In light of the controversy over MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry’s comments questioning parents’ private right to raise their children, I want to highlight some remarks I made a few years ago on the same subject.
Harris-Perry’s comments came in the context of a promotion for her show, “Lean Forward”: “We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘these are our children,’” Harris-Perry said, “so part of it is we have to kind of break through our private idea of ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”
That is pure collectivism and requires rebuttal. A few years ago, in the context of a court decision that outlawed home schooling, I wrote an op-ed called “Your Child Is Not State Property” (print version here). Although the narrow political issue was not the subject of Harris-Perry’s comments, the fundamental principles at stake are the same, and worth repeating:
Neither the state nor “society as a whole” has any interests of its own in your child’s education. A society is only a group of individuals, and the government’s only legitimate function is to protect the individual rights of its citizens, including yours and your children’s, against physical force and fraud. The state is your agent, not a separate entity with interests that can override your rights.
. . . Parents are sovereign individuals whose right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness includes the right to control their child’s upbringing. Other citizens, however numerous or politically powerful, have no moral right to substitute their views on child-raising for those of the father and mother who created that child.
Instead, a proper legal system recognizes and protects parents’ moral right to pursue the personal rewards and joys of child-raising. At every stage, you have a right to set your own standards and act on them without government permission. This parental right to control your child’s upbringing includes the right to manage his education, by choosing an appropriate school or personally educating him at home.
This is the video version of the same op-ed: