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Do Children Belong to the State?
The struggle for the hearts and minds of children.
By William Kilpatrick
William Kilpatrick is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His books include Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press), What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Press), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.
Do children belong to their parents or to the state? That was one of the central questions raised in the recent Virginia gubernatorial race. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party candidate started the debate when he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
The issue came to a head when parents in Loudoun County, Virginia loudly complained at school board meetings about the introduction of Critical Race Theory and transgender policies—policies that resulted in the rape of a 14-year-old girl by a boy wearing a skirt in the girl’s bathroom of a local high school.
In reaction, the left-leaning National School Board Association (NSBA) called such parents “domestic terrorists” and requested that the Department of Justice intervene to protect school boards from angry parents. In turn, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to look into the NSBA complaint.
But the NSBA’s complaint seemed to be that unless parents are quiet and compliant, they should be viewed as right-wing extremists. Although the letter gives lip service to encouraging “varying viewpoints,” it’s written in a self-righteous tone that portrays educators and school boards as heroic defenders of children, while parents who challenge the schools are a threat to children. Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that for the NSBA, what goes on in schools is none of a parent’s business.
Indeed, one of the complaints of the Loudoun parents had to do with the secretive nature of classroom activities. Not only was the school board covering up a sexual assault, they were also covering up radicalized curriculums dealing with sex education and transgenderism.
This habit of keeping parents in the dark actually goes back to the sixties and seventies. Critical Race Theory wasn’t being taught at the time, but curriculums often did include doctrinaire and explicit sex education units that were considered suitable for kids, but not for their parents. When parents asked to see the curriculum materials, they were consistently rebuffed, Moreover, the standard operating procedure was to tell each new set of complaining parents that no one else had ever complained about the curriculum.
G.K Chesterton once said that it ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people. But, somewhere in the middle of the twentieth-century, educators began to experiment with teaching the newest things to the youngest people. And all too often these newest things were simply the latest Intellectual fads coming out of universities: Margaret Mead’s “blue lagoon” approach to anthropology, Alfred Kinsey’s dubious research on sex, Sidney Simon’s relativistic approach to teaching values, and Carl Rogers dream of turning schools into therapy centers.
Now, it’s understandable that someone who has studied a certain area for years will assume that he knows more about that area than the average person. Most doctors assume they know more about medicine than you do. And most lawyers rightfully assume that they know more about the law than does the average Joe. But, when it comes to education, the subject area is your child and the development of his or her mind and character. Unfortunately, not a few educators have come to the conclusion that, because they have taken some courses in child psychology and human development, they know better than you what attitudes your child should adopt regarding sexuality, morality, and even politics and religion. Not that these teachers don’t care about the best interest of the child, but that their idea of the child’s best interest is often radically different from that of parents.
That’s because people who end up as teachers or principals, or school board members, or teacher’s union officials are exposed largely to left-leaning professors with left-liberal ideas about…. well, just about everything.
It’s no secret that the vast majority of universities lean to the left, but it’s less well-known that within the university, the departments that lean furthest left are education, sociology, and psychology. At least, that was the case a while back. Newer research would undoubtedly show that various kinds of diversity studies departments (e.g. “queer studies,” “whiteness studies”) now hold that honor. But since many of the diversity majors eventually make their way into teaching, that only increases the chances that your children will be educated by ideologues.
Since education has become very much the province of ideologues, a word is in order about ideology and ideologues. At its most basic level, an ideology is simply a system of interlocking ideas. An ideologue is someone who takes his ideology a bit too seriously and eventually comes to see everything that happens through the prism of his ideology.
The Oxford Dictionary defines an ideologue as “an adherent of an ideology especially one who is uncompromising and dogmatic.” The dictionary then provides a helpful example of how the word might be used—to wit, “a conservative ideologue.”
Ironically, that entry suggests that the author is most likely a liberal or leftist ideologue. Maybe the author meant to say “fascist ideologue” or “right wing ideologue.” But “conservative ideologue” is almost a contradiction in terms. With its emphasis on preserving lasting values and with its wariness of innovation, conservative thought does not lend itself to the construction of speculative ideological systems.
Thomas Sowell who has thought deeply about the subject, notes that philosophical systems or ideologies generally flow from a vision of human nature, and human purpose. Conservative philosophers (such as Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, and Russell Kirk) are inspired by a “constrained vision,” while liberal and leftist philosophers base their theories on an “unconstrained vision.”
According to Sowell, the unconstrained (utopian) vision assumes that human nature is essentially good and that man is morally perfectible. Moreover, human potential is unlimited and can best be actualized when social restraints such as those imposed by institutions, laws, traditions, and religions—are removed.
On the other hand, the constrained (tragic) vison assumes that human nature is flawed, and that human potential is limited both by the laws of nature and the imperfections of human nature. Those who subscribe to the constrained view argue that rather than trying to construct an ideal world, human beings would do better to accept the limits of the real world, and to work within those limits with the goal of improving the human condition, not perfecting it.
This short summary doesn’t do justice to Sowell’s discussion of the two visions, but it does suggest one thing—namely, that a conservative in the tradition of Burke, Hayek and Kirk is much less likely to be an ideologue, than a liberal who has been schooled in the unconstrained (or utopian) view. It also follows that educators will be more attracted than most to the utopian vision. Teachers—at least initially—tend to be idealists. Why else would they want to spend their days working with often unruly students, and their nights correcting homework and drawing-up lesson plans—and all for a fairly modest wage?
Because they are, for the most part, idealists, educators are prone to fall for utopian schemes which promise an ideal world once constraints are removed and human potential is unleashed. That’s why thinkers like Rousseau, Marx, and Mead, and their intellectual descendants appeal to academics in the field of education.
Idealism also explains why educators have such naïve notions about sex education. Since they tend toward the Rousseauian notion that people are naturally good, they also tend to believe that natural impulses and instincts can be trusted. The sixties slogan, “The kids are alright,” captures this trust in the essential OK-ness of young people
Not that idealist can’t be practical about some things. When they discovered that following natural instincts led to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, they added units on contraception, and disease prevention to the sex-ed curriculums. Of course, they never questioned their basic premise that young people have a right to recreational sex. And they never wondered if sex might have some deeper meaning connected to marriage, family, and society. After all, they are ideologues, and ideologues, as the Oxford Dictionary reminds us, are “uncompromising and dogmatic.”
Which brings us back to Virginia, and the dogmatic belief that boys who think they are girls have the right to use the girl’s bathroom. In a sense, it’s an idealistic idea. For some people, an ideal world is one in which everyone is free to be whatever they want—even if what they want is to be the opposite sex.
By necessity such extremist notions have to be made into dogmas. The more disconnected an idea is from reality, the more dogmatic its defense. It’s not up for discussion because all the smart people say it’s true. You have to believe it also and, if you don’t, you’d better keep it to yourself. Parents who protest transgender bathrooms and other reality-challenged projects of the left, are treated as if they are threats to national security.
And, by the logic of the left, such parents are also a threat to their own children. They stand in the way of the child reaching his or her full potential. The unconstrained vision demands that the child be…well, unconstrained. Consequently, in some cases, the state may feel obliged to step in and take custody of the child. Never mind that the child will now, in all probability, be more constrained than ever. It’s the ideology that counts. And the ideologues believe that, when all is said and done, children belong to the state.
To many, this may seem unprecedented—a strange idea that suddenly popped into the heads of strange people. But the notion that children are the property of the state has been a staple of communist ideology for over a century. Since communism is a purely materialistic philosophy, everyone is reduced to the level of an object, and since no one has the right to private property, it follows that children must belong to the state.
As our own society drifts more and more in the direction of communism (thanks in large part to educators) it shouldn’t be surprising that the communist idea that children belong to the collective is becoming fashionable among elites in America.
Indeed, the idea has been fashionable in some circles for quite a while—especially among educators. A few decades ago, in the middle of a discussion about over-the-top sex education in schools, I asked a class of undergraduates—most of whom were education majors—where parents got their authority over their children. What gives parents the right to set rules for their children, discipline them, and so forth? The students mulled it over for a while, and finally a hand went up. “The government?” suggested one student. Since no other hands were raised, I asked the class how many would agree that parents receive their authority from the government. This time, a great many hands went up—about 60 percent of those present.
The difference now is that many who agree that the government is in charge of child raising are not 19-year-old college students, but adults in positions of authority who can count on officials of the state to back up their dogmatic pronouncements.
But if parents don’t get their authority from the state, from whence does it come? From a traditional religious perspective, it comes from God. And from that perspective, children should learn, among other things, to be obedient to God and their parents. The “constrained” perspective is similar: parents have a natural authority over their children. They give the gift of life to children, as well as love, guidance, and nurturing. If the child “belongs” to anyone, he belongs to his parents. This is the natural order of things and it is widely accepted as such. For example, when a child misbehaves in public, most people think that it is the responsibility of his parents, not the school board, to correct his behavior. Parents derive their authority from God. Parents have a natural authority over their children. The two positions are not incompatible, and until our society suddenly went off the rails, one or both answers would have seemed obvious.
Now, these obvious and common-sense truths about family, along with obvious and common-sense truths about gender, have to be defended against people who in other days would have been dismissed as quacks or charlatans. Let’s hope the American people find the courage to resist and overcome these purveyors of unnatural idea—these self-anointed commissars.