Thursday, April 06, 2006

Parental School Choice and the notion of liberty

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:37 AM |  

Elizabeth Mische of Partnership for Choice in Education passes along this piece on an influential legal case that reflects the thinking of those of us supporting school choice. There are some caveats for thinking conservatives, however.

Reading the Pierce case, the holding, in addition to upholding a parents right to educate his or her children outside of a mandatory state system, also extended the due process clause of the 14th amendment to corporations and is one of the cases cited in right to privacy arguments that underlay decisions like Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas -- decisions generally not popular in conservative camps. The case is also cited in in “right to die” arguments.

I make that point not to diminish the power of this piece, but simply to point out that what is often decried as “judicial activism” is simply disagreement with the outcome. Acknowledging there are augments for liberty within an ordered society, nonetheless, in a free society one must often acknowledge the right of people to do things that one may find morally reprehensible or even stupid.

Individuals ought look past our visceral reactions to the outcomes and determine the underlying principle at stake that produces those outcomes. With that in mind -- this is a good piece on several levels.
Educational Freedom Day
by David W. Kirkpatrick
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation

On June 1,1925 the Pierce decision of the U.S. Supreme Court declared parents "have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare" how their children will be educated. Still the law of the land, the 9-0 decision has never been challenged and is not likely to be.

Yet it is doubtful that one person in a thousand could identify the subject of the case if they were asked to do so. Not that it is totally forgotten. A Google search for "Pierce vs. Society of Sisters" listed 3,210 sites. However most appear in sources of limited circulation.

This lack of awareness is demonstrated by supporters of school choice who argue parents should have the right to determine how their children are educated. This , as the Court made clear, is a right they already have. What too many families lack is the financial ability to exercise this right, whether by sending their children to an independent school, homeschooling, or, as millions do, by at least being able to afford living in the school district or even the attendance area of a school they wish their child to attend.
In brief, the battle over school choice is how to make it possible for low-income parents to exercise this civil right they already have.

Many school choice opponents are more concerned with protecting their jobs and their special interests than with the education, welfare and constitutional rights of the students. And there are those who believe government can do a better job of educating, or training, children than can parents. This has a long history.

Sparta, in ancient Greece from 400-600 B.C., took all boys from their families at age seven, placed them in state-run boarding schools, and parents had absolutely no part of that process. Spartan girls, as with most civilizations at the time, and even since, were given no formal education.

One of the first proposals for a educational system in the new United States came from Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphian and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote, "Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property. Let him be taught to love his family, but let him be taught at the same time, that he must forsake them ... when the welfare of his country requires."

The first actual statewide plan, also in Pennsylvania, in 1834, was largely the result of the efforts of Thaddeus Stevens, best known as the leader of the Congressional Radical Republicans at the end of the Civil War. He argued that "the rich and poor man's sons (are all) deemed children of the same parent – the Commonwealth."

In the 1925 arguments before the Supreme Court in the Pierce case the spokesman for the state of Oregon boldly stated, "As to minors, the state stands in the position of parents patriae, and may exercise unlimited supervision and control over their contracts, occupations and conduct, and the liberty and right of those who assume to deal with them."

As Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton promoted a number of educational reforms. When asked if the state knows better than the parents, he said yes.

During the debate over a school choice initiative in California, a website supporting the measure received a message saying, "I support government monopoly schools. Parents cannot be trusted. Liberty and choice are dangerous to society." Perhaps that was sarcasm. Still, many believe this whether they state it so explicitly or not.

So those who support parental rights in education should never forget June 1 as the anniversary of the Supreme Court's declaration of parental independence. Why not go further? There are countless national days, week, and/or months honoring this, that or the other thing. Why not recognize June 1st of each year as Educational Freedom Day. Hundreds of such observations across the nation could regularly recognize and emphasize the essential constitutional principle upheld in the Pierce decision.

At the very least, all education entities - departments of education, school buildings and collegiate and university schools of education, should have over their doors these words from the Pierce decision: