The California Court of Appeals judge who ruled recently that parents "do not have a constitutional right to home-school their children" probably thought the point was obvious. He lives in California, where liberalism is still a flourishing belief system, and where parents are widely regarded as simply the mechanism whereby new generations of youngsters are created and turned over to the state for polishing.
But he is a loser nonetheless, as he will discover when his ruling is overturned on appeal or, failing that, struck down by the legislature or, if necessary, by an amendment to the state constitution. The parents of California are not about to surrender the right to decide what fundamentals their children shall be taught.
That is not to say that parents, in California or elsewhere, have or ought to have an exclusive right to determine that question. We live in a complex society, under rules that necessarily apply to all of us, and our children must be taught many things that they must do, and not a few that they must not. We could not possibly survive if rebellious, or even simply inventive, parents were allowed to raise their offspring in ways that defy essential standards of behavior.
But that still leaves vast areas of belief in which reasonable people can and do differ, and there is no reason in the world why parents ought not to be able to instruct their children in what they regard as the right way to act in those areas. Should teenagers be allowed to drink or smoke, and, if so, at what ages? What, if any, are the limits on sexual behavior? Just how important is simple honesty, and what is the proper role of compassion? These, and many other questions, are the proper province of parents, and the notorious difficulty of getting children to conform to decent rules in regard to them is no excuse for having the state barge in and arbitrarily take over the whole process.
To be sure, some parents will grossly neglect their obligations in this regard, out of laziness or sheer ignorance, and then it will be necessary for the state to step in and take over the role of "in loco parentis" -- in place of the parents. That may well be all the judge in the California case thought he was ruling. But it is not what he said. He didn't rule that the state could intervene in cases where parents neglected their obligation; he denied that the primary obligation rested with the parents at all.
A reasonable acknowledgment of a parent's rights in this regard can certainly specify that particular subjects must be taught, and I see no reason why a parent ought not to be required to know enough about the rudiments of teaching to do the job properly. But no one who has witnessed what goes on in many American classrooms today will readily argue that a properly trained parent couldn't do better. Children in many public and private schools are subjected to an "education" that is positively hair-raising.
I expressed at the outset my confidence that the California judge's ruling will be overturned on appeal, or, if necessary, reversed by the legislature or a constitutional amendment. Quite possibly there will be a provision, in the revised law, that the state may intervene if the child in question is not getting an adequate education at home. But the key provision will vest priority for the child's education in his or her parents' hands, where it belongs.
Most parents will be only too happy to leave instruction in matters such as arithmetic in the hands of professional teachers. But a lot of them will draw the line at having their children taught civics by tin-horn revolutionaries who confuse themselves with Patrick Henry.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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