A teacher once said to me, “You and I are in a partnership in educating your daughter.” This well-meaning man could not have more challenged me if he had held a gun to my head. My response, without hesitation and without blinking was, “You are not my partner in anything. You are my servant to execute my directions in her education. That is non-negotiable.” This confrontation occurred in a good classical Christian school, a place where people should know better. The event arose out of my disagreement with the teacher’s approach in teaching the book of Esther in the Bible. After some discussion, we ultimately agreed to disagree on his view of the book. We did not disagree ultimately on what he would teach my daughter. He followed my instruction.
What is it about educators that makes them think that they have the right to dictate how children are to be taught? In the debate over Common Core, that is most certainly the attitude being portrayed by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). But why? There seems to be no more natural proposition in the world than that children belong to their parents. This is certainly the expectation of Blackstone and the English common law.
Blackstone and the English common law have much to say about the relationship of parents and children. “And, first, the duties of parents to legitimate children: which principally consist in three particulars; their maintenance, their protection, and their education.”
Regarding the duty of maintenance, Blackstone and the English common law observe the natural law of affection between parents and children.
The municipal laws of all well-regulated states have taken care to enforce this duty: though Providence has done it more effectually than any laws, by implanting in the breast of every parent that natural στοργη, or insuperable degree of affection, which not even the deformity of person or mind, not even the wickedness, ingratitude, and rebellion of children, can totally suppress or extinguish.
But regarding the duty of education, Blackstone observes the following:
The last duty of parents to their children is that of giving them an education suitable to their station in life: a duty pointed out by reason, and of far the greatest importance of any. For, as Puffendorf very well observes, it is not easy to imagine or allow, that a parent has conferred any considerable benefit upon his child by bringing him into the world, if he afterwards entirely neglects his culture and education, and suffers him to grow up like a mere beast, to lead a life useless to others, and shameful to himself. Yet the municipal laws of most countries seem to be defective in this point, by not constraining the parent to bestow a proper education upon his children. Perhaps they thought it punishment enough to leave the parent, who neglects the instruction of his family, to labour under those griefs and inconveniences which his family, so uninstructed, will be sure to bring upon him. Our laws, though their defects in this particular cannot be denied, have in one instance made a wise provision for breeding up the rising generation: since the poor and laborious part of the community, when past the age of nurture, are taken out of the hands of their parents, by the statutes for apprenticing poor children, and are placed out by the public in such a manner, as may render their abilities, in their several stations, of the greatest advantage to the commonwealth.
There are several salient points to make regarding this discussion. First, the beauty of the English common law is its desire to engage the natural law, those traditions and characteristics of man that transcend popular fads. English common law did not change with popularity, but with established truth. So Blackstone’s expression of the common law takes on a character of moral ethics.
Second, you will note that the English common law equated “culture and education.” I have made this point before. You can verify that connection, here.
Third, consistent with the tenor of moral ethics, Blackstone observed the time honored truth that, as a general principle, parents have a primal instinct to love their children, which is naturally superior to any other non-covenantal relationship. It is superior to that of any teacher and certainly superior to any school board or governmental entity. Therefore, they are, by nature, most adequately equipped and motivated to do what is best for their children. And believe it or not, they are most adequately equipped and motivated to know what is best for their children. All you have to do is give them the chance to do it.
Fourth, the English common law did make a place for the commonwealth in education. Blackstone described it as a function of providing for the poor. The commonwealth had the role of taking the poor children out of the hands of their parents and putting them to the greatest advantage of the commonwealth. This is only natural, again, an expression of the nature of mankind. Those with authority over people will always seek to put those under their authority to the greatest advantage of the authority.
This is why DESE has the attitude they have. It is within their nature. They are the experts. They have been given authority by the state to execute the good of the state, and they must exercise that authority to achieve the good of the state. To deny them that natural attitude is to deny them their role.
If public schools were as they were originally designed to be, the help for the poor and needy, it might be possible to keep this natural tendency within limits. If public school administrators had the understanding they were there to provide a mercy to those who needed it most, there would be a natural understanding that they were filling a second best alternative to those who were best equipped to provide education, the parents.
Unfortunately, that is not the situation today. Public education is the paradigm of all things in our culture. It has been that way for generations. That was my paradigm growing up. I was educated in the public school system. There is very little to challenge that paradigm these days. But under that paradigm, there is no logical limit to public school administrator’s expectation of authority. The public expects them to execute their function, and if their goal is to be achieved, they must fulfill that goal for the good of the state.
So as the Common Core debate develops, don’t be surprised when public school administrators naturally seeks to fulfill their primary function. As they do, you should expect them to tell you not to help your child. You should expect them to tell you that you do not know what is best for your child. The only question for you is, do you believe them. Are you willing to put them to the greatest advantage of the state? Or do you have something better for them?