Children’s Rights

Yesterday the Diane Rehm Show (on NPR) did a segment on homeschooling. It featured Mike Donnelly (from HSLDA), Rob Reich (associate professor of ethics at Stanford) and Gretchen Roe (homeschool mom and part-time liaison for Calvert School).

I have lots of comments about the show which, in my opinion, came across as fairly positive to homeschooling. I do not want to get into all the points that I would have liked to have seen made, but I did want to focus on one aspect that Rob Reich brought up…the issue of the rights of children.

At one point, Reich posed a question to Donnelly (who had just said that HSLDA was for more freedom for parents, wanting parents to have more choices and less government intrusion): "Are you also for the freedom of the children? What if the child wants to learn, say science, but the parents haven't taught them that?"

This argument for additional oversight of homeschoolers is one that I have seen made other times as well, mostly by my fellow progressives and mostly in response to the perceived "brainwashing" of children by Christian homeschool parents. And to be honest with you, on face value, this can seem to be a compelling argument, especially for those with stereotypical views of homeschoolers and homeschooling. The idea that children can be sheltered and only hear "one point of view" (one with which many progressives would have issues with) bothers many people.

But when you start looking closer at the argument about protecting "the rights of the children", you realize that it is not as clear cut an argument as it would seem. And this is because it implies that children have rights over what/when/how they learn outside of homeschooling and that it is homeschooling itself that deprives children of these rights.

But this most definitely is not the case. Switch his argument around a little bit and ask: "What if a child does not learn best with the curriculum the school has chosen? Does he have the right in school to get a different curriculum that better fits his learning style?" Ummm….no. He barely has the right to get accommodations and the parents usually have to fight tooth and nail to get those.

"What if a child is a right-brained learner who is not truly ready to read until between 8 or 9 years old?" Does that child have the right to wait and not be forced into learning to read before he is ready? No. He gets labeled as "late" and slapped with a learning disability (because of course it has to be the child that is broken, not the school).

To be honest with you, one of the main reasons that I am homeschooling is because I believe that children should be allowed to learn on their own timeframe and in a manner that works for them. I am homeschooling precisely because I do feel that my children have rights and that homeschooling is the best way to ensure those rights.

Reich's argument seems to be less about whether children should have rights and more about who gets to make the decision about what the child learns. The state or the parent. I prefer to let the parents, who have a much more vested interest in the child, make this call. Does that mean that parents always make the right call for what is best for their children? Nope. But please don't tell me that the state gets it right every time either.

I find it interesting that people who call for more oversight of homeschoolers often seem to have more of a problem with what is being taught rather than with the actual idea of homeschooling. These are the people who call for more oversight and want, as Reich has advocated for, some kind of "curricular oversight" to ensure "that parents are exposing their children to ideas, beliefs and values that go beyond what the children would encounter naturally in the home".

Now, I am most certainly not arguing against exposure to alternative points of view! It is something that I consciously try to do. What I am arguing against however is the state enforcing how this is done. And here is why:

In order for me to have the freedom to teach my child what I feel is important (such as the different world religions) that means that others have to have the freedom to teach their children what they feel is important (even if I do not agree with it). It is the old free speech argument…I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it.

Again, suppose the tables were switched…suppose fundamentalist Christians got to decide what was taught in public schools and only creationism was allowed. Would liberals feel that they should have the right to take their children out and teach them evolution at home? Would they feel that the Christians in charge of the schools had a right to dictate what they could/could not teach at home? If not, then they should not feel that they have the right to dictate what Christian homeschoolers teach at home.

It is a hard issue to grapple with, because we all want children to have the best environment in which to learn and grow. And we all have different ideas of what this "best environment" looks like. What it comes down to for me is that we live in a free society and one of the aspects of living in a free society is that people are going to make choices for themselves and their children with which not everyone agrees.

I have more to say on this subject, but I think that this has been getting a bit long. I will save the rest for tomorrow…