Sunday, 27 July 2008

Who is responsible for teaching children?

I start from what I believe is an indisputable principle, namely that parents are responsible (in the causative sense) for creating children and, therefore, they are responsible (in the legal and social sense) for bringing-up those children.

We all know that some parents are simply not up to the task of rearing children and that others encounter difficulties they do not have the capacity to overcome without help. Society must make a choice between upholding the sanctity of parental responsibility and intervening, by compulsion if necessary, to try to cure or alleviate problems. In past generations it was the grandparents, aunts and uncles, or village elders who would step in to fill the void and such interventions still happen very often. Where there is no other option the organs of the State have residual powers including, in extreme cases, forced removal of children and their placing for adoption. The role of the State should always, in my opinion, be one of last resort. That does not mean there is no place for experienced nurses or social workers to give advice to an expectant mother where the signs are that she might not be able to cope when the baby arrives, but it does mean that compulsory intervention should be limited to situations in which there is both a real problem and a real chance that the State can make things better.

It is noticeable, however, that the growth of State services over the last 50 years has led to many believing that the State is primarily responsible for certain aspects of rearing children. I believe this to be a fundamental misconception, a misconception seen most vividly in the field of education. If you were to ask 100 people in the street who is responsible for educating children I guess a majority would say the State. This is not so, parents are responsible for educating their children just as they are for housing, feeding and clothing them.

The State's proper involvement in education is two-fold. First, in its capacity as the mechanism through which we seek to maintain certain standards, the State has a role in laying-down a minimum standard for education. In this role its position is the same as in law enforcement, we have certain collective standards which the law upholds (not to kill, not to steal, not to assault and so on) and the State enforces these standards by prosecuting and punishing offenders. Giving children a basic education is another standard which we adopt collectively because accumulated wisdom tells us it is beneficial for all. The only collective mechanism through which we can enforce that standard is the State, so the State must have the power to step in where children are not being educated to a proper standard.

The second role of the State is to provide schooling but in this respect the proper role of the State is limited. Where parents can provide education at home (either themselves or by the use of tutors) there can be no objection to them doing so provided the standard of that education does not fall below the national minimum standard. Similarly, where parents pay for their children to attend privately run schools the State's only role is as enforcer of a national minimum standard. It must be accepted that the vast majority of parents cannot afford private education for their children and do not have the means or the time to educate their children at home, so we all pay taxes and we delegate to the State the role of providing formal education. It must always be borne in mind, however, that the State is simply acting as delegate, it does not provide schools because it has an innate duty to do so, it provides them because we pay an element of our taxes in order to pay for that service. The mere fact that the State provides the vast majority of school in the UK does not give it primary responsibility for education, that duty rests first last and always on parents.

To suggest, as is done regularly by dinosaurs of the political left, that parents should not be allowed to pay for their children's education or to teach their children at home it to say that the State bears primary responsibility for children. This relegates parents to the role of servants of the State. Government is always at its best when it is reminded constantly, and with penalties for recalcitrance, that it is the servant of the people.

1 comment:

fewqwer said...

AFAIK, the National Curriculum started life as a 'minimum standard', and look what happened to that.

IMHO there is certainly a necessity for meme control, to stop pernicious memes like political Islam from taking hold, but I'm not sure how such control can be implemented without introducing an even greater vulnerability.

State intervention in education is obviously an irresistible temptation to radicals of all stripes, particularly leftists and religious nuts.