Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Centaur Scrolls: Parental Rights and School Choice

Parents across the nation have possessed the right to direct the upbringing of their children for centuries. One of the critical and essential rights included under parental rights is the ability to determine where their children are educated. Whether parents choose to place their children in public, private, parochial, charter, special needs, or home schools, the choice has always been placed in the hands of parents. Why? School Choice New York, a pro-school choice group, poses the question this way: “Who knows a child best? The parents! Children deserve the right to attend a school that serves their needs.”

There are three reasons for parental involvement in school choice. First, children need parental involvement for their own best interest. The Justice Foundation notes that “parental rights are fundamental to the family and a healthy culture. If no child is to be left behind, then no parent should be left out.” In the Department of Education Organization Act of 1979—the act which created the US Department of Education, the US Congress specifically noted that “parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children,” and that “states, localities, and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role.” Parents have this “primary responsibility” because in the main they know best how to provide for their children, and should generally be trusted to make those decisions.

Especially during their formative years, children need to have the guidance of their parents. By virtue of living for a much longer time than their children, parents have useful experiences to guard their children from danger and drive them toward a better life. As children move into their teens, the guidance of their parents over the past decade builds trust between parent and child to both allow the younger to grow and explore their world while still relying on the wise counsel of the elder. Parental guidance, especially in education, is serving the best interest of the child.

Charter schools, among other alternatives to public education, have consistently proven themselves to be comparable, if not better, than their public counterparts. Studies also indicate that parental involvement tends to lead to higher academic achievement by their children, since Mom and Dad are interested in what they are learning. Children also benefit from greater self-esteem and parent-child relationships when parents are involved in their education, and parents benefit from better knowing the education which their children are receiving. The child’s best interest must include the rights of parents to be actively involved in the learning and selection process of education.

Second, parents can best determine whether their children have special education needs requiring a special learning environment to maximize learning. Joseph Blast and Herbert Walberg note that US education experts who work for the government “tend to assign students to large, something-for-everyone neighborhood schools (to capture economies of scale) based on where parents live (to keep transportation costs low), with exceptions allowed only for disruptive students or to achieve politically imposed racial integration goals.” Blast and Walberg lament that “While mechanistically “fair” and “efficient,” it is difficult to imagine an assignment scheme less likely to assign students to schools suited to their particular learning styles, interests, or special needs.” Parents, on the other hand, consider the particular needs of the child.

Furthermore, parent school choice provides a proven incentive for school improvement. Alex Gibson and Sheena Asthana describe parental choice in education as “the most effective engine for school improvement,” and has “emerged, and still stands, as the principal raison d’etre for education markets” (Alex Gibson and Sheena Asthana, “Local Markets and the Polarization of Public-Sector Schools in England and Wales,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2000, 306). In England before the 1988 Education Reform Act, parents moved to districts which had good schools so that their children would be well educated, since you had to attend the school in your district (Ibid, 309). Districts differed, and thus schools also differed widely. It further meant, however, that those who could not afford to move to another district were forced to use the school in their district, even if the education there was significantly below par (Ibid). Parent school choice turned everything around, allowing parents to opt their children out of failing schools into better schools in the area. When parents choose, children win.

Finally, some parents find it necessary to choose alternate avenues for education when they find that objectionable material will be taught to their children in a school setting. Regardless of our views on sex education or homosexuality, some school districts have included homosexuality in required curriculum as early as five years of age. No five-year-old needs to know these sorts of things; they have no concept of what is being discussed, and it is not a bad thing that they have no concept of what is occurring. Certain subjects are best saved for later years, and parents in some cases prefer that their children be kept from such education in a classroom. There are other ways for children to learn about such topics—a safe, clean conversation with Mom and Dad, for example.

In some countries, parents have been fined, imprisoned, and had their children removed from their homes because parents sought to exercise the right to choose which school their child attended. In Germany, the Romeike family faced all three of these penalties because they sought alternate education from the public school in their district. A video is included in the link above, detailing the story of the Romeike family’s story in Germany. The interview also includes a discussion of the legal ramifications on American soil by Dr. Michael Farris and Mr. Michael Donnelly, the attorney for the Romeikes. The New York Times reports that Mr. Romeike removed his children from the public school because “the unruly behavior of students that was allowed by many teachers had kept his children from learning. The stories in German readers, in which devils, witches and disobedient children are often portrayed as heroes, set bad examples” for his children as well. Sadly, “the nearby private and religious schools," Mr. Romeike said, "were just as bad or even worse.” The Romeike family sought asylum in Denmark in 2008, later traveling to Canada and were finally granted asylum in Tennessee in January 2010. Parents shouldn’t need to flee their country in order to pursue the best form of education for their children—we need to take active measures to adequately protect these rights.

The primacy of parent choice in education is essential because “the family is the first cell of society, the first church, first government, first school, first hospital, first economy, and the first mediating institution of society.” In 1907, James Oliphant, wrote an article entitled, “Parental Rights and Public Education,” which was published in the International Journal of Ethics. He asserts that the strong desire to protect the rights of parental involvement is based on “a belief, based upon observation and experience, that social stability is primarily founded on family life, and that every weakening of the bond between parents and their children must have its influence on wider relations” (James Oliphant, “Parental Rights and Public Education,” International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 205-217 (January 1907), 208). This article preceded all Supreme Court decisions enumerating parental rights, and all discussion of its importance in the legal realm: we have known the power and influence of parental involvement on social stability for over a century—and arguably across the centuries from time out of mind. Parental rights need to be adequately protected for the sake of the children.

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