"This is de facto segregation. It’s not mandated by racist laws like those that existed prior to the 1950s. But it’s a segregated reality."
|Anne Helen Petersen||Jun 9||40||14|
I first encountered Dr. Casey Stockstill’s work when I was researching an earlier piece on childcare and early childhood education — and then was thrilled to Zoom-meet her in person for a panel convened by Eliott Haspel (whose Twitter feed is invaluable for anyone who cares about ECE). She’s currently an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Denver, where she’s currently finishing her first book, Unequal Beginnings: Daily Life in Two Segregated American Preschools. (Much more on the use of the word “segregated” below).
Stockstill’s work is at once engrossing and challenging, and whether or not you have children, incredibly useful in thinking through the way we conceive of the messages we start internalizing very early on when it comes to race, play, and authority. You can follow her on Twitter here, and please feel free to ask questions in the comments.
How did you find yourself doing sociology, and how did you specifically find yourself doing research around early childhood care and race?
I was raised by my (single) mom and my grandmother. Neither of them graduated college. When I went to college, I had no clue what sociology was. I thought I would be a social worker eventually. I went to college at Columbia University in NYC. I always had a job during school, and one of my earlier jobs was working at a Head Start preschool in Morningside Heights. It paid $12 an hour, which was good money to me in 2008. My job was basically a teacher aide. I helped prepare materials, I supervised kids on the playground, and I also planned events for families. There were about 15 children in the class, and they had two lead teachers.
The kids were so clever, honest, and fun. They had real insights about society and inequality. Stuff like, “people from our neighborhood don’t take taxis, we ride the subway.” All of the kids’ families were living in poverty, and almost all of them were children of color—mostly Black and Dominican.
After two years of working at that Head Start, a friend put me on to an opportunity to babysit through an agency that catered to affluent families. They screened heavily, and said that because I spoke Spanish, had worked with preschoolers, and most importantly, was an Ivy League college student, I could join the agency.
My first and only job with them was babysitting for a family on the Upper East Side. I still remember being on the bus, bleary-eyed at 6 am to cross Central Park and get to work. Walking up 5th Avenue at that hour, it was mostly slim white women jogging and then people of color like me, speed-walking to a work somewhere.
The doorman sent me up an elevator. I was shocked when it opened directly into a penthouse apartment. I learned a lot of things very quickly. That elevator was the service elevator; it’s what their driver used to load groceries into the house. The family had a four-year old and then twins who were two. The kids’ mom explained that I was the second “back-up babysitter” they wanted to try out. The kids also had a day nanny and a night nanny, who I later learned were older women from the Caribbean. And then they also had a regular, day-time babysitter who was a white woman in her 20s. I was hired to fill in for that babysitter, in case she was ever sick or on vacation. These three children always had two adults during the daytime paid to care for them. The dad was a lawyer, and the mom sort of came in and out during the day — on the days I was there, she went to the gym, to lunch, and then was getting ready for a gala. The Caribbean nanny changed diapers and made the kids food; my job was to “enrich” the children by teaching them Spanish, playing with them, and watching over their development. For this work, I was paid $25 an hour.
The most jarring experience I had was when we took the kids to Central Park. The kids kept talking about “riding the ponies.” I thought they meant one of the many horse statues in the park. But the nanny informed me that they meant the horse-drawn carriage rides that tourists do along 59th street. [I had lived in NYC for three years at that point. Riding in a horse-drawn carriage was a luxury I figured I would be able to afford sometime in my forties.] The nanny pulled out petty cash and paid $100 for us to do the carriage ride. She said they did this two or three times a week.
The almost comical juxtaposition of inequalities that I experienced via two part-time jobs shocked me. Both kids had a sense of what was normal. For the Morningside Heights children, it was normal to walk or take the subway to preschool with two dozen other children. For the Upper East Side children, it was normal to have your driver take you to birthday parties, and to simply walk across the street to the Central Park Zoo and “ride the ponies.”
The class inequalities at play smacked me in the face, but the racial inequalities did not elude me. For some reason, I didn’t last as the second babysitter for that white, Upper East Side family. Though I had temporarily traversed these two spaces, for white kids, the people of color they saw were mostly people who worked for them. For the kids of color, the people of color they saw were their family, friends, neighbors and teachers.
I had taken some sociology courses at this point, and I decided that I wanted to get to the bottom of the inequalities underneath people’s daily challenges, rather than being a social worker who would, in one sense, be bandaging the wounds of an unequal society.
These are the questions that motivate me: What does it mean for young children to grow up in contexts so segregated by race and class? And how do they understand their daily lives and the institutions within which they are raised?
For your research, you spent two years observing two different preschools in Madison, Wisconsin. I’d love to hear more about these schools — both the everyday experience of being there and doing the research (and getting the schools on board with your presence) and your observations. Did certain things stick out to you immediately? Did some ideas become more textured with time? Feel free to take this anywhere you’d like.
The process of getting access to each school and earning trust says a lot about how the two schools differ. Sunshine Learning Center, which was a Head Start program, was not used to volunteers or observers. They were delighted to have me there. At first I had to remind them that I wasn’t there to volunteer or help, per se; I was there to participate and observe. After an awkward time when they tried to have me lead a small group activity and I did a terrible job, they adjusted to me mostly hanging with the children.
This is called the “least adult approach,” where you try to minimize your status as an authority figure. The teachers and parents I talked to were interested in what I noticed and found, and I also asked them what they thought I should focus on—which led me to write a paper on kids cursing at preschool. But generally the teachers didn’t really manage me, they trusted me to manage my own time and my project, and let me go where I wanted during my visits over two years.
At Great Beginnings, the school with affluent, middle-class families, the school was much more used to having observers and student teachers. I told them that I was interested in how they ran the school, given the preschool’s sparkling reputation in the area. This was completely true. The Great Beginnings teachers were polite, friendly, and open to my project. They also managed me and my time. They would send me to help a kid with a puzzle, or show me the parent newsletter. They would also send me to different classrooms depending on what they felt the kids needed.
I was six months pregnant during those observations, and only stayed for one intensive month of observations. The teachers never relaxed into me being there, and the kids didn’t all get used to the least adult approach.
It turned out that the way these teachers behaved with me sort of mirrored how they managed children’s time.
If you were to enter Sunshine Learning Center (the school with mostly poor students of color) in the middle of play time, you would see some groups of three to five children playing, with a few other children moving all around the classroom. You would hear a symphony of laughter and conversation. To an unfamiliar observer, the scene might appear chaotic. Sunshine Learning Center called their play time “Work Time,” alluding to the idea that children’s play should be taken as seriously as adults’ paid work.
At the start of Work Time, the teacher dismissed each child from the Circle Rug. The child had to “practice a gentle touch,” either a handshake, a hug, or a high-five. Then they told the teacher their plan: explaining which area of the classroom they wanted to play in, and with whom. The teacher almost always approved the child’s plan, except for when too many children had chosen the same area. Once Work Time had started, the kids would manage their own play and could move across the play centers for the rest of Work Time. Meanwhile, the Sunshine Learning Center teachers were often occupied with two or three children who were dealing with challenging behaviors and emotions. The other fourteen children played with relatively little adult control—they managed their movement across play centers, chose who to play with, and chose how to play with objects.
After two years at Sunshine Learning Center, where children played in large groups, pushed the boundaries of what objects should be used for, and had a creative, child-based system for their pretend-play, I observed Great Beginnings. There, indoor play was quiet, controlled, and highly scripted by the children. It struck me as dull, in comparison to the lively play I was used to at Sunshine Learning Center.
Great Beginnings (the affluent, white school) called their play time Free Choice Time. Free Choice Time started with teachers sending children to play centers. The teachers assigned an even number of kids to each play area, making sure each center had two kids before adding a third child to any center. I never saw teachers send more than three kids to a center. Teachers continued to manage where kids went throughout Free Choice Time. They did this by setting a timer for 15 minutes or so. When the timer beeped, the children would rotate with their original playmates to a new area of the classroom. This meant that children always played in multiple areas of the classroom during Free Play Time. When I asked the Great Beginnings teachers about their timer system, they said they were working on exposing the children to different activities and making sure that the kids played with different classmates.
In my view, the Sunshine Learning Center children experienced something closer to the ideal of autonomous play: these children spent less time with teachers commenting on their play and helping to structure it. This practice of children managing their own time without adult comment, or of having one’s time managed by adults may replicate classed differences in what children learn at home. When sociologist Annette Lareau observed 9- and 10-year-olds, she found that affluent children spent time shuttled between adult-organized activities, while poor and working-class children spent much of their time hanging out with neighbors, siblings and cousins. As a result, poor children became used to managing their own time, though they spent leisure time distanced from adults. Their middle-class peers are not used to managing their own time, and have frequent sibling conflicts, but do become practiced at talking to adults as near-equals. They ended up feeling entitled to adult attention.
What I am finding is that kids’ time use in segregated preschools can lead to kids’ time mirroring classed patterns that Lareau found—with implicit, early lessons for children. “Work Time,” as it was experienced by the poor children of color spending formative years at Sunshine Learning Center, taught children to manage their own activities and not to expect teachers to monitor mundane moments of play. They were not accustomed to constant teacher attention.
With “Free Choice Time” for the white, middle-class children at Great Beginnings, teachers’ careful oversight of student behavior led to a close with authority figures and prevented peer conflict in the first place. This allowed those children to develop a sense of entitlement to a school environment tailored to their preferences. These teachers’ control over kids’ activities was constant and naturalized. Yet while this resulted in scripted, somewhat dull play, it had upsides for these children’s future schooling: they will be practiced at performing innocence, and at feeling entitled to teachers’ attention, even in regard to their ordinary pretend-play.
This difference is troubling, given the premise many policymakers and researchers have that by going to preschool, poor children in particular will become equipped to succeed in future school contexts. But when the preschool happens in segregated contexts with unequal amounts of teacher time and attention, preschool can exacerbate inequalities. Though autonomy over play is thought to be ideal in preschool contexts, when this ideal is deployed in segregated contexts, it might result in deepening class and race inequalities.
What’s a specific moment from your research that has really stuck with you?
Two things have stuck with me. At Sunshine Learning Center, the teachers didn’t allow kids to bring toys from home. They had families facing eviction, homelessness, and real material scarcity. To minimize the impact of this, they wanted everyone to play with the abundant school toys. But kids love toys and other objects. And so some boys would sneak in toys, and then have them taken away. Isaac was a boy who always articulated his feelings clearly. This moment stuck with me:
Isaac, a talkative boy with brown skin and straight brown hair, entered the classroom with his mom. She was dressed in her uniform and on her way to a shift at a grocery store. While she talked to a teacher, Isaac walked over to the Block Area, where I was playing with another child. He held out a figurine. “Look at my Spiderman.”
“Ooh. Who gave it to you?” I responded.
“Paige gave it to me. Oh, and my name is on it, too—look.” He showed me the underside of Spiderman’s right foot. It read ‘ISAAC’in neat block letters.
As Isaac’s mom, who was white, approached, she flashed me a quick smile and then addressed Isaac. “Your teacher says you need to put the toy in your cubby. You either put it in your cubby or give it to me. You need to listen. Come here.” Her voice was gentle but firm.
Isaac moved a few feet away with her as she continued in the same tone about how he needed to decide. Then they moved toward the cubbies by the front door, and Isaac started crying.
I went to the activity tables, located closer to the cubbies.
“I told him, it either went in the cubby or I would take it home, so,” his mom told the teacher, as she turned to leave.
“Good thinking, mom,” the teacher mumbled distractedly.
After Isaac’s mom had left, he stayed curled up against the wall, clutching his knees to his chest. He stayed in this position, wailing loudly at intervals, for about nine minutes.
After he stopped crying, Isaac sat next to me.
“I brought a Spiderman here, and they took it.” He frowned and furrowed his brow, poking the bowl of slimy blue flubber in front of him.
“What happened to it?”
“They made me put it in my cubby. I don’t want it in my cubby. I want to hold it at nap.”
“You’re gonna look at it before nap?”
“No, I wanna sleep with it at nap. I’m going to get it back at nap. I’m mad.”
The sound of Isaac’s voice when he said “I brought a Spiderman here, and they took it.” His use of “they” to talk about his mom and/or teacher. And his dejection at not being able to enjoy a simple object he prized deeply haunts me. A toy Spiderman may be insignificant to an adult, but to Isaac it was everything on this particular day.
And then, when I got to Great Beginnings, the school with white, middle-class children, the teachers weren’t worried about alienating kids facing evictions. They supported the kids in bringing in stuff-through show and tell. If you wanted to bring a toy to school at Great Beginnings, you could bring it to Show and Tell, or declare it your “nap time companion” and bring it, with full support of your family and teacher. But they were also doing a fundraiser the month I was there: their annual Toy & Coat drive to donate to the Head Start programs in the area (one of which is Sunshine Learning Center). I had seen those toys and coats set out at Head Start the previous year. This brief moment of connection between the two schools really stuck with me.
The second thing that’s stuck with me is about Disneyworld. Briana, a Black woman who was always either quiet or speaking quickly, had enrolled three children at Sunshine Learning Center over the years. For years, she had been a job coach for people with disabilities. But when her youngest child, Shawn, was three years old, her car broke down and needed an engine replacement, which cost $6,000 dollars. She also moved houses, adding to her bills. So Briana picked up a night shift job as a home health aide to catch up on. She told me about this during an interview at the close of my observations at her son’s preschool. She said, “it was really hard, because I would work from 10pm to 6am, come home, get Shawn dressed, and then bring him here, and then go to my 8am to 2pm job.”
I asked her when she would sleep.
“I didn’t, I would doze off maybe from 3am to maybe 5. I just, I needed to do what I needed to do.”
But because Sunshine Learning Center required income-based copays, the extra income from her second job had a financial ripple effect for Briana. She told me: “Once I started the other job, my daycare went ridiculously high. I’m still in the hole with them, the lady, the new lady, she’s actually trying to fight it to where either I don’t have to pay…it was like 35 dollars a week, and I was working both of those jobs, but all that money was spoken for. But they’ve been really good with working with me I think because I’ve been here so long, and I’ve never really been behind until last year, like everything just started happening, happening, so that’s how we ended up.”
“Yeah, because what do you usually pay?” I asked.
“It’s about 15 dollars a week.”
And Briana had another cost to contend with. She continued:
“…then in the process of everything, this really sounds not good, but I went through a travel agent, and I was planning a trip to Disney. So in the process of all the car breaking down, because I did it before the car broke down, I still had to pay. Because I’d already been $500 in, and money would have been gone, and our plane tickets—I had to pay that in full—that would have been gone too. So I kept the second job until I got the car fixed, paid the Disney trip off.
I’ve been feeling more stressful lately. I’m not sure if it’s because of the holidays, or because of my mom [passing away], but yes, I am very stressful now. It’s just everything, I just feel like if it’s not one thing, it’s another, like I can never get ahead. Like we don’t really have nothing, so it’s like I really can’t afford to try to issue out more money for anything until after we get back from this trip [to Disney]. I don’t want to get down there and be like, you know I probably would never be able to take them again, so I want them to do whatever they want to do while we’re there. I don’t want to be like no, we can’t do this because I don’t have the money.”
“So much responsibility,” I said.
“It sure is, I’m stressed, believe me,” Briana said.
Briana asked me not to tell the teachers about her Disney trip, though she assumed they’d find out afterwards. She felt she had to hide the fact that she was planning a fun trip because of the other financial stressors in her life and being behind on childcare copays. In my two years at Sunshine Learning Center, this was the first time I’d heard anyone talk about Disney. Being in Wisconsin, traveling to Florida for an expensive amusement park trip was a luxury to offer one’s children. With Christmas and her Disneyworld trip coming up, both joyful but financially straining occasions, Briana was swimming in stress.
A few months after I interviewed Briana, I was observing the children at Great Beginnings. We were seated around the table, eating breakfast that was served “family style”, meant to mimic the feel of a meal around a family table. While I dished out food for the kids, Gabby mentioned something about Disneyworld. I asked her if she’d been there.
“No,” she said. “I just know about it.”
I asked the other kids at the table if they have been. Kyle, Ruby and Chloe—half of the kids at the table—said they had been before.
On a different day, Ms. Paula was letting the kids take turns talking about whatever they wanted in front of the class. First, Ruby stood up to tell the class about a paper bat she made earlier that day at school.
Then Kyle raised his hand and asked for a turn. Once he was standing next to Ms. Paula, looking down at his classmates seated on the rug, he said, “we are going to Disneyworld to go to Jedi training camp. Last time we went on a plane, but this time we are going in a car.”
Ms. Paula prompted the class to ask Kyle questions if they wanted.
Ruby, who had been to Disneyworld herself, asked where he would eat breakfast. Another child asked how he would defeat the Jedi.
I was surprised at the gulf in kids experiences with the leisure experience of visiting Disneyworld, even at age 4. But beyond that, the kids’ and parents’ ability to talk about this experience while at school differed so drastically. At Great Beginnings, they had extended, teacher-supported conversations about Disney trips. At Sunshine Learning Center, Briana felt she had to keep her long-saved-for vacation a secret from teachers.
There are troubling historical echoes here: Black families and poor families have been looked upon with suspicion for many decades. There is also a history of the state surveilling and intervening — via Child Protective Services, for example — in these families’ lives. White, middle-class parents don’t quite have the support of the state in raising their children, they do have more latitude to parent under the presumption of competence.
I think some people say “my kids’ preschool isn’t/wasn’t segregated” because it’s not explicitly segregated — can you talk a bit about getting people to understand the stakes of de facto segregation? It strikes me, in some ways, as similar to the supposed invisibility of whiteness; it’s been normalized to the point that (many white people) feel uncomfortable drawing attention to it, which in turn normalizes it further.
I think that’s a good comparison. When I teach classes on race, I notice that white students — even from Milwaukee, which is one of America’s most segregated cities — rarely use the word segregated to describe their neighborhoods. It’s the black neighborhoods white people recognize immediately as “segregated,” perhaps because they are used to thinking of Black people, and therefore Black neighborhoods, as “having a race.”
I’m pretty obsessed with preschool segregation. And in some ways, I feel out of sync with other folks talking about preschool. There are so many pressing issues in preschool—families can’t always access it; families often can’t afford it, teachers are severely underpaid and under supported, and the quality of programs is uneven. So pointing to the segregation of the preschools that do exist can seem nitpicky, for lack of a better word. But it does matter.
Nearly 70% of 4-year-olds in the US attend preschool. This is a significant early institution for children. Outside of families, and for some folks churches, preschool is a primary site of group learning and rules. It is also most children’s first exposure to school. And yet these experiences are deeply segregated. One study found that only 20% of preschoolers attended a mixed-race, mixed-income school. 80% of preschoolers were either in classrooms with mostly poor students of color, or in classrooms with mostly middle-class, white students.
If you want to know if your kid’s preschool is segregated, the simplest way is Google “Census Quick facts” + your city or county. Look up the racial demographics of your city. Then ask yourself: is your kid’s preschool a microcosm of those statistics? Or is it racially skewed in some way? If it’s skewed, it’s segregated.
For example, Denver is about 55% white, 30% Hispanic, and 10% Black, 4% Asian, and 1% Native American. Yet my 4-year-old’s preschool classroom is about 85% white, and 15% Black (that’s my son, plus another child). That’s my rough, nosy-sociologist tally. His school is segregated and white, because white students are overrepresented. Hispanic students are underrepresented. This is de facto segregation. It’s not mandated by racist laws like those that existed prior to the 1950s. But it’s a segregated reality.
Figuring out class segregation is trickier, because it’s harder to guess people’s social class. But you can ask your preschool if it accepts county or city income-based subsidies that families can use to pay for childcare. If it doesn’t, then the program is shutting out poor and lower-middle-class families.
Segregation matters, because kids do notice race. And kids experience their early racial contexts as “normal.” For example, when I observed at Head Start, where all the teachers were white and most parents were people of color, the kids at first assumed I was someone’s Mom — almost all their classmates had moms with brown skin. They didn’t ask if I was a teacher, because they only had white teachers.
I was introduced to your work during my research on early childhood education funding, and many of the people I talked to during that reporting process told me that all of these problems, all of these overlapping crises, have been going on for years, long before COVID made them impossible to ignore — and that the current solutions offered by the Biden administration are a start, but there’s still so much work to be done when it comes to reconceptualizing early childhood care and education. What’s still getting lost in the ECE conversations we’re having today — publicly and privately?
Yep — all of that is true. COVID-19 has made the childcare crises visible to more people. But it’s been happening for decades, and in my view, three things are getting lost.
First, our focus is on creating high-quality programs, but haven’t asked enough how kids experience even a “high-quality” program. Quality measures often come from an outside evaluator rating teacher warmth, and then rating things like kids’ access to toys and books, plus a ranking the teachers’ level of education and professional support. But “high-quality” doesn’t mean that it’s a space that is anti-racist, that supports children’s dignity, or even is a space that the kids enjoy. Both the preschools I observed were rated as highest-quality—in the top 10% of preschools in the state. Yet they offered vastly different environments to children.
Second, we ignore the segregation of these spaces. By failing to center this in the conversation, we are acting as if separate spaces can be equal. I do think there is a role for racially-specific spaces around dignity.
And the last thing I’d say is that privately, I think parents are so exhausted and focused on finding childcare they can afford for their kids, they forget about the system that is creating their daily problems. Your child has childcare—but what about the other kids in your community? I wish we talked more about advocating not just for our kids, but for everybody’s kids.
I also have learned that my friends and colleagues without kids are uninformed about how broken, expensive, and unfair our childcare system is. They, too, need to see the kids in their community as everybody’s kids. People have more of a cultural template than ever to be childfree by choice. And that’s completely valid. But you should still talk about how children are faring. Someday, we will all age and need care from people of working age. Those people will be today’s children. If you want a smart, educated, satisfied workforce to take the helm when you are elderly and at a time of rest, you need to advocate for dignified care for today’s infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Your next research project is on cultural and societal shifts in “value” of black and brown children. I’d love to hear more about how you’re approaching this subject, what your research and writing process is going to look like, questions you’re still figuring out and answers that are driving you forward.
My new project builds on a landmark book called Pricing the Priceless Child. The author, Viviana Zelizer, traced the shift that happened in how we viewed children in the US. It used to be that you might have six or more children. A few would die in infancy, which would be sad but also somewhat expected. And then kids would contribute to household labor, and eventually wage labor, and would support you when you couldn’t work.
Kids were an economic investment of sorts. But in the early 1900s, we started to shift from seeing children as economically productive, to seeing children as economically useless to families, but emotionally priceless. She calls this “sacralization,” or the process of imbuing childhood with special meaning. Zelizer traces evidence of this in anti-child labor campaigns, and in the advent of life insurance policies for children. Both child labor and child life insurance are predicated on culturally-based views of children’s “value” as workers and as humans.
Zelizer’s book centers white children. But how would our understanding of this process by which children became sacred change if we centered children of color? I really want to know. Especially because racism and eugenics thinking dominated the turn of the 20th century. Once archives reopen, I’m going to review documents on Black and Mexican mutual aid societies to see if and when they started providing child life insurance policies. Black and Mexican people were excluded by major insurance companies, and they created their own mutual aid societies instead.
I’ll also be researching the history of child labor. Zelizer documents how white parents fueled the sacredness of children by keeping their children out of work, especially after the 1910s. Black and Mexican child labor declined somewhat in the early 1900s, but these children worked at higher rates than white children through the 1930s. Do the child labor declines that did occur for children of color suggest partial sacralization? I’m also considering how communities of color might have sacralized their children even while needing children’s wages — for example, some southern Black families sent their teenage daughters to Chicago to pursue higher wages and reduced risk of sexual violence at work.
I want to understand how the broader cultural framing of children as innocent intersects with enduring racist views of Black and Brown children as not needing protection. We see this most obviously in police murders of Black children, and also in racially disparate school discipline practices. Today’s children are far more protected than they were a century ago, yet racial inequalities persist.
When I interviewed Jessica Calarco, we talked a bit about the framework of “sociology as un-gaslighting”: making the systems that influence and shape our lives visible. Do you see your research working this way? Or, alternately, how do you describe why sociology matters?
I’ll tell you why I think a sociology of childhood matters. Adults find children charming, fascinating, and frustrating. I also think we project a lot onto children, and are obsessed with them as future adults. But children are people with experiences that matter in the here and now, and with opinions on what they’re experiencing. I’ll always be an adult studying children. But taking a sociological view where I really try to center kids’ voices is super valuable.
Preschool kids are watched closely by all sorts of folks. Parents, teachers, caregivers watch out for their safety. Licensing boards and evaluators watch out for the quality of their program. Survey researchers and anti-poverty policymakers watch their socio-economic progress in long-term quantitative data sets.
But what do the kids think? What are their concerns? How do the institutions in which they are growing up create certain possibilities and impossibilities for children? Asking these sociological questions is what led me to talking to them about snowballs, balls of yarn, and action figures that they were sneaking into school. I do link those experiences to adult-y concerns like “sense of control within institutions.” But I think there is great value in representing children’s concerns in writing. If this helps adult readers see childhood in more expansive ways, then I consider my job done.
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