Parental Rights in Education: The Fundamental Issue of Our Time

by | Sep 20, 2023 | Education

Do parents have an unalienable right to determine how, in what, and by whom their children will be educated, or should the government have that right?

“For it is correct to take care of the young first, so that they will be the best possible, just as a good farmer properly takes care of the young plants first, and after this of the others as well.”

–Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro

Over the course of the last eighteen months, parents around the country have been showing up to school board meetings to express their concerns about a wide range of topics, including dissatisfaction with COVID-related school closings, remote learning, vaccine and mask mandates, and, most importantly, with the teaching of Critical Race and Gender Theory in the government schools. These school board meetings have been sometimes raucous affairs, where parents have expressed outrage at what is or is not happening in their kids’ schools. School board members have been subjected to withering public criticism and condemnation.

America’s moms and dads are mad as hell, and, apparently, they’re not going to take it anymore. They have risen up to assert their rights as taxpayers and their first amendment rights to assemble and speak their minds. More fundamentally, though, they are also asserting their rights as parents.

In reaction to this spontaneous, grassroots rébellion des parents, America’s Ruling Class has been forced to reveal for the first time its deepest philosophic and political commitments.

Who Has the Right to Educate America’s Children?

On September 28, Terry McAuliffe shocked voters in Virginia and around the country when he said in a gubernatorial debate with his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Virginia voters understood immediately the meaning of McAuliffe’s statement. The aspiring repeat Governor seemed to be saying that parents do not and should not have a “right” to determine what their children are taught in school, which means that America’s Education Establishment (i.e., the state and federal departments of education, teachers’ unions, teacher-training institutions, school board associations, textbook and curriculum companies) has the “right” to determine the content of your child’s mind.

The moment was clarifying. In an instant, all of the particular education issues that Americans have been debating for the last few years (e.g., mask mandates, online learning, Common Core, CRT, transgenderism, pronouns, bathroom policies, and pedophilic pornography, etc.) became secondary to a more fundamental question: Who should determine the cognitive content of America’s children, parents or government officials? More to the point, the question is:  Do parents have an unalienable right to determine how, in what, and by whom their children will be educated, or should the government have that right?

There is no more important question in American politics than this one. Our answer to it will determine the fate of the republic.

The American Left (aided and abetted by some conservatives) believes that the government, not parents, should determine the content of a child’s mind—their ideas, their principles, and their values. A few weeks after McAuliffe’s tone-deaf faux pas, two authors writing in The Washington Post summed up the Left’s position in the title of their op-ed: “Parents claim they have the right to shape their kids’ school curriculum. They don’t.” Parents should have neither the right nor the authority, according to the Post’s writers, to determine the ideas taught to their children. This task should be left to the “experts”—to the experts of the Education Establishment. The authors go on to claim that “education should prepare young people to think for themselves, even if that runs counter to the wishes of their parents.” The question never addressed by the authors, however, is what happens when young people want to think for themselves and learn about ideas different from those taught by the government?!?! This option is, of course, strictly verboten.

Writing at Politico, three professors of medicine denounced what they called “The Dangerous Legal Illusion of ‘Parental rights’.” The authors announced that “When it comes to society’s interest in protecting children, the legal precedent is unambiguous: The rights of parents come second.” But the question is, if parents’ rights come second when it comes to protecting or educating their children, then whose rights come first? And the authors’ answer is obvious: society’s rights, the government’s rights, the rights of the public-policy experts trump those of parents.

More recently, NBC News published an essay on its website from a self-described education “expert” (she has one of those fancy Ph.D.s in “teacher education”), who denounced the idea that parents should have a “right to control teaching and learning” simply “because their children are the ones being educated.” Mocking the proposition that parents have the right to determine how, by whom, and in what their children are to be educated, our “education Ph.D.” says that education should be left to the “experts.” Then, by analogy, she absurdly claims that the idea of parents having a say in the education of their children is the equivalent of a parent “entering a surgical unit thinking [they] can interfere with an operation simply because the patient is [their] child.” She goes on to claim that teaching is a “science” and that only those trained in the teaching sciences should be permitted to determine what is taught in the schools. Since 95% plus of all parents are not licensed and certified in the “science of teaching,” they “aren’t qualified to make decisions about curricula.” Nosey parents actually hinder the certified teacher’s primary goal, which is to “teach students to think.” Therefore, she concludes, parents who aren’t qualified to teach should shut up and “keep their noses out of school curricula.”

Whose Children Are They?

But the Left’s clearest answer to the question—Should parents or the government determine the content of a child’s mind?—came a few years ago in a now infamous infomercial for socialism made by professor and TV personality Melissa Harris-Perry, who said

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have, because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children: Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of “these are our children.” So part of is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.

There it is! You will not hear or read a clearer statement of the Left’s position on the rights of parents than Harris-Perry’s. If your children are actually not your children but belong to the community, then it only makes sense that the government should bear the primary responsibility for the education your children. The government, not you, has the right and therefore the authority to determine what your children think.

Harris-Perry is not an outlier in the education world. Her views are entirely mainstream and are taught in virtually all of America’s so-called “ed” schools or teacher-training institutions, and they are also promoted by various curriculum development organizations. One of the most influential of these organizations, an outfit named WestEd, has produced a chart that distinguishes what it calls “White Individualism” (= bad) from “Color Group Collectivism” (= good). One of the core values associated with “Color Group Collectivism” is that “[t]eachers have a special role to teach academics (and to inculcate morals).” In fact, the teacher should be seen as “the second mother” and parents have a responsibility to “respect teachers’ authority.” In many ways, however, the Education Establishment seeks to be your child’s “first mother,” at least during the eight hours of the school day.

So, what is the logical endpoint of the Left’s view of parents’ rights relative to the education of the “community’s” children?

Parenting by Permission

One serious possibility discussed by some on the Left is the idea of licensing parents. Let that sink in for a moment. It’s not enough that the government educates your children for 13 years (not to mention their recent attempts to provide free daycare and a college education), they also believe that parents should be educated and regulated by the State in how to be good parents, which means parents should be required to know and teach what the government thinks their children should think.

Consider what this really means in theory and practice.

A license is a special kind of permission. In this case, it’s a permission to be a parent, but this permission is contingent on the parents acquiring a certain kind of government-mandated knowledge. And just as it does when you apply for a driver’s license, the government will no doubt give you a parenting manual to study (with the all the moral-social-political values deemed important by the government), and then it will test you on what the government manual says you must know in order to be a fully-licensed parent. Such licensing may also require prospective parents to perform psychological evaluations, undergo background checks, and demonstrate a certain level of financial stability. And if you somehow manage to have a child without first getting your parenting license, your child may be forcibly taken from you by the “community” until such time as the government deems you to be a certified parent.

The hidden assumption of government schooling is that children are owned by the State, and if the State claims the ultimate right to children, then it follows that: one, parents produce children not for themselves but for the State, and, two, the State must therefore have the right and full authority to educate them. This is the inexorable, logical conclusion of America’s Left and their milksop supporters on the Right.

Think about what this means in practice. If the Left and the Education Establishment get their wish-list of programs, America’s children will start government-controlled preschool at age six months and then will continue through elementary, middle and high school until they are eighteen. For most of those who go on to college, their higher education will undoubtedly fortify the ideas and values they received from preschool to the end of high school. And then, to wrap a bow on the gift box, parents will be required to be licensed to reinforce all the values that they and their children have been taught since preschool.

Who would have thought that George Orwell’s cautionary tale against totalitarianism in 1984 is actually a how-to-manual for the Education Deep State?

Houston, We Have a Problem!

Over the course of the last year or two, recalcitrant American parents have been resisting the government’s efforts to usurp their authority. Ironically, it was the school COVID -19 lockdowns and online (non)learning that gave parents an opportunity to peek beneath the hood to see how the education machine actually works, and what they saw horrified them. All over the country, parents have risen up and stormed their local education Bastille. School board meetings from Savannah to Los Angeles have been taken over by parents exposing and denouncing the various forms of cultural Marxism being taught in the schools. These parents are outraged and they’re angry. What’s taken place around the country in school board meetings is akin to a grassroots intifada of ordinary people demanding accountability, sanity, change, and, most importantly, control over the education of their children.

And how has the Education Establishment responded? How far will it go in claiming its right and authority to educate your children? It has unleashed the full force of the Education Deep State against American parents.

The Education Deep State Goes Full Totalitarian

As is now well known, the day after Terry McAuliffe announced that parents should not have the right and the authority to determine what is taught to their children in America’s government schools, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden in which it falsely claimed that there was a nationwide pandemic of “threats of violence and acts of intimidation” against school board members, administrators, and teachers. The NSBA letter went on to associate the actions of these protesting parents with “domestic terrorism.” As if this blood libel weren’t enough, the NSBA then called on the Biden administration to unleash its full power (e.g., the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, and more) against America’s protesting moms. The letter called on the White House to unleash the power of the Patriot Act to thwart protesting parents.

Five days later, Attorney General Merrick Garland did just that. He ordered the FBI and America’s National Security State to mobilize its immense power against parents whose only real crime was to take seriously the education of their children. Despite providing no examples of “domestic terrorism” to support the NSBA’s absurdly unfounded claims, Garland and the Justice Department issued a press release in which it announced that the DOJ would be creating a task force “consisting of representatives from the department’s . . .

  • Criminal Division
  • National Security Division
  • Civil Rights Division
  • Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys
  • FBI
  • Community Relations Service
  • Office of Justice Programs

The purpose of this Star Chamber will be to “determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these [imaginary] crimes.” To be clear, the primary “crimes” committed by these parents include asserting their rights to free speech and assembly in order to oppose what is being taught in the government schools.

This is almost certainly one of the worst abuses of government power in the history of the United States. The Biden Regime has turned the full apparatus of America’s Security State against ordinary American citizens who are challenging the hegemony of the Education Establishment.

But this story is actually worse—much worse—than I first reported here last month in my essay, A Declaration of War. It turns out that the NSBA wrote its letter with the assistance, if not at the behest, of the White House! This means the Biden White House almost certainly organized and launched a coordinated attack against American parents.

But the question is, why? Why would the Biden administration want to unleash the full force of the Leviathan State on regular parents voicing their opinions at school board meetings?

The answer is simple: because the Left’s single most important ideological-political possession is its control of America’s K-12 education system, and the only thing getting in the way of its total hegemony over the minds of America’s children is America’s parents, who are now asserting their rights and their authority over the minds of their school-age children.

It’s Do or Die

This is why the single most important issue in American politics today is the question of “rights” and education. To repeat the fundamental question: Do parents have an unalienable right to determine how, in what, and by whom their children will be educated, or does the government have the right and authority to educate America’s children?

The answer to this question represents America’s Alamo. This is where the final battle will be fought. If we lose this battle, the republic is gone. If we win, we can begin to reclaim the rights and freedoms that have been taken from us over the course of the last century.

Going Forward

In the next few weeks I will be publishing a series of essays on the subject of “rights” and how the concept applies to parents and children in the context of education. Given the importance of these essays, I will be making them freely available to all followers of The Redneck Intellectual.

C. Bradley Thompson is the BB&T Research Professor in the Department of Political Science at Clemson University and the Executive Director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. He writes at the The Redneck Intellectual.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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