Who Owns the Children?

Do parents own their children?  Does the government?

A recent MSNBC promo has put this perennial conservative issue back in the headlines.  Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and others have denounced the sentiments of the ad.

Yesterday conservative pundit Glenn Beck accused liberal-leaning MSNBC of finally exposing their “radical goals” to steal children from parents.  The plan all along, Beck argues, has been for “progressives” to seize government control of the most intimate family decisions.

The specific MSNBC promo to which Beck objected contained this ideological smoking gun:

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.

This thirty-second promo by Melissa Harris-Perry contains the proof that liberals want to take children away from their parents and raise them in dysfunctional public schools.  His fears, Beck insisted, had been proven right by this “terrifying” video.  Though he recognized he might be called a “conspiracy theorist,” Beck insisted that this short video contained all the proof he needed of a vast left-wing plot to steal children into indoctrination centers.

Sarah Palin chimed in too, tweeting that MSNBC’s notion that children don’t belong to parents was “Unflippingbelievable.”

Rush Limbaugh predicted that soon children could be forced to mow everyone’s lawns, not just their own.  This notion, Limbaugh concluded, was as “old as communist genocide.”

The idea that “progressives” have set their sights on sneakily seizing control of America’s children has long ideological roots.

Back in the 1970s, for example, the influential conservative activists Mel and Norma Gabler asked fundamental questions about the nature of the textbooks under consideration in their home state of Texas:

To WHOM does the child belong?  IF students now belong to the State, these books are appropriate.  IF students still belong to parents, these books have absolutely no place in Texas schools.  The author clearly states that these books are designed to change the behavior, values, and concepts of the child, based on the premise that the teacher is NOT to instruct, but to moderate, and to ‘heal.’ [Gablers, What Are They Teaching Our Children, pg. 119]

Similarly, Connie Marshner, affiliated at the time with the Heritage Foundation, argued in 1978, “A parent’s right to decide the direction of his child’s life is a sovereign right, as long as the child is subject to his parent.  Educators have no business creating dissatisfaction with and rebellion against parental wishes” (Connie Marshner, Blackboard Tyranny, pg. 38).

But such notions go back much further in the conservative consciousness.  One leading conservative activist in 1951 Pasadena warned a state senate investigating committee that the root cause of public school problems was “a definite elimination of parental authority, undermining of parental influence.”

And back in the 1920s, the US Supreme Court ruled that parents had a right to educate their children in private schools if they chose.  The reason, the court ruled in Pierce vs. Society of Sisters (1925), is that “The child is not the mere creature of the state.”

Beck’s, Palin’s, and Limbaugh’s outrage are nothing new.  Conservative activists have long been convinced of a far-reaching plot to substitute state control of children for that of parents.


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  1. I wish we would stop using this language of ownership. Children don’t belong to anyone, and the insistence of some on the Right that they do is clearly wrong. It implies that a human being can be property, and society realised that wasn’t quite right a long time ago.

    Someone has to be responsible for children. Clearly, most of the time, the parents are best placed to do this, but not always. What if there were unequivocal evidence that a child had been repeatedly raped by her parents? Surely, in that situation, even Rush Limbaugh would agree it is right to intervene. And that’s because, to some extent, society does have a responsibility for the welfare of children. The argument is over how far that responsibility extends. Talk of ownership does nothing to help.

  2. The right-wing-nuts would get their shorts in a bind in Germany where is it illegal to home school children. The state’s thinking is that every child deserves a basic education with known content which often would not happen in many home schools. Of course, the German public school system is quite superior to the US system – IMHO.

  3. It’s not just Germany, it’s in the UK now too. I was very involved in right wing politics before Oblamer’s re-election, but when he was re-elected I was so stunned and upset that I completely stopped even reading the news anymore. I’ve since realized my error and have been slowly getting back into it. I know it was quite a while ago (before his re-election), but I distinctly remember reading that the UK was making moves to shut down home-schooling. Considering that the public schools are a bastion of leftist ideology, I think you’re very correct in saying we’d have our “shorts in a bind”. I just thank God every day that I no longer have kids in school.
    I gotta admit though, that these blurbs from the right-wingers are embarrassing. I mean, good grief, what she said was alarming, but they really are taking it way too far. They’re making fools of themselves, and of those who are associated with them. I even took Mrs. Palin off of my “friend” lists, for just that reason. She really is making mountains out of molehills.

  1. They’re Coming for your Children | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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