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:
- 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.
- 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.