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Daycare and Ideology

Due to our current living situation, taking our daughter up to daycare (which is close to where our home was) has become something of a difficulty.  In the past, I could just carry her down the street and, in three minutes, have her deposited in her class with her friends.  Now, it takes around forty minutes of stroller maneuvering.  Even still, it is a privilege to be able to take Samiya to daycare since so many people are not able to access or afford these services.  We are definitely lucky to have a childcare subsidy, which is difficult to get, that allows us to pay for daycare at a severely discounted rate while continuing to work and thus afford our bills while maintaining our respective careers.

Play, play, play on those padded mats!

To be clear, many of the children at my daughter's daycare are from proletarian families––and often single parent families––who are able to afford daycare due to similar subsidies, family benefits, and welfare.  Since there is no such thing as universal childcare in this country, though, these services are still far and few between: the hoops people have to jump through to get them, and the percentage of people who actually receive them, are significant.  The fact that the conservative government is more interested in providing subsidies for stay-at-home moms than making daycare more accessible demonstrates its interest: a valorization of the nuclear family where women are home-makers, based on their supposed nature, and men are the bread-winning heads of the household.

There is a particular and pernicious ideology that remains as an immanent result of the moribund vestiges of the patriarchal family that every reactionary seeks to revive: daycare centres impede childhood development, leaving children at daycare is cold and opposed to the natural parental order, daycares should just be a luxury for those who can afford them.  We can chart the implications of this ideology without much difficulty: single mothers who want to work to improve their livelihood––or even return to school––are shamed for placing their children in daycare, the nuclear family is reified as natural and objective, and workers trained in early childhood education (a traditionally feminized job) are seen as pseudo-teachers who are little more than glorified babysitters.

First of all, it is a fact that the lack of access to childcare prevents agency of proletarianized women, or even women in better off families who want to pursue some form of self-determination in the normative family setting.  In the case of the latter, we have the long-standing problem of "double-duty": unless it's a family that is pro-feminist (which unfortunately is not prevalent in this society), it is usually expected that women will give up their careers and stay at home while the men continue to work and/or go to school.  More significantly, though, is the population of poor and single women who require daycare so as to not be condemned to a life of complete marginalization.  Perhaps some women do wish to stay at home and fulfill the traditional feminine role of home-maker––or perhaps there are even some non-traditional hippy parents who really like the idea of baby-raising––but this perhaps is only an exception to the general rule of marginalization.  Moreover, we cannot deny that there is an ideological strength to this traditional familialization that still makes women feel guilty for wanting to place their children in daycare while they work and/or go to school, far more guilty than men have been socialized to feel.  We can understand that this is, in many ways, a product of socialization when we examine the public school system: as soon as the "kindergarten" age rolls around, the vast majority of these same women do not feel guilty (though, yes, there are exceptions) to send their children off to this "proper" schooling––a century ago, when this kind of schooling was not public, there would have been a different consciousness about universal education.  The corollary: if the public education system is extended into the ages covered by daycare, a different subjectivity regarding daycare would eventually emerge––as it did with school in general.

Secondly, the reification of the nuclear family lurks behind the above problem.  There is a reason that conservative reactionaries are opposed to subsidizing daycare: they think it will undermine the existence of the traditional family and the corollary of "family values".  A particular type of capitalism, the kind that conservative ideologues are fighting for, finds its home in the home––and this is why communism has often demanded the death of the family.  To be fair, another type of [more liberal] capitalism can exist quite easily beside a daycare system; we have already witnessed how feminist demands for the disintegration of the traditional family, though having once possessed a revolutionary core, can be coopted by capitalism.  Even still, we are living at a conjuncture where there is an attempt, specifically due to the closing of class ranks brought on by economic crisis, where a more conservative and monolithic capitalism is on the rise.  In this context, it is still radical to demand the destruction of such a familial system although, to be clear, this demand needs to be connected to a socialist politics.

Thirdly, there is a consistent devaluing of the labour of Early Childhood Educators [ECEs] which is simultaneously a devaluation of "women's work" since ECEs are predominantly women.  Here is yet another feminized strata of the labour population that, due to its overt feminization, receives lower wages and less job protection than educators who work in more "acceptable" (read: non-feminized) areas of education––from kindergarten to university.  The fact that a line is drawn between kindergarten and the end of daycare (or even junior kindergarten) is historically arbitrary: if history was different, and public education only began for children who were twelve years old, anything beneath this bar would most probably be rolled over to some alt-history population of still feminized ECEs.  Most probably, the conservative ideologues in this alt-history scenario would be demanding that children stay in the home until they were twelve, raised by their parents, and that the educators who extended any teaching to children in this age group deserved lower wages and less job protection because their jobs were easily replicable.  Hence, treating ECEs as glorified baby-sitters is about as logical as treating every educator in elementary school as the same: some level of baby-sitting does happen in the "acceptable" classes––right up until the end of highschool, perhaps––but the only reason ECEs are marginalized is because they are teaching beneath the bar that was set as the acceptable age of schooling (where it is assumed that children are incapable of learning anything and that teaching is simply a matter of parental "common sense"––a dubious assumption, as arbitrary as the division between normative and marginal education), and their job is currently feminized.  From this it follow that, if kindergarten and grade one were cut from public education we would discover that, within the span of a decade, the same conservatives would be yammering on about how educators who taught at this level were less qualified, regardless of their education, than the average parent.

(A side point: there is often a pseudo-radical attempt to problematize formal education so as to defend the importance of informal education.  Occasionally this is used to critique teachers, particularly early childhood educators in the interest of community structures of child-rearing.  While there is something significant in this challenge to formal education that should be examined––specifically in light of socialist movements of mass education––we should also be aware of the anti-intellectualism such claims support, and how this anti-intellectualism parallels and supports conservative discourse.  After all, I would privilege the formal education of a trained brain surgeon as opposed to the informally trained "brain surgeon" I encountered in the street.  Why would I privilege an informally trained ECE to a formally trained ECE?  Most probably because I treat this vocation as insignificant, as something that can be learned by own experience, which might in fact denigrate a job that is already denigrated due to its feminization.)

Of course, any demand for universal childcare should be understood as not simply a demand for the bourgeois right of universal childcare (i.e. forcing the bourgeois state to simply incorporate this demand as part of its structure) but as something that goes beyond this bourgeois right.  In some ways, demanding universal childcare will challenge what the bourgeois state is able to subsidize while remaining a bourgeois state, but we know that capitalism has been more than capable of making concessions while maintaining its hegemony.  We also know that the public school system that already exists, though hard won by working-class struggles, also functions as an institution that, despite providing literacy, is an ideological apparatus capable of disciplining its participating bodies into bourgeois subjects.

Although the rejection of a system of universal education that begins at an early age up through university does not, without a strong socialist movement, escape the problem of bourgeois ideology––after all, the ideology of the family-as-educator is a very conservative capitalist ideology, and the family is yet another ideological apparatus––it would still be extremely short-sighted to just assume that demands for universal childcare are, by themselves, revolutionary.  Hence, the demand for universal childcare should also be part of a program for demanding a socialist system that can produce a different type of education while, at the same time, disintegrating the traditional family bonds in which a a particular bourgeois subject arises so as to produce: a) a different notion of the family; b) a different notion of education.  We cannot do this by embracing the already-existing family structure at the expense of a broader public education system.  Nor can we do this by embracing public education as end goal at the expense of a broader conceptualization of the family––the non-family.

But this historical conjuncture makes some things clear: the demand for universal childcare is, at least at this point of time, a very radical demand because it is precisely that which the conservative-capitalist ruling ideologues are attempting to foreclose.  A flight back into the embrace of a familial context where women are socialized to see themselves as intrinsically parental, primordially and mystically connected to their children, needs to be combatted in the interest of developing a different subjectivity around childcare––the normalization of such childcare due to the demand of making it socialized might help to produce such a subjectivity.  Here I am reminded of how past revolutionaries such as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz had to break with their socialized "motherhood" (she left her children with her husband so as to embark on the building of a revolutionary feminist movement) and, upon this breaking, discovered that they were not "naturally" tied to their children.

Meanwhile, my daughter continues to love her daycare and, because this daycare is also a school, persists in learning new language and social skills.  Would that these language and social skills were devoted to a socialist agenda, but even without this agenda the literacy is still something to be admired.