Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Intellectual Abuse

I'm delighted to offer you a fantastic article from a new author, Justin Grey, arguing for a change in our understanding and perception of child abuse. Justin argues that intellectual abuse, that is, abuse relating to a child's capacity for critical thought, should be seen as a serious problem. One which society may have a duty to protect children from. If you like what you read, please take a look at Justin's website.

There are few topics more contentious and passion driven than how to raise a child. Different people offer different opinions, views, and methods, even among professionals. One area of child rearing that is becoming more defined as our understanding of the human mind and interaction grows is that of child abuse, or how not to raise your child. Child abuse is defined as the physical, sexual, emotional ill-treatment or neglect of a child, especially by those responsible for its welfare. In the United States, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies, again, four types of child abuse; physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect. Each type of abuse identified affects a child negatively on a different level of its being and experience. It should be understood that the use of "levels of being and experience" is merely a literary device I will use for illustrating different angles of approaching a child's well-being and does not imply or assume any metaphysical or unsubstantiated claim. In order to understand the idea being presented here, it is important to understand the definition of each of these forms of abuse and how they affect children. These definitions will be given along with a proposed  fifth mode of abuse that is also damaging to the child on another level of its being or experience currently unexplored that should be recognized and responded to called intellectual abuse.

Physical abuse is recognized as physical aggression directed towards a child by an adult that will more than likely result in serious injury or death to the child. Punching, kicking, slapping, shoving, burning, choking, stabbing, belting, pulling on sensitive areas, and even shaking (as seen in cases of shaken baby syndrome) are all examples of physical abuse.

Sexual abuse includes a wide range of actions between an adult and a child which are sexual in nature. Sexual abuse may involve bodily contact, as in cases of molestation or rape, but not always, as in using the child to produce child pornography or indecent exposure of genitals to a child by an adult. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "no child is psychologically prepared to cope with repeated sexual stimulation. Even a two or three year old, who cannot know the sexual activity is wrong, will develop problems resulting from the inability to cope with the overstimulation." 

Psychological (also recognized as mental or emotional) abuse damages the child's psyche, or sense of self. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime website, this form of abuse may consist of ridicule, degradation, destroying personal possessions, torture or destruction of a pet, excessive criticism, withholding of communications, etc. Psychological abuse can result in anxiety, chronic depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Child neglect is a form of abuse in which the parent or guardian of a child does not provide adequately for a variety of needs. According to the article, "Understanding and working with neglect," child neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs resulting in serious impairment of health and/or development.

Intellectual abuse is the active obstruction or destruction of the intellect of a child, which is to say it is the retardation of a child's ability to learn and reason; the capacity for knowledge and understanding. Examples of intellectual abuse include the stigmatization of a people, indoctrination into a worldview, and the miseducation of a child. It is in itself an umbrella term, as are the other forms of abuse, covering a broad scope of actions and attitudes, centered on one of the levels of a child's being and experience.

This is not to imply that intellectual abuse is equally as damaging as other forms of abuse. Breaking the limbs of children and fostering low self-esteem by forcing them to undergo humiliating acts both damages them and erodes their quality of life, hindering them on different levels of their being and experience.

 The question was raised to me during a discussion on this topic, "wouldn't intellectual abuse simply fall under some subset of psychological abuse since they are both dealing with children on the level of the brain?" This is where the difference between a child's psyche, sense of self, needs to be recognized as different than a child's intellect, ability to learn and reason. The difference between psychological abuse and intellectual abuse is that the former is concerned primarily with the attitude, feelings, and mental state of the child. Intellectual abuse, on the other hand, is concerned with the child's understanding, comprehension, and interpretation of the world and people around them as well as themselves. This understanding can have a major impact on the child's psyche, but is not directly linked to the psyche, just as being raped also has its psychological repercussions. 

Intellectual abuse, in discussion, has also to be compared to educational neglect, which I would still differentiate from. Educational neglect would be characterized by parents not providing an adequate education for their children. Intellectual abuse runs along a similar vein, but takes this inadequate education a step further by substituting good information with wrong information. It is possible to be both intellectually abusive and educationally neglectful with the same action just as it is possible to be both psychologically and sexually abusive in the same action.
To use a personal example, my father, a fundamentalist Christian minister, wanted to impart on me a belief in Young-Earth Creationism - the belief that the Earth and the Universe is nearly 6,000 years old and that all forms of life existed at the moment of creation - and was aware that many branches of science converged on the idea that the Earth was billions of years old (as indicated by geological, astronomical and cosmological scientists), that life on Earth had simple origins with a common ancestor (as indicated by evolutionary biologists and biochemists) and is believed to have originated 3.9 billion years ago.

One way he could have approached this topic is by telling me that, "Belief in evolution is evil, as is all understanding of it. I forbid you to learn anymore on the subject." This would be intellectual abuse. On the other hand, he could have told me, "I would prefer you share the beliefs I hold dear to me, but I want you to look at the evidence of both sides and judge for yourself what seems correct." This sort of approach, though still with the bias of my father's beliefs on the surface, shows that my father respects me and my judgment and fosters a mindset of critical thinking, an important lesson for any child.

This new idea of intellectual abuse may seem dubious if not examined closely and a person might ask, "shouldn't a parent be allowed to teach their child the values and beliefs they hold dear? Isn't that one of the joys of being a parent? What of passing on religion and faith? What of teaching a child about their history and culture?" In an essay called "What Shall We Tell The Children," psychologist Nicholas Humphrey answers a similar set of questions, nearly defining this idea of intellectual abuse that I am presenting:
“Children, I'll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas—no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given license to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children's knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. 
In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.”
Because the understanding of intellectual abuse is not currently developed, there does not exist explicit data collected to see the number of children harmed by it. But to further use the creationist example, according to a Gallup poll released December 17, 2010, 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years. According to a Huffington Post news article:
"Views on human origins vary based on church attendance. Of those who attend church on a weekly basis, 60 percent believe in creationism while a mere 2 percent subscribe to ‘secular evolution.’ These numbers are flipped among those who rarely or never attend religious services. In this group, only 24 percent believe in creationism while 39 percent believe in evolution without divine guidance. This represents the only subset of data reported where ‘secular evolution’ beats out creationism.”
The purpose of sharing such information is not to choose sides on a religious debate, but to expound upon the notion that people are susceptible to believing what the people they trust are exposing them to, regardless of the validity of their propositions. The Gallup poll also revealed that as the level of education in Americans went up, from a "high school or less" level education to a "postgraduate" education, the number of people who believed in young earth creationism dropped from 47 percent to only 22 percent with the percentage of Americans believing in "secular" evolution spiking from 9 to 25. It becomes difficult not to realize that exposure to more information leads to a different worldview than that of someone who is confined to one belief system compounded with a lesser education.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins hypothesized in his documentary "The Virus of Faith" that children are hard-wired into trusting our elders and parents for evolutionary reasons. He deduces that if children were to practice the scientific method, rather than exhibiting some faith in the word of their parents, the human species may not have survived. Jumping off a cliff can only be tested once. For evolutionary reasons, it becomes apparent why children are more susceptible to believing what they are told, but if this is the case, then what are we to do with such knowledge?

One thing is for certain, if the knowledge we impart on our children affects their perception of the world in any way and we expect them to make important decisions for themselves we want it to be the most informed decision they can possibly make. Our influence over our children is great and it is a responsibility that should not be abused.


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