By Thomas A. Bowden
Rocked by a nationwide storm of criticism, the Los Angeles County court that declared homeschooling illegal in California has agreed to rehear the case in June. At issue is Justice H. Walter Croskey’s Feb. 28 decree, which ordered the parents of “Rachel L.” to send her away to a public or private school, where she can get a “legal education.”
Justice Croskey’s edict interpreted state education laws that govern all children, whatever their home situation and “whatever the quality” of their home education. Except for the rare case when parents already hold state teaching credentials, parents who find public schools intolerable and cannot locate or afford a suitable private school were branded by the decree as outlaws if they choose to instruct their child at home.
California legislators were entitled to enact this blanket prohibition, according to the judge, because they feared the supposed social disorder that would result from “allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests.”
“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.
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.
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.
The shockwaves from Justice Croskey’s decision will likely impact not just homeschoolers but also 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 only rarely is the undiluted collectivism of that policy trumpeted so publicly.
What if, in the harsh glare of the “Rachel L.” case, parents start asking whether the state has any right at all to be running schools and dictating educational standards for children, in order to advance society’s “interests”? This calls into question the moral foundation of public education as such. In this light, one wonders if the court’s decision to rehear the case could be a first step toward muting, and muddying, the controversy.
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.
Thomas A. Bowden is an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute, focusing on legal issues. Mr. Bowden is a former attorney and law school instructor who practiced for twenty years in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ayn Rand Institute (http://www.aynrand.org/) promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand–author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” Contact the writer at email@example.com.