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Culture War: Teach Your Children Well?

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Drawing the appropriate line between parental rights and the states interest in the welfare of children can be a complex consideratio n. The emergence and prevalence of homeschoolin g has further complicated the equation. A ruling by a California appeals court will likely catapult the topic into the mainstream and it will undoubtedly become the latest flash point in the culture wars.

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschoolin g by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.

The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschoolin g their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.

The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.

The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.

The appeals court said state law has been clear since at least 1953, when another appellate court rejected a challenge by homeschoolin g parents to California’s compulsory education statutes. Those statutes require children ages 6 to 18 to attend a full-time day school, either public or private, or to be instructed by a tutor who holds a state credential for the child’s grade level.

The appeals court told the juvenile court judge to require the parents to comply with the law by enrolling their children in a school, but excluded the Sunland Christian School from enrolling the children because that institution “was willing to participate in the deprivation of the children’s right to a legal education.”

I suspect that the issue will soon devolve into a question of religious freedom…pitt ing the rights of parents against the states compelling interest to insure a curriculum consistent with sound science. Anyone who has watched documentarie s like Jesus Camp or Baby Bible Bashers should have an understandin g of the underlying issues.

Adding to the complexity are cases like that of Matthew Murray, the young man who was homeschooled and subsequently murdered two individuals at a Youth With A Mission location in Arvada, Colorado and two others at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs before killing himself.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that parents should be precluded from teaching their religious beliefs to their children or that Matthew Murray’s situation is an indisputable indictment of homeschoolin g. On the other hand, the push for a Biblical interpretati on of science and the argument that God’s laws take precedent over the laws of the state are troubling developments that must be addressed.

Ironically, one can look to the words of the ancient playwright Terence for a measure of guidance. Not only is Terence known for his quotation, “Moderation in all things”, he also is said to have stated, “Children should be led into the right paths, not by severity, but by persuasion.”

All too often, those inclined to homeschool do so in order to instill their brand of extreme ideology…eve n if it lacks substantiati on and conflicts with far more factual theories. Unfortunatel y, the dogmatic nature of many religions posits that the only relevant truth is the truth they espouse. Hence, many of those parents who embrace this doctrine are not only unwilling to expose their children to alternate views; they see the views of the state as inferior and irrelevant.

Even worse, some parents seek to portray the state and the society as evil which can effectively isolate and alienate their children. In extreme instances, it may well set in motion the process by which the Matthew Murray’s of the world unleash their misguided malice on others.

Unfair as this may be, the fact that the California ruling outraged James Dobson of Focus on the Family leads me to believe that the appellate court may have ruled correctly in requiring that homeschoolin g must be conducted by instructors with state mandated credentials. Sadly, men like Dobson have made a career of vilifying others in order to solidify their hold on their followers and thus insure his financial success and his penchant for power.

The following is from the Focus on the Family website:

Dr. James Dobson used today’s Focus on the Family radio broadcast to tell his listeners about an “egregious decision” handed down by a California appellate court recently.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that California parents without teaching credentials do not have a right to home-school their children.

“The court has assaulted parental rights again, and this time with a sledgehammer  ,” Dr. Dobson said. “Listeners in all 50 states should take notice.”

Dr. Mike Farris, co-founder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said the ruling “effectively is slamming the door on home schooling for everyone.”

“I [Dobson] just pray that you all will be on your knees before the Lord, symbolically or otherwise,” he said, “and ask Him to protect those children in California and all over the country.”

Note how the final quote from Dobson seeks to suggest that parents must “protect” their children from the state. Look, I realize that public education isn’t perfect. At the same time, the ruling isn’t prohibiting homeschoolin g; it is simply requiring that it be taught under the guidelines of prior rulings. Dobson neglects to mention this in his statements.

It doesn’t surprise me that he prefers to portray the ruling as an assault upon religion…an emerging tactic employed by many evangelical leaders. Identifying an enemy and establishing themselves and their followers as victims of persecution only strengthens the hold men like Dobson seek to insure.

Frankly, I see the strategy of men like Dobson much the same as I view the actions of Karl Rove and George Bush. Nothing serves their purposes better than to identify an enemy, argue that the enemy seeks to destroy one’s way of life, and them utilize the fear they create to manipulate the masses.

I don’t begrudge anyone’s right to their religious beliefs. At the same time, when those beliefs are pitted against the interest of the state in order to usurp the state’s authority, then the lines drawn by our forefathers to separate church and state are being violated.

In the end, men like Dobson burn the candle at both ends. They favor democracy when it serves their purposes, they play the victim when democracy doesn’t comport with their wishes, and they yearn for the day when have the wherewithal to dictate their doctrines without regard for the democratic process.

The Dobson’s of the world champion dissent…but only if it is their own. Those dissenters with whom they disagree are cast as villains who threaten to usurp God’s authority. Unfortunatel y, countless religions are convinced they are the sole purveyors of God’s truth. As such, they have no reservation to meet out condemnation s and call for prohibitions against, and punishments for, those they oppose.

The logic employed by our forefathers well over 200 years prior suggests they understood that religions would likely remain “at loggerheads” in perpetuity. Wisely, they sought to establish a system that was intended to insure that no one faith should or could abridge the rights of others.

In this day and age, it’s troubling to realize that men like Dobson in this country…and Islamic extremists in other nations…are all too happy to seek to subvert the role of the state while sharing in their disregard for the principle of reciprocity.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater


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2 Responses to “Culture War: Teach Your Children Well?”

  1. Daniel,

    The decision may not, in fact, have as much influence over parental homeschoolin g as the reporting seems to suggest. It may be that the parents here lost the case, not because the parent lacked a teachers license but because they failed to correctly, according to state laws, enroll their child in a school. Gabriel Malor, at Ace of Spades, thinks that homeschoolin g in California is safe and well. The same author has another post on the question of whether there is a right to homeschool and answers that no such thing exists. The upshot appears to be that this is a lot of fuss over very little since the whole thing could have been avoided by following guidelines set out by the state for homeschooler s. These parents did not and they were called to task for it.

    I think it clear that, while parents should be presumed to have the right to raise their child as they think best — that is, that children are not automaticall y property of the state at birth and parents are merely granted responsibili ty to raise the state’s children on behalf of the state — there clearly are limits to those rights where the state needs to step in for the best interest of a child. On the other hand, there ought to be clear evidence of harm to the children before the state steps in to override parental decision-mak ing. In this case, there does appear to have been evidence of harm, beside the failure to abide by the laws governing education of children.

    My bottom line, regarding this specific case, is, the rules set in place in California to safeguard minimum standards of education for children were reasonable and allowed exemptions for homeschoolin g. Those laws were not followed. They should have been.

    My default position for people living in a classically liberal, reasonably democratic society is: (a) know and obey the law. (b) If you don’t like a law, work to change it through lawful political means. (c) If you cannot change it and genuinely feel that the law is unjust, engage in civil disobedience but (d) be prepared to face the legal consequences of that disobedience .

  2. (e) if democratic debate, lawful protest, legislative lobbying and, finally, civil disobedience fail to sway the majority of one’s fellow citizens of the injustice of said laws, be prepared to face the possibility that the laws aren’t unjust, that maybe you are the one who is wrong.

    There are plenty of laws that I’ve thought dumb but none that I’ve felt strongly enough to get to the point of civil disobedience over. Maybe that’s cowardice on my part but I prefer to say that it’s a healthy respect for my own limits as a judge of what’s right and what’s not…or, conversely, a healthy respect for the opinions of my fellow citizens. That doesn’t mean that I may not still think that the majority of my fellow citizens are wrong but, rather, I may not be convinced sufficiently that I am right to engage in civil disobedience over my difference of opinion with my fellow citizens. I prefer to think that that just makes me fairly centrist in deed, however extreme some of my political policy positions might be.

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