I have remarked before on some of the ways that typical home educators in America differ from many of those in this country. I want to look today at this in the light of a fundamental difference in viewpoint, a difference which I find a little disturbing. This is the emphasis place in the USA on the rights of parents, as though these rights were somehow different from and in some ways opposed to the rights of children. I have been thinking about this because of the names on the application to the European Court of Human Rights which is being made in connection with Dominic Johansson. The representatives named are Ruby Harrold-Claesson, Roger Kiska and Michael Farris. All three of these people are strong advocates of parental rights.
Perhaps the main strand in American home education is that of Christians who choose not to send their children to school. They tend to achieve excellent academic results because the main motivation for educating their own children is in fact education. There is another reason that they choose this lifestyle and that is that they often feel that schools are attacking the family and taking away or diminishing the rights of parents. The perception here is that the family should be the basic unit of society and that the state should not be involved except as a last resort. The Bible of course sets out the family as the ideal way for people to live and this means one man and one woman raising their children together. They are answerable to God, but nobody else. I tend to agree with this view in many ways: certainly one of the motivations for educating my own child was religious.
In Europe, the trend is for the emphasis to be on the rights of the child. This means that from the modern European perspective, if a parent wishes to spank a child or take her to church, for example, these things must only happen with the consent of the child. many feel that this is harming the structure of the family, that it means that the state is intruding into the family and getting between the parent and child. This is a big issue for American home educators at the moment, because they are worried about the implications of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. This would, if ratified in the USA, outlaw corporal punishment and allow children to refuse to follow their parents' religion. It is also bound up with the idea of sex education and gun ownership in the USA, both very hot topics.
I was surprised to see that people who are very active in this campaign against implementing the UNCRC on the papers for the European Court of Human Rights. Obviously, one connection is that both they and the Johanssons are Christians. This would give a powerful motive for helping a Christian family who are fighting state interference in their family life. I wonder though if this case is also being used by the American groups as a way of fighting against the idea of the erosion of Parents' rights as they see them? Again, there would be nothing wrong with this as such, but it is something which I would like to know a little more about.
The problem which I have with the American perspective on all this is the same that many have in Europe. Children have rights. They have a right not to be beaten or starved, they have a right not to be sexually abused, they have a right to their own religious beliefs. This is the legal situation in Europe, not some abstract principle. If I were to compel my child to follow my own religion or wished to hit her, then I would be on dubious ground from several points of view. Not the least of these is that I do not believe for a moment that the Bible enjoins me to ride roughshod over my child's rights. In other words, the idea that my daughter's rights could ever have been opposed to mine is absurd, both from a legal and religious point of view. Proverbs 22:6 says, 'raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it'. I took this instruction quite literally and felt it my duty to teach my own child. My duty, by the way, not my right. I also believed that as Proverbs 1:7 says, 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom'. For that reason, I felt that I had a duty to teach my child about God and to help her to become familiar with the Bible. Again, this was a duty. I did not have a right to impose my own belief upon her or force her to attend church.
It is this distinction between duties and rights that seems to be so very hard for many people to grasp. In the USA home educators are pretty sure of the matter: parents have rights and these take precedence over the supposed rights of the state when it comes to their children. Have a look at a group founded by Michael Farris called parentalrights.org and you will find that even the right of parents to allow their children access to firearms if being firmly defended!
I never supposed for a moment when my daughter was small that I had any rights at all over her. She is a human being; nobody owns another person. I had instead duties which I was required to fulfil. Some of those duties were laid upon me by the state, but other and greater duties had been given to me by the Lord. Among these duties were to teach her right from wrong and try to help her become wise. It was a pretty raw deal really, because all I had was a big bunch of duties and no rights. When she was little, my daughter had many rights but no duties. Things change though as a child grows and she also gradually acquired duties. The idea that parents' 'rights' should have any role at all in the debate on home education is a very strange one and I hope that the Johansson case is not the start of some sort of campaign of this sort. It is because of the implications of this case and due to the fact that people like the Alliance Defense Fund and the HSLDA are becoming involved in the affair that I felt that I had a right to express an opinion about this . I feel pretty strongly about this distinction between rights and duties and if there is going to be any debate about the rival merits of parents' rights and children's rights then I would like to see it take place openly.