Parental rights and the intersests of the state
Parental rights is a big issue recently, highlighted by conflicts between parental wishes and the interests of the state. In 1996, Federal District Judge Melinda Harmon stated in a ruling that "Parents give up their rights when they drop the children off at public school." In Fields v. Palmdale School District, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision in a case involving parental objections to a survey containing sexual items that was given to their children without their consent. They used the tradition of the state's authority as parens patriae (father of the people) "to restrict parents' interest in the custody, care, and nurture of their children."

I have seen it argued many times that the court-approved loss of parental rights at the school door alone should be enough to cause any parent to seek other alternatives for the education of their child. It is something I never particularly thought about or questioned. I am, after all, homeschooling my own children. But I read an interesting passage today that has left me thinking about where the real problem lies. Perhaps it is not in the authority issue at all. The problem might lie a little deeper.
...In schools the matter should be absolute in command, for it is utterly impossible for any man to support order and discipline among children who are indulged with an appeal to their parents. A proper subordination in families would generally supersede the necessity of severity in schools, and a strict discipline in both is the best foundation of good order in political society.

--Noah Webster, On the Education of Youth in America
While he is speaking primarily about discipline and controlling students, Webster certainly lays out an underlying principle quite similar to Judge Harmon's assertion that a parent leaves behind his rights when he drops off his child at school. He has put his child under the authority of another, and that authority should be respected. I could easily argue that this extends not only to discipline issues, but also to matters of classroom material. Subject matter aside, the Ninth Circuit Court is not so fundamentally flawed in its assertion that,
Schools cannot be expected to accommodate the personal, moral or religious concerns of every parent. Such an obligation would not only contravene the educational mission of the public schools, but also would be impossible to satisfy. Fields v Palmdale School District, 15074
Going back to Webster's thoughts,
If parents should say, "We cannot give the instructors of our children unlimited authority over them, for it may be abused and our children injured," I would answer, they must not place them under the direction of any man in whose temper, judgment, and abilities they do not repose perfect confidence. The teacher should be, if such can be found, as judicious and reasonable a man as the parent. Ibid.
In fact, going on a little further, I am not so sure Webster is talking about 18th century America:
From a strange inversion of the order of nature, the cause of which it is not necessary to unfold, the most important business in civil society is in many parts of America committed to the most worthless characters. Ibid.
Parents, if you cannot wholly trust the person under whose authority you have placed your children for the most important endeavor of their youth, you might want to consider an alternative.


Noah Webster's essay, On the Education of Youth in America, is reprinted in Essays on Education in the Early Republic, edited by Frederick Rudolph, pp. 43-77.

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