Do your children belong to you?
Do our children belong to us? I don’t mean to suggest that kids are the property of their parents. But, at least until a certain age, parents are responsible for their care. That care includes their well-being, education, housing, and so on. Love, too, if we’re lucky. In many ways, it’s more fair to say that parents have a responsibility for their children.
But, as of late, there has been an awful lot of discourse, in particular, as to the educational piece of the puzzle — especially when it comes to determining the powers of the state vs those of parents. This is where the question comes in.
Many parents, especially conservative parents, have opted to pull their kids out of school because they disagree with what is being taught. Instead, they’ve chosen to either go the private school route, or homeschool. They believe that the school should teach subject matters and not opinions.
In some regards, I agree with this. As someone who has taught a bit, both at the graduate and high school level, I’ve always believed that what I wanted to give students were the tools to think for themselves—my own opinions were irrelevant. In other words, kids should be taught HOW to think, not WHAT to think.
That said, teachers are not zombies. At least the good ones aren’t. Sometimes, their views, experiences, and personal lives do creep into the discourse. I had a not-particularly-beloved science teacher who liked the environment about humans and thought that they should not reproduce. I knew of his stance, but in no way had I considered adapting it. I also had an incredible English teacher who shared many personal anecdotes and had private (but never inappropriate) conversations with me. He gave me the confidence to pursue writing.
The truth is, kids of all ages are going to be exposed to many opinions and views—including some that might offend their parents. And while I think that teachers should avoid telling them what to think or creating spaces where only certain views are accepted, at certain points expressing a view is unavoidable. It’s part of being a human.
You cannot shelter kids from viewpoints. Instead, parents should arm their children with the tools to be independent and critical thinkers. If they are not being taught those skills at school, teach them at home. Teach them how to do research and to be cautious of accepting things at face value just because adults say them. If they are being taught Marxism, inspire them to look at other economic theories. If they are only being taught conservative values, have them look into other systems. That, to me, is the responsibility of a parent who fears indoctrination. Help your child become an intellectual powerhouse who can decide on things for themselves and who is capable of recognizing when certain information is missing. As a lifelong outsider, many of these things came naturally to me. But many were also passed on by my parental unit.
As a society, we’ve decided that there are certain fundamental things that are reflected in the curriculum. Even homeschooled kids have to meet certain milestones and criteria. These can and should be re-evaluated. If you compare a math textbook from the 80s vs one from 2022, you’ll be in for a bit of a shock. When it comes to history, there’s only so much time allocated — so which lessons are most important to learn? What books are appropriate for which ages? There’s no easy answers and I’m certain that school boards and teachers get it wrong often enough. That’s where parents can play an active role too.
At the same time, we do need some sort of cohesion. And there are things that some parents may prefer to teach their kids on their own — say, sex education. But, there are many parents who will never do that, or won’t do it in a non-judgement way where the child feels safe. There are parents who are too embarrassed to talk to their kids about such things. There are kids who are too embarrassed to talk to their parents. There are parents who may even be unsafe and abusive. That’s why the state does play a certain role in education on the more personal front too. Sort of in the way that the state might get involved when a child is being abused or isn’t getting proper food.
These things aren’t quite so binary as to always be wrong or always be right. As I’m especially sure that readers of this particular Substack know, life is full of greys and nuance. Together, we can work to figure out the path forwards—and re-adjust as needed. Life, as is the education system, is a work-in-progress.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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