Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Children in Museums

I see that Ivan Hewitt has run another piece in the London Telegraph with a question as the headline. This time it is "Should children be banned from museums?" This piece was apparently inspired by the recent episode of a child climbing on a $10 million sculpture by Donald Judd at the Tate Modern. With that as context, it was clear that Hewitt was answering his own question in the affirmative. This time, however, he allocated half of his column to a rebuttal from Dea Birkett, Director of an organization called Kids in Museums.

One of the things that struck me about this piece is that the stem "parent" appeared exactly once in the entire text. It was in Hewitt's portion, but it was not Hewitt's sentence. Rather, he was quoting the words of an observer during that episode at the Tate:
I said to the parents I didn’t think their kids should be playing on a 10 million dollar artwork. The woman turned around and told me I didn’t know anything about kids and said she was sorry if I ever had any.
As far as I am concerned, this disregard of the role that parents play made for a major shortcoming in what both Hewitt and Birkett had to say. I find it interesting that our own legal system makes it a point to differentiate between children and adults, particularly when a case is brought into a courtroom. To me this emphasizes that children cannot be held accountable for all of those actions; and, when they are not accountable, that accountability transfers to at least one individual in loco parentis.

In that context, Hewitt's issue is part of a far broader question:
Should parents unwilling to accept responsibility for that accountability be allowed to take their children into any public places?
My guess is that Hewitt is one of many who has had a meal spoiled in a restaurant by a child who really does not want to be there but has to be because the parent is more concerned with his/her own indulgences. There may be a big leap between indigestion and damage to a $10 sculpture, but the underlying cause is still the same. In our new market-driven society, those who have wealth feel entitled to do whatever they want with it without worrying about the impact of their actions on the social world in which they are embedded. That sense of entitlement extends down to how they view raising their children.

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