“We should give parents more choice about where and how their children are educated.” “Whose children are they? These statements and others like them heralded the emergence of a powerful parent’s rights movement in Connecticut and across the country.
With a seemingly appealing slogan, the Parents’ Rights Movement is a well-funded network of national organizations whose ultimate goal is to enable any parent to get a check from the government to send their child to the school of their choice. It simply means that parents who have money will send their children to private schools.
As the amount of the voucher is certain not to be enough to cover the full cost of schooling, other parents will be forced to send their children either to low-budget private schools or to crowded-out public schools. Students with disabilities will remain in public schools to obtain necessary services.
The movement has cut its teeth spreading lies: critical race theory is somehow part of social-emotional learning; school health centers encourage young children to experiment with sex or to question their gender; public schools teach children X-rated sexual activities. These canards have succeeded in putting school administrators on the defensive and, in the longer term, tend to degrade the quality of public education.
Connecticut has a long and strong history of supporting public education. The Connecticut Code of 1650 lists two principles that remain the foundation of Connecticut’s education system today. First, the state has a duty to oblige parents to educate their children. Second, public money, raised through taxes, should be used to pay for education. The educational reform movement of the mid-1800s was led by New England individuals, including Horace Mann, Catharine Beecher, and Henry Barnard. They argued for common schools to equip every child with moral instruction and equalize the conditions of citizens. Indeed, the oldest educational publication in America is the Connecticut Common School Journal, which was first published in August 1838.
One of the primary objectives of common schools in 1838 and public education in 2022 is to foster the development and vitality of a civil society. Public education is one of the very few experiences that almost all members of society have. While attending public schools, students learn to deal with others in their community as individuals. They learn to accept and respect differences of opinion, color, ethnicity, creed and sexuality. While Connecticut has been largely balkanized into rich and poor, black and white, Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon cities, the concepts of shared experience and embracing diversity remain the foundation of public education.
The parent rights movement seeks to destroy this pattern. Using age-old tropes of gender and race, he seeks to separate students. It aims to reassure parents that their children are not exposed to “dangerous” elements. It seeks to perpetuate the acute divisions that now exist in society.
The parent rights movement also works to undermine the professionalism of our educators. The movement asserts that parents are as well equipped to determine the curriculum as professional educators are. The movement is enraged by the program which highlights the crucial and devastating role slavery played in American history. The movement does not tolerate sex education.
The movement adopted the slogan “Whose Children Are They?” It’s an intriguing question. Although I have custody and responsibility for my child, society places certain limits on what I can do with my child. On the one hand, I cannot sell my child into slavery. On the other hand, Section 10-184 of the Connecticut General Statutes states that “All parents and custodians of children shall bring them up in lawful and honest employment and instruct them or cause them to be taught to read, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic, and United States history and citizenship, including a study of municipal, state, and federal governments.
Indeed, Connecticut’s statutes and 370-year-old history make it clear that they are all our children; that we, as a society, have a great interest in each child becoming a caring, concerned and educated citizen. Parents are an essential part of this effort, but they do not and cannot have exclusive control over what and how their child learns.
Parents have rights, but society has an obligation to ensure a civilized future. Society fulfills this obligation by providing compulsory public education.
Andrew Feinstein is an attorney with the Feinstein Education Law Group at Mystic.