Is it a crime to keep young people isolated from the wider community? To teach them nothing that will allow them to thrive as independent adults?
From Frimet Goldberger in the Jewish Daily Forward we hear accusations that Hasidic communities in Ontario perpetrate educational crimes on their own children. She shared a disturbing video in which a journalist asked young men basic questions. Do you know the name of the Prime Minister? The names of Canadian provinces? Do you know anything about Canadian history? The parts of the body?
The students, all apparently members of the Lev Tahor community—a group of about 40 families—did not seem to understand much about what they were being asked. Most of the difficulty seemed related to their lack of English language skills. But the boys did not seem able to answer in Hebrew, either. One student, for example, asked to explain what he had learned about biology, explained haltingly that it is not healthy to jump too much right after eating.
The Lev Tahor community faces more serious challenges, too. Some of the members are on the run from Canadian police, facing charges of child neglect and abuse. Goldberger asks the question we want to hear: Does failing to teach children English or French count as abuse? As Goldberger puts it, “These boys are lacking the basic language tools to take one step out of the community, to communicate with anyone outside their community.”
The United States has long wrestled with these questions, too. Most notably, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1971’s Wisconsin v. Yoder that dissenting parents had the right to remove their children from public school. These days, accusations of abuse in the growing homeschooling community have prompted calls for more government oversight.
Does a dissenting community have the right to restrict their children’s future? If so, how can the wider society make any claims to regulate religious schooling? And if not, who gets to decide what knowledge (or lack of knowledge) constitutes a limit? Is young-earth creationism a limit on children’s futures? Is a belief in faith healing?