing contributors, and we welcome you, dear reader, to the conversation.
Trusting ourselves and each other is always a journey, never a destination. You will never reach a place of “perfect trust”… In fact, you are sure to keep messing up—trust me! You will fail; you will be human, you will (mis)use your power at times. We all do. Your kids, or kids in your life, may not trust you. The key, to me, is that we build a foundation of trust with kids, whereby the younger folks in our life can talk to us when they feel we are not trusting them well. If trust is flowing, it’ll be powerful and beautiful. Then together, we can create borderless futures, ones grounded in love.
1 Curiousism Cyphers correspondence with carla bergman, December 2021.
“Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple—or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves—and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
— John Holt