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Should the Government Intervene in Parental Decisions to Homeschool?

written by: •edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 8/24/2012

The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) argues that there are distinct parental rights for those who homeschool. The government says "Sure...but what about our rights to make sure children are raised correctly and receive an appropriate education?" What are your rights?

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    Controversy's Brewing!

    What gives government the right to interfere with education? When it comes to the debate about whether parents should be allowed to homeschool, the debate comes down to two simple positions: The right of parents to make decisions about how their children will be educated vs. the right of governments to ensure that they have properly trained and productive workers. What is the primary right? It's heavily debatable. It depends whether you give priority to individual freedoms or society as a whole.

    I'm one of those people who believe that there are times when the government should intervene in parental decisions to homeschool. After all, homeschooling is not for everyone. "Helicopter parents," for example, probably are not making the healthiest decision for their children in the long run when they choose to homeschool their children. Parents who homeschool because they are afraid of their children being exposed to diversity and diverse ideas also probably should not homeschool. Most importantly parents who are abusive toward their children should not homeschool.

    However, in each of those cases, except the last, it's hard to say that anyone should have a right to step in. Sure helicopter parents are likely to raise children who are insecure and unable to be independent. Parents restricting children from diversity are likely to have intolerant adults on their hands. But who am I to say this is a bad thing?

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    An Argument for Intervention

    I have a unique perspective on things, given my social and political philosophy background. I think a case can be made for intervention even in cases where there is no suspected abuse or neglect (I won't argue for those, since I take the reasons intervention is necessary there to be quite clear, although the same arguments I'm going to apply here will also apply to extreme cases).

    The purpose of societies will differ, but societies as a whole will suffer should their populations suffer. Without a good education, there are not solid foundations that give an individual the ability to participate in the society. No matter what economic structure a society has, there needs to be a means of production. Societies need people who are well-trained in their professions and trades. Prior to the public school system, there were tutors and apprenticeships.

    If a person lacks the resources to participate in society and the economy, that person will then need assistance to do so. When this occurs—whether the person is relying on family members, a social safety net, or is scraping by through illegal means—that person then becomes a burden of some sort or another and must now somehow be dealt with by the social justice system that has been set up by the society.

    If a high number of adults are unprepared to participate in society, the society may crumble. Because of the burden created on society by individuals unprepared to participate in society, as with the case of threats such as violent crime, society is then justified in an intervention.

    Parents who lack the basic resources, education or motivation to effectively educate and prepare children to become adults able to participate in a society and its economic structure are thus causing the society to struggle.

    There are some homeschooling parents who are not capable of properly educating or preparing their children for adulthood. These parents may suffer from debilitating physical or mental illnesses, may lack education, or may not have enough of a social network to perform well at the function of educating their children.

    Therefore, there are some cases, where a society is justified in intervening in a parent's right to choose the best educational method for his or her child. By the same premises, one can also justify the society's interest in education and right to intervene in any school that is not performing its primary purpose - to prepare a generation for participation in a society and its economic structure.

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    Why the Above Argument May Anger Some Individuals

    It's difficult to balance the rights of the individual against the rights of a society. When I was working on philosophy, a lot of my work focused on whether groups can have rights, and what kinds of rights those groups had. It's a very contentious field, at best, but if you look at society as being a necessary structure that allows us to cooperate with one another and offers protections against various risks that would exist and potentially make our quality of life much worse, then it would seem that in some instances, society-at-large is a necessary structure - and one which should be upheld. Naturally, such an argument will not faze an individual who is an anarchist or a strict libertarian.

    Think about it this way, the roads we use to get to and from places we go, the Internet we've become dependent upon, our medical advances, and many other things were only possible once a group of individuals got together and decided they were going to collaborate, share a language, and share a body of laws to ensure the existence of the structure they wanted to create. It seems like an oxymoron, but siding with Hobbes and Locke, a society ensures the freedoms of those living in it. Yes, we have to adhere to a certain body of laws, and sometimes there needs to be interference of the society into our personal lives in order to ensure the continuation of that society, but on the whole, our lives are better, more free, and have more leisure time than they otherwise would be.

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    But...Don't You Homeschool?

    I homeschool my son, and I have many friends who have successfully homeschooled their own children. The above argument for intervention in homeschooling is intended as an exercise to show why and when one might be justified in interfering. No interference is justified if the child is thriving. There have been many cases where homeschooling parents—who are well-meaning—have been harassed by local school officials. In order to warrant such a case, there needs to be adequate justifications for believing the student needs interference. This cannot be done by one individual. Just as we require evidentiary support to interfere in cases where we think there may be criminal activity going on, there needs to be evidentiary support from multiple sources for the state to interfere. I don't believe that interference is always justified, but just that we can make a strong case. Parents have a strong right to choose the most adequate and beneficial system of educating their child so far as that system is in fact the most adequate and beneficial.

    What do you think of the debate about the right to homeschool children?

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