Saturday, April 5, 2008

Children Not State Property

In a recent post, I decried the recent California judicial ruling that effectively outlawed homeschooling in the state. Here is a link to an excellent op-ed by Thomas A. Bowden, "Your Child Is Not State Property". Mr. Bowden writes:

Government has no such right. Neither the state nor "society as a whole" has any interests of its own in your child's education. A society is only a group of individuals, and the government's only legitimate function is to protect the individual rights of its citizens, including yours and your children's, against physical force and fraud. The state is your agent, not a separate entity with interests that can override your rights.

If Justice Croskey's description of California law is correct, then the state's educational policy is at odds with America's founding principles. Parents are sovereign individuals whose right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness includes the right to control their child's upbringing. Other citizens, however numerous or politically powerful, have no moral right to substitute their views on child-raising for those of the father and mother who created that child.

Instead, a proper legal system recognizes and protects parents' moral right to pursue the personal rewards and joys of child-raising. At every stage, you have a right to set your own standards and act on them without government permission. This parental right to control your child's upbringing includes the right to manage his education, by choosing an appropriate school or personally educating him at home.

Mr. Bowden wonders aloud if the current controversy might call into question the moral foundations of public education. Given the state of our culture, I doubt any generalizations will be drawn from the case, but Mr. Bowden does draw the proper conclusion:

For their part, the defenders of public schooling can be expected to stay busy papering over their system's own failures--the very failures that helped fuel the homeschooling movement, by driving desperate parents to seek refuge at home from the irrationality, violence, and mediocrity that have come to characterize government education, in California and elsewhere.

For now, at least, the battle lines are clearly drawn. Are parents mere drudges whose social duty is to feed and house their spawn between mandatory indoctrination sessions at government-approved schools? Or are they sovereign individuals whose right to guide their children's development the state may not infringe?

The answer could determine not only the future of homeschooling but the future of education in America.

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