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Parental Rights in Education

The basis of our public advocacy for municipal and state cooperation and assistance lies in the principle of parental rights. Parents have the unalienable right and the solemn obligation to choose and ensure the proper form and nature of their children’s education, whether public, private or religious. This nation and state’s government properly work to assist parents in this regard through the provision of public education. Still, its role, despite the massive resources applied and the tremendous bureaucracy employed, must be and remain ancillary.

The Declaration of Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis) proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in October of 1965, accurately defines the Catholic view of parental rights in education and the responsibility the government shares in protecting such rights:

Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools. Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children…But it must always keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity so that there is no kind of school monopoly, for this is opposed to the native rights of the human person, to the development and spread of culture, to the peaceful association of citizens and to the pluralism that exists today in ever so many societies.

This perspective on parental rights in education also enjoys secular precedence. In 1925, the United States Supreme Court unanimously adjudicated the case of Pierce v. the Society of Sisters 268 US 510 (1925) by declaring unconstitutional an Oregon law that would have required all parents to send their children to government schools. In that decision the Justices stated:

The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State (emphasis added); those who nuture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

Parental rights in education are more than mere extensions of generational privilege. Parents, having conferred life on their children, inherit special responsibilities and seek to instill their family’s values, traditions, and religious beliefs in them. Neither the state, nor any agency nor person acting on its behalf, can possibly comprehend the myriad and unique factors parents consider in making educational decisions for their children: location, safety, curriculum, discipline, religious formation, teacher quality, and pedagogical philosophy all matter. Educational decisions made by parents on behalf of their children fulfill a proper and fitting role which ensures the integrity and vitality of the American family, the diversity of our society, and is even, ultimately, the foundation of our nation’s achievement. Their right to make those decisions must be emboldened: after all, the sublime power of parents’ love and dreams for their children dwarves any interest the state might have in any child’s education.

In addition, the true exercise of parental rights in education would engender serious and lasting advantages to New Hampshire’s business and public education communities. First, by fully supporting parental rights in education, the government would introduce free market principles and competition into what has become a stagnant, monopolized, and all-too-often failing educational system. The success embodied in the totality of our nation’s economic history underscored the tremendous advantages of free market competition. Through it work focuses on positive results, rather than mere institution-building, and sound economic development ensues. There is no reason to believe these same effects cannot be realized in the realm of education – public and nonpublic.

Secondly, a diverse, independent, and quality educational system, fueled by the private choices of parents, will produce a better educated, more responsible citizenry. The paramount importance of properly educating this nation’s children has been understandably lauded for over two centuries. It is time to bolster the rhetoric with credible reforms. Any real and lasting reform begins and ends with a parent’s right to determine the best educational opportunity for his or her children.