Connor Boyack: Federal government tells parents they are inferior
Parents, ask yourself this question: who has stewardship over your child — you, or the government? Think it’s you? Apparently, the federal government disagrees.
In a draft policy statement jointly issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education, federal bureaucrats have — on their own initiative — subordinated parents to a secondary role in the rearing of their children. While the draft is neither finalized nor binding (yet), it serves as a clear shot across the bow of every freedom-loving parent who naively believes that his parenting principles, priorities and practices will be protected and respected by government.
The entire purpose of the 18-page statement is to explain, promote and bureaucratically implement what the departments call “family engagement.” This term sounds like something every good parent would inherently want, but here’s how the government defines it: “the systematic inclusion of families as partners in children’s development, learning and wellness.”
That’s right: the government is going to include you, the parent, as a partner in rearing your child. Are we supposed to thank it for this privilege?
Utah law stands at odds with the whim of these bureaucratic busybodies. Section 53A-15-1403 states that “a student's parent or guardian is the primary person responsible for the education of the student, and the state is in a secondary and supportive role to the parent or guardian.”
So, expect a conflict in the near future between this affirmation and the taxpayer-funded, highly organized and near-conspiratorial federal effort to intervene in your family’s life. While the departments’ policies provide “recommendations” to states and public schools and “highlight” resources made available to them, this will — as it always does — inevitably turn into mandates and threats.
The philosophical foundation for this aggressive intervention into family life was established centuries ago with the "parens patria" doctrine — Latin for “parent of the nation” — whereby government asserts the authority, as the ultimate parent, to intervene against an abusive or negligent parent in the interest of protecting the child.
The thinking behind this legal doctrine is evident in the federal government’s desire to regulate and manage parenting practices. The policy statement in question refers to the importance of Parent Training Information Centers and calls on schools to “conduct periodic home visits.” Noting that the “health and mental health” of parents plays a factor in “parenting and children’s outcomes,” the federal bureaucracy calls on government to “promot(e) their wellness alongside their children’s.”
Critics of the so-called “nanny state” are seeing their worst nightmare become reality.
Even worse, the feds are calling for a detailed database containing reports of “family engagement,” including assessments of the relationships between teachers and families. Be careful not to dissent or speak out too loudly — your “mental health” might be called into question, and by extension, your parenting. What might the government do to your child when that happens?
A large percentage of Americans support the government’s involvement in, and taxpayer subsidization of, the education of tens of millions of children each year. Proponents argue that an educated citizenry benefits us all, and therefore empowering government to discharge this duty is justified. Now, power-hungry government underlings have extended the logic of this argument to the role of parenthood itself.
Society benefits not only from educated children, they’ll say, but well-adjusted, mentally healthy, socially “normal” children as well. Thus we see the proverbial “camel’s nose in the tent” arguing that “family engagement” is a priority for which parents will be “included” as “partners.” Think Common Core is bad? It appears Common Parenting is on the horizon.
A well-known African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The federal government similarly states, “Raising the next generation is a shared responsibility.” Of course, in a proverbial village, the child is supported by caring and helpful neighbors who clearly recognize that the parents are in charge. The government may claim that parenting is a “shared responsibility,” but at the end of the day, they are parens patriae.
James Madison once wrote, “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it.”
Time will tell whether Utah parents have forgotten this foundational lesson — to object at the “first experiment” on the rights of parents to be primary providers and caretakers of their children.
Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute.
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