| February 20, 2012

Parents ‘may think they know what’s best—but do they?’

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville warned that if despotism were to come to America, it wouldn’t be your garden-variety despotism. “It would be more extensive and milder, and it would degrade men without tormenting them.” He speaks of a “regulated, mild, and peaceful servitude” which “does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”

During a House Education Committee hearing in Michigan this month, one of the benevolent shepherds in the education establishment inadvertently revealed what many educators think of we the sheeple:

Ms. Squires doubtless would be surprised to learn that parents, in addition to knowing what’s best for their children, in many cases actually educate children better than the educators themselves. As Milton Friedman observed, the explosive growth of homeschooling is “evidence of the failure of our current education system. There is no other complex field in our society in which do-it-yourself beats out factory production or market production. Nobody makes his or her own car. But it still is the case that parents can perform the job of educating their children, in many cases better than our present education system.”

Even if parents don’t choose to do the teaching themselves, they are quite capable of choosing good schools for their children. But many education “professionals,” especially administrators, tend to look down their noses at parents, who, after all, are mere “amateurs.” These professionals have forgotten that the word “amateur” traces to the Latin amāre (“to love”), and that amateurs are people whose actions are motivated by love rather than something else. People motivated by love make it their business to “know what’s best” for the objects of their affection.

Still, the condescension persists, and not just in Michigan. In 2010 I watched from the House gallery as the Oklahoma state representative from District 3—a former school principal and superintendent from Arkoma, Oklahoma—took to the House floor to argue against a bill which would give more school choices to parents of special-needs students.

In some cases, the benevolent solon from LeFlore County magnanimously allowed, mothers and fathers “know what’s best for their child.” Yes indeed, in some cases, mothers and fathers are actually “very good in making decisions about their child.” But in other cases, he warned darkly, “I’ve seen students with disabilities where the parents had disabilities also. Are they really the ones that ought to be making the decision about where that child goes?”

Now one can only speculate as to what’s going on in Arkoma, what reproductive practices and resultant disorders are fueling this multi-generational cycle of unreliable decision-making. I find it difficult to believe it’s a widespread problem. And I find it difficult to believe I’m the only Oklahoman who resents the paternalistic impulses of a politician (Tocqueville warned of “an immense tutelary power” which would take charge of watching over us)—especially a politician who once superintended a school district where the math achievement of the average student is at the 12th percentile relative to an international comparison group.

Many education professionals don’t want parents to have the opportunity to choose what’s best for their children. Because given a choice, these amateurs may well head for the exits of their local public school. And “I don’t think we need to open the door, to just throw it wide open,” this lawmaker said. After all, parents “may think they know what’s best—but do they?”

Well, one has to admire the candor. But this does leave me with one very important question. If the parents of House District 3 aren’t capable of choosing a good school for their children, how can they be trusted to choose a competent official to represent them in the Oklahoma House of Representatives?

[Adapted in part from an earlier post on Choice Remarks]

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