California Children Still Considered State Property
Court’s decision that homeschooling is “permitted” in California is a hollow victory for parents.
By Thomas A. Bowden
In a decision being widely hailed as a victory for parental rights, a Los Angeles County court has confirmed, grudgingly, that homeschooling “is permitted under California statutes.” In so ruling, the court reversed an earlier decision that ordered the parents of “Rachel L.” to send her away to a public or private school, where she could get a “legal education.”
But where’s the real victory for parents’ rights? Rights identify actions you can take without permission. A true victory would have been a judicial declaration that parents have an absolute right to control their children’s upbringing--and that they therefore don’t need government permission to educate their children as they see fit.
Instead, as this decision makes clear, California’s parents are expected to accept the status of perpetual supplicants, knees bent and backs bowed down to an all-powerful legislature that can decide at any moment to revoke its homeschooling “permission.”
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.
To give parents a permanent victory, California would need to make its law consistent 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.
Of course, there are certain situations in which government must step in to protect the rights of a child, as in cases of physical abuse or neglect. But no such concern for individual rights can account for California’s arrogant assertion of state control over the minds of all school-age children residing within its borders.
Education, like nutrition, should be recognized as the exclusive domain of a child’s parents, within legal limits objectively defining child abuse and neglect. Parents who starve their children may properly be ordered to fulfill their parental obligations, on pain of losing legal custody. But the fact that some parents may serve better food than others does not permit government to seize control of nutrition, outlaw home-cooked meals, and order all children to report for daily force-feeding at government-licensed cafeterias.
By confirming that homeschooling is legal in California (at least for the time being), the recent court decision will undoubtedly quiet the shockwaves that were threatening to impact the apologists for government education--teachers’ unions, educational bureaucrats, and politicians. Their political and financial survival depends on a policy that treats children as, in effect, state property--but they have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, when the undiluted collectivism of that policy is trumpeted publicly.
The defenders of public schooling can now go back to papering over their system’s own failures--the very failures that helped fuel the homeschooling movement, by driving desperate parents to seek refuge from the irrationality, violence, and mediocrity that have come to characterize government education, in California and elsewhere.
But what if parents stopped groveling and started asking whether the state has any right at all to be running schools, dictating educational standards for children, and “permitting” parents to homeschool their own kids? This would call into question the moral foundation of public education as such.
As the smoke clears from the current round of litigation, the battle lines remain as they were, 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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Thomas A. Bowden is an analyst at The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, focusing on legal issues. A former lawyer and law school instructor who practiced for twenty years in Baltimore, Maryland, his Op-Eds have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Daily News, and many other newspapers. Mr. Bowden has given dozens of radio interviews and has appeared on the Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes.