Wednesday, April 09, 2008

In Case You Haven't Seen This Yet

This op-ed, entitled "Your Child Is Not State Property," by Thomas Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute is particularly awesome. It concerns the recent homeschooling hoopla in California, but of course speaks to deeper issues. Some of my favorite parts (emphasis added):

"Allowing"? By what right does government presume to "allow" (or, in this case, forbid) you to make your own standards concerning your child's education?

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.

Yes--a child is not state property (and incidentally, neither are you!). The state works for us, not the other way around. Rights are not privileges or entitlements granted to us by the state; they are objective and the purpose of the state is to protect them.

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.

Yes. I did not go to all this trouble to see the values of others being substituted by law for MY judgment as to how best to raise my kids. You don't like my values or the way I raise my kids? Well, then, go get some kids of your own and do it differently. You get to do that and it's no skin off my nose (unless somehow it interferes with my rights)--and vice versa.

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.

YES!!!!! I've seen this analogy in numerous places--and this is the logical progression to this kind of collectivist thinking. If handling my kids' education myself is detrimental to them, simply because the state has not deemed me to be an "expert," then why should I be "allowed" to feed them? I'm no nutritionist--I don't have a credential. But I do have a certain level of common sense, education, and value my kids' health, so I do try to serve them healthy food. Sometimes, though, they eat candy. Healthy? No. A violation of their rights? No. Am I an unfit parent who needs help forced upon me in the guise of a government-credentialed "expert?" No. Food feeds their bodies; education feeds their minds. Same thing. As their parents, we are morally obligated to care for them--it is our responsibility and if there is evidence of starvation, then and only then, should someone step in.

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.

YES! Seriously, read the whole article. It's great.


Monica said...

What seems very unjust to me about our social services system are the stories one hears of perfectly fit parents being persecuted. On the other hand, some parents get away with near murder. One of my boyfriend's exes recently tried to get custody of her nephew. Her sister had been starving and beating him. No luck. I really don't understand how social services works and how they determine what a "fit" parent is.

Along these lines, when I was a kid, there was a very poor family down the road that had about 6 kids. (They weren't just poor, they were terrible people: alcoholics and physicall abusive.) The kids were always hungry. They would come running when they saw us at the end of the driveway and would never want to go home at the end of the day when they came over to play. The oldest girl (my age) slept in the bathtub due to lack of space and beds. They did not even have running water.

I don't think people that cannot feed their kids or who physically abuse them should have custody of them, but usually these parents are not willing to give their kids up. They are evil, they enjoy abusing weak people, and that's want to keep their kids. There is no doubt in my mind that that is the case with many parents. So I struggle to determine what would be the proper role of social services in a rational society, because you have to draw the "starving" and "abuse" line somewhere. Too many people are willing to draw it at either spanking your kids or sending them to bed without dinner. That's not abuse or starvation.

It seems like so many kids slip through the cracks of this system we have, but on the other hand, hardship itself is not necessarily abuse and there are a lot of parents out there who are being unjustly accused of abuse according to the state's bogus standards. I am sure there are some rich people that would have been appalled at the way I was raised as a child, in a house that burnt coal and wood for heat. But that's not abuse.

Monica said...

Actually I think I have an answer to my own question...

If it can be proved in a rational court of law that you are violating your kids' rights (and, of course, this is all based on the proper standard of rights) you can't have custody of them. It shouldn't be at the whim of some social services bureaucrat, though, but a rational court of law. And, of course, there's the question of who would file such a suit against a parent.

Now that I think of it, that's a damn good standard... that if you are violating a child's rights, there's no way in hell that child should have to be dependent on you in any way. But... there has to be some real physical force involved. Not just withholding dinner or giving a spanking. We're talking that actual starvation or physical abuse has to be objectively shown. That would, I think, rightly protect the parents who want to teach their kid creationism or feed it raw milk -- neither of which are an objective threat to a child's survival.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Jenn, this was a sight for sore eyes for me. Mr. Bowden was supporting what I had been saying, and it's good to know that they are people out there like that.

May I link?

Monica: One of the real problems is that social services does not have to go through the normal legal channels. They can show up and take your kid on a whim, or on the word of an anonymous caller to CPS (or whatever they call it in your state). The parents normal legal rights in the court system do not apply, supposedly because it is considered a civil matter, not a criminal one.

To add insult to injury in the case of parents who have been falsely accused, their children can be held with no communication allowed, in a system where they are far more likely to be abused than anywhere else. The children have no rights in that situation either. The system is terrible, and any social worker worth his salt will tell you that it is best if you do everything you can to avoid any encouter with it. Unfortunately, since you have no civil rights, and since accusations do not need to be proven, you have no control over it. Consider what happened in Connecticut, where a parent pulled a kid out of school and ended up embroiled in a fight with their version of CPS.

And what is even more infuriating is that in actual abuse cases, like Rachel L., CPS often fails to protect, even when they have been monitoring for nearly 20 years.

This is a very long winded way of saying that your second post is so completely and awesomely on target that I want to stand up and applaud!

Rational Jenn said...

EHL--Link away! :o)

Monica--I agree with you. A child has a right to be removed from an objectively harmful situation, when his very life is at risk.

It's complicated, of course, but what really gets me is when these cases languish over months at a time, with parents and child not being allowed to see each other. They are backlogged, so things are slow, yet abused kids slip through the cracks, and not-so-abused kids are removed from the home. I'll have to look it up, to see what constitutes a good reason to remove a child from his home here in GA, but objective definitions of abuse could really help point out the cases where children are in actual danger.

As a parent, it does seem random, what CPS can get you for, and how much power they have, and it's scary to take your kid to the doctor, *knowing* that what happened to her was an accident, but wondering if it's something that the doctor might have to call CPS about. Once, I dislocated my daughter's shoulder. Yes, I injured my child. It was an accident. I felt horrible. She got fixed and I learned to never pick her up by one arm again. But the very worst part of that whole experience was wondering if Someone would decide I was an abusive parent and take her from me. The doc was quite understanding though and I wept with relief after we left the doctor's office.

I don't really know where I'm going with this other than to say that I agree and that nothing will improve, children who need help won't get it, until the system is completely overhauled and we get some better laws in place.

Monica said...

Agreed. This is the problem in ALL spheres of our legal and political lives. We need massive overhaul and a proper concept of rights.

I agree that the more responsible parents seem to be the ones that are most punished under the current system. This is obvious even to people who aren't parents, though us childless folks are undoubtedly less educated about these issues :). I wonder whether that has to do with the fact that these responsible parents are easier for social services to pick on. After all, no social services bureaucrat is going to want to go into a home where they could truly get physically injured because of maniac parents. Seems like so many things in our current system work this way... the government goes after easy targets, and avoids the people who truly are violating their kids' rights but who know how to "work the system."

cathy said...

Well said, Jenn! Nothing like having our taxes funding institutions which, instead of providing a good education, are self-appointed-pseudo parents. Who died and made them the authority on what children need?