Shortly after I wrote a response (here) to Dr. Harris-Perry’s comments that children should belong to the collective community rather than their parents, I received a phone call asking if I seriously took Harris-Perry’s comments literally. Does she really advocate removing children from the home and installing them in a State institution?
Short answer: Literally, physically, personally, herself? No. The school bus does that for her.
Ideologically, really, and actually: Yes. Compulsory schooling that began in Massachusetts in 1840 initiated, as far as I can tell, the trend toward government intervention in and control over families and parenting. These include (but are not limited to) child labor, child abuse/neglect, medical treatment, car seats/seat belts, etc. along with countless regulations in every industry remotely connected with children. You may favor all of these. So why do I have a problem with Harris-Perry’s comments?
Elaborated answer: First, Mirriam Webster defines collectivism as “a political or economic theory advocating collective control over production and distribution.” Harris-Perry’s comments are not really about education at all, but power and money, politics and economics. They gain the control over the children and the production and distribution of a particular type of education, I lose my kids and my money.
Second, she claims that children belong to whole communities. Humans, who may exhibit a herd mentality at times, are best equipped psychologically and emotionally to function as part of a small, intimate group such as a family provides.¹ That includes an innate compulsion to belong – perhaps part of the survival instinct. Parents are endowed with an intense, natural protectivist impulse and children require a stable, consistent, caring environment for healthy cognitive, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual growth. Children belong to families, in homes.
The cozy, comfortable reference to community is progressive-speak for State, which is what she means. Harris-Perry is saying that the State should be given ultimate control over what children learn, how, from whom, when, and where, with no cost – or other – restraints. None of this pesky, private, parent interference.
What is alarming is that Harris-Perry is only one voice in a cacophony calling for control. Her view is consistent with James Dwyer, who “challenges parental rights in their entirety” (p. 1371), with his claim that “parental rights constitute the greatest legal obstacle to government intervention to protect children from harmful parenting practices” (p. 1372), and that the parental “’right’ to control the life of another contravenes the legal and moral commitments of the liberal state” (see Hamilton, p. 1082) .
This perspective is also supported by J. C. Blokhius’ claims that children are born to both parents and the state, but the state has priority, and Catherine Ross’ argument that “the state’s interest in educating children for life in a pluralist democracy trumps any asserted parental liberty interest in controlling their children’s education” (p.992).
Vivian Hamilton, like Harris-Perry, laments that “the state at best squanders opportunities to more effectively advance its ends with respect to immature citizens [i.e., children]; and at worst, fails to meet its most basic obligations to them” (p. 1055). This refrain reverberates across the liberal landscape in phrases such as “compelling state interests,” “common good,” “social capital,” “parens patrie” (the State is the parent) and “reasonable state regulation.”
Depending on your worldview, it’s difficult to tell who makes the worst parent, the State or the father and mother!
In proclaiming the supremacy of State control over children – especially the formation of their identity and perspective – there is harsh criticism for those who refuse public education. Robin West decries the harm parents will do their own children, including creating ethical servility, “a failure to mature morally beyond the recognition of…obedience” (p. 10).
And, since alternative learning paths may pose a threat to democracy, parents who teach their children at home must provide the rest of us, insists Robert Reich, with “an assurance that children are exposed to and engaged with ideas, values, and beliefs that are different from those of the parents,” such as schools provide (p. 16).
There is a minimum, but no upper, limit at which the state must regulate education, maintains Kimberly Yuracko, because parental control flows from the state to the parent, not vice versa. Chris Lubienski is critical of “a system in which parents make a decision without considering the common good” (p. 212).
These writers, like Harris-Perry and Michael Apple,² are PhDs and educators. Given their opinion of families, Sara Lightfoot’s observation is no surprise. Thirty-five years ago, she wrote that schools are “intent upon excluding families from school life. They seem to want to establish an exclusive, isolated environment, free from the intrusions of parents” (Lightfoot, p. 8). ³
Is Harris-Perry serious may be the wrong question. How serious she and others are is a matter of death for families.
¹Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.
²Apple, M.W. (1985). Education and Power. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Dr. Apple supplies a significant insight into the Marxist theory foundation of public schools. Free, public education is one of the ten points of the Communist Manifesto for a reason.
³Lightfoot, S.L. (1978). Worlds Apart: Relationships between families and schools. New York: Basic Books, Inc.