Are parents an impediment to the proper upbringing and education of children?

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe thinks they are, and a recent essay by education professor Jack Schneider and journalist Jennifer Berkshire argues the same.

Schneider and Berkshire wrote in the Washington Post that American legal tradition does not support parents having complete say in what their children learn. They also characterized the rising movement to restore appropriate parental influence over what public schools teach as radical, racist, and paranoid.

Based on Home School Legal Defense Association’s almost four decades of advocacy on behalf of parents who want to be their children’s primary educators, we feel compelled to say Schneider and Berkshire are not only wrong—they are dangerously so.

These two writers insist that US common law and case law essentially guard the state’s unfettered interest in shaping the world view of children.

The biggest problem with this assertion: it’s not just untrue (more on that later), but it also overlooks the fundamental nature of human society.

The state can’t conceive and bear children. Only moms and dads can do that. So, moms and dads will therefore remain the primary caregivers and first teachers of our littlest citizens. 

And for the most part, the state seems to be satisfied with the job that parents are doing in this respect.

But according to thinkers like Schneider and Berkshire, something happens when children reach the age at which lawmakers have proclaimed they should begin formal education. It is at that time, their op-ed states, that the power of the state must be employed to “prepare young people to think for themselves, even if that runs counter to the wishes of parents.” 

It is willful ignorance to think that the only way kids are going to learn how to think is because the government orders them to think. Parents best understand what and when each of their kids is ready to handle developmentally, mentally, and emotionally. 

Schneider and Berkshire claim it’s crucial for the state to intervene “when a parent’s desire to inculcate a particular worldview denies the child exposure to other ideas and values that an independent young person might wish to embrace or at least entertain.”

To support the importance of government regulations, the writers invoke, as an example, something we care deeply about: homeschooling. They say the state has to regulate it in order to keep homeschooled kids from being made into ideological clones of their parents, but their ideology refuses to trust that moms and dads will teach their children to think for themselves. 

We must ask: Do they know anything about human nature? To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, we’ve all been endowed by our creator with that unpredictable thing called free will.

Young people invariably develop into unique adults who, even if they closely reflect their parents’ values, find a way to put their own stamp on how they express and act on these tenets.

So to suggest that—without the ministrations of specially trained government agents—things might be otherwise, is to believe a delusion or foster a deliberate lie.

As for homeschooling, at least one researcher suggests this type of education may actually increase respect for disparate opinions. After studying a group of college students, Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas determined “those with more exposure to homeschooling relative to public schooling tend to be more politically tolerant.”

Cheng argued that homeschooled students may be more confident in their purpose as individuals because they tend to be “taught a consistent worldview.” He added that “the religious values taught in a homeschooling environment as well as in many religious private schools are consistent with political tolerance and other values necessary for a liberal democracy.” 

That said, what about Schneider and Berkshire’s claim that American jurisprudence favors the state over parents when it comes to education? Again, our experience battling for homeschool freedom in courtrooms and statehouses shows this characterization of the law to be specious at best.

Schneider and Berkshire’s assertion that the existence of homeschool regulation proves parents can’t be trusted to educate kids without oversight is based on ignorance. Some states, aside from a general requirement that children receive an education appropriate to their age and ability, impose little or no specific restrictions on homeschooling.

Does that mean homeschool parents in these states are raising kids to mindlessly adhere to what Schneider and Berkshire say are “conspiratorial fantasies” that will reduce our republic to “a pile of rubble and a heap of ashes”?

Hardly.

The truth is no one loves kids more than their own parents. No one is more invested in the success of their children. This is why parents go to great lengths to transmit the values they hold most dear, in the hopes their progeny will in turn employ these ideals to help keep the world safe, sane, and beautiful.

Our courts recognize this. In one of the cases cited by Schneider and Berkshire, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the US Supreme Court held that Oregon could not ban alternatives to state-run schools. Justices declared “the child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

Which bring us to one final question.

If Schneider and Berkshire are so certain that children suffer unless exposed to competing worldviews, who do they propose should ensure public schools allow students to sample varying viewpoints—including the ones the authors find so repugnant?