Monday, October 20, 2008


Teach your children well

I had a conversation yesterday with a Libertarian on the subject of home schooling. The gist of the Libertarian’s argument was that parents have the right to teach their children (or have them taught; the point wasn’t just about home schooling, but also about the option of choosing schools and having a selection to choose from) according to their beliefs.

It strikes me that there are really two aspects to this:

  1. Teaching belief-based things that are contrary to accepted science or history or whatever. Examples of this would be teaching Biblical creation instead of evolution, teaching that the Holocaust never actually happened, teaching astrology as a serious subject, or teaching that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is exactly 3.
  2. Considering your children to be your children, possessions to which you have “rights”, as opposed to considering them to be part of society as a whole and the future leaders of that society.

The first has been argued by so many by now that I have little to add. It’s the second part that’s particularly connected to the Libertarian philosophy, the general concept that individual rights are paramount.

The trouble is that when we’re talking about one’s children, we’re not talking about individual rights any more. Children can’t choose for themselves what rights they want to exercise or how they want to be reared — or taught. Should it be exclusively up to the parents to decide every aspect of the preparation of a child for its future role in society? Or does society have some say in that too? And if society does have a say, should demanding a “standard” educational curriculum be a reasonable thing?

My parents were not qualified to teach me, themselves, the things I learnt in school. That’s not to say anything against them; quite the opposite: their goal was to have my brothers and me go farther than they did, to learn more, go on to college (the first generation of my family to do so), and get “professional” jobs, where we used that knowledge. They encouraged us to “do well in school,” and never would have imagined second-guessing what we were taught, nor trying to do it themselves.

It worked as they’d intended. And, perhaps more importantly, my brothers and I are very glad they did things that way. I’m thrilled to have had a good education and to have learned the best that we know in mathematics and science and technology, as well as in the other subjects. I’m pleased with the opportunities it gave me. I like the life it’s enabled for me, and I thank my parents for making that their most important goal.

Well, one might say, indeed, but that was my parents’ choice, and it should be their choice to make.

But what about me?

Had my parents made a different choice when I was too young to have a say in it, my life would be very different. Of course, that’s the case with many things, and I’m not suggesting that the state should micromanage all aspects of child-rearing. What I am suggesting is that the state has a reasonable case for setting standards that have to be met, and that the rights of society to expect parents to prepare their children for adulthood and of the children to be properly prepared sometimes override the parents’ desires for control.

We have to be careful how far we take that, to be sure. But your children are not possessions over which you have property rights. Children have their own rights that sometimes need to be protected in spite of their parents.


D. said...

I know this is not at the core of your point, but the state does have a say when it comes to home schooling, and, just like any other academic curriculum, it varies from place to place. When my sister was home schooling her girls, she was required to register with her local school district, abide by certain curriculum requirements, and the children had to undergo the regular state assessments.

Barry Leiba said...

Right, there are standards (and testing, and reporting). But also right, that wasn't the point. The Libertarian point of view is that people should be allowed to teach their children without "interference" from the state — without testing, without reporting, without curriculum standards. It's not a question of what's currently allowed, but what they would have it changed to.

Jales said...

I don't care if you use this response or not, but feel free to email me if you'd like to have a conversation:

Well, I know this is a somewhat late response, but I really had something to add. In the state of Texas homeschoolers are not monitored at all. No state testing, minimum curricula requirements (listed on the Texas Education Agency's website). I have not run across a single homeschool NOT making a serious effort to educate their child. The fact is, homeschooling takes a lot of work and you are exposed 24-7 to your children. No school to run interference and "babysit" your kids for you. So anyone not taking it seriously is quickly washed out.

I know, you are also talking about proper education and not strange voodoo rituals being taught as fact. ;) I feel your pain there. I DO run across the occasional fundie who actually teaches their child this way and it saddens me to see that child being intellectually crippled in order to promote their parents beliefs.

I think it's important that we are allowed to be so free in our children's education. I actually homeschool because the school curricula can't meet my children's needs (all very gifted, we're not religious). In that aspect, this freedom allows me to meet the basic needs of reading, writing, history, science while also meeting their exceptional needs. Also, we're not limited to passing tests my children may not be able to pass. My oldest girl is highly gifted in science and math, but falls short in history. Because of this she exceeds math and science requirements while falling behind in history ones, according to the school. However, if it takes her more time to learn the history portion of her education why should our ability to homeschool freely be interfered with? Part of the whole point of taking her out of school was so she could learn. By instituting tests, I would have to "teach to the test" to ensure that she passed.

Children homeschooled in Texas are in just as much demand as children homeschooled in the stricter states. Those fundies that do cripple their children intellectually usually have so much control over their children that the child attends the college the parent chooses, generally a christian college. The actual crippling didn't occur during education but just being born into that family. These are the same kids that, if they attend school, are told after science class "don't believe that crap, that's not god's word". I admit you do get the benefit of exposure in school, however, if that child is already brainwashed then it really doesn't matter. I'm not sure if we repair this by restricting parents doing a good job. It's hardly fair for me to have to be "punished" because those people are idiots.

I'd love to type more, but I have some tired little ones. Happy Thanksgiving!