Who Owns a Child?

What is the boundary between parental rights and state responsibility?  Even avowed libertarians will agree that at some point the state has an obligation to insure a child’s well-being. Difficulty arises in defining how closely the state can monitor that well-being and how the well-being is defined.  These definitions are not fixed.  Ideas about the rights of parents and children evolve.  Often, when the state steps in it does so in the name of the child, or at least that is the rationale given.  When the state fails to step in, it often takes this course out of respect for parental rights.  Unfortunately, both involvement and non-involvement can result in harm to the child.

Even if the discussion about parental rights were confined to the United States, it would quickly become apparent that there’s no universal agreement about where the state’s right to interfere in the home begins and ends.   While federal regulations exist that guide state child protection laws, interpretation of those laws varies from locality to locality.  For  example, the District of Columbia has several criteria for determining appropriate parenting.  One very specific regulation addresses the speed with which a newborn is collected from a hospital. If the child is left for “at least 10 calendar days” despite being medically fit for discharge, then the court might determine parental rights should be terminated.

The State of Georgia explicitly asserts that the preferred placement for a child is in the home:”…each child coming within the jurisdiction of the court shall receive, preferably in his or her own home, the care, guidance, and control that will be conducive to the child’s welfare and the best interests of the State…”

One parental prerogative on which every US state agrees is the right to inflict corporal punishment on children.  This right is exclusively reserved for parents in some states, while others allow corporal punishment to be inflicted by schools also.

Child welfare is something most people think they agree on.  However, ideas about child welfare vary from family to family, community to community.  At some point government steps in and decides when a child’s welfare has been endangered.  Communities decide on the boundary between government responsibility and parental rights.  Once the boundary is determined, a wide range of liberties may be affected.  It is hard to imagine every area where the boundaries might blur.  Certainly government is likely to assert an interest in custodial supervision, medical care and education. How that interest is expressed depends on where a family resides.  A guide to different rules in different states may be found in the publication: Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Many people don’t spend much time thinking about the ways government might intrude into family life. However, conflicts between government policy and family belief is not uncommon. This conflict may arise in families that decide to home school.  It may arise in families that decide not to vaccinate their children, or to forgo medical treatment.

Who owns a child?  All states to one degree or another are committed to protecting the welfare of children. It behooves a parent to understand the laws of the state in which the child resides, because ultimately, government is the final arbiter of where the boundary between parental right and government responsibility falls.

corporal punishment map

Common Core Values

A copy of the original Harvard College Charter, issued in 1650

There is no dearth of theories on how to educate children. Arguments about technique would be less fraught if everyone could agree on what constitutes a well-educated child. With a common goal in mind, people might willingly travel a common path. But paths diverge early in the education conversation, and the divergence generally centers around values.

Whenever the term ‘values’ is brought up people tend to become defensive, as though the values issue is a construct of the current contentious political scene. It is not. Values have always influenced curriculum.

There was a time, for example, when studying classics was the core curriculum in elementary school. This was a value-determined choice. The moral content of classics was considered to have a salubrious effect on children’s developing psyches.

The oldest universities in the US originally had religious affiliations or religious goals. Harvard was a divinity school for Puritans. William and Mary required all students to be members of the Church of England. Yale University from its earliest days had a close association with Puritanism.

This is a portrait of Cotton Mather, approximate year 1700. The artist was Peter Pelham. In 1703 Mather persuaded Elihu Yale to endow a new university–Yale. Mather believed Harvard had become too radical in its teaching. He wanted Yale to be a place where Puritan principles would be nurtured.

Values are, and always have been, an intrinsic part of education. That doesn’t mean religion has always been associated with schools; in some cases a determination to offer secular, or religion-free education has been a driving motivation. This choice is still an expression of values, the values of diversity, free expression and free association.

Today, as parents, educators and citizens in general try to sort the different educational theories, they must be clear that the discussion is not merely about methodology. Method, the path traveled to achieve a ‘good’ education, is shaped in part by the desired destination.

Do people want open-minded, adventurous citizens who question authority? Do they want obedient citizens who respect tradition and accept the wisdom of their leaders? Do they want technocrats and scientists who forge ahead without complicating work with consideration of consequences and moral content? Or, do people want schools to turn out cosmologists, visionaries who wonder about the unexplained, who ponder the boundaries of knowledge without foreseeing a specific utilitarian outcome?

These are value questions and they are not simple. When parents hand their children over to a school, they hope the school will impart values with which they are in agreement. When taxpayers turn over their money to support education, they want education to produce citizens that are acceptable to their values.

The US is a heterogeneous culture. Not only is the country ethnically diverse, but religious and social values are all over the map. It’s no wonder a tempest surrounds the introduction of the Common Core curriculum. Common Core is an attempt to homogenize education.  In a land founded by rebels, this is a hard sell.

A Book for Today and Tomorrow: Reflecting

Digital StillCamera  

The desire to memorialize one’s life, to put everything down in writing, tends to grow with age.  But many people do not feel up to the task of creating a book.  Reflecting is designed to enable these people to satisfy their very human impulse to remember, and to be remembered.
The inspiration for the project began with the misfortune of one woman. The woman had suffered a stroke; it seemed her ambition to put together a book that chronicled her life would never be realized.  But a way was found to see this ambition achieved.  Miscellaneous essays, poems and photos were collected. These were organized into an anthology, which was published.
The simple act of publishing cheered the author as no one and nothing had managed to do up to that point. The lesson learned was this: ministering to the body may be a doctor’s work but ministering to the heart may require attention of a different sort.
And so Reflecting was born. It grew out of the conviction that with guidance, just about anyone can write a book, and writing the book can be richly rewarding. The challenge was to design a template that would gently lead the novice author through different stages of recollection and recording. This template would have to be accessible, so that even individuals with limited function could follow its many small steps on  to crafting a cohesive document.
On its most basic level, the Reflecting template requires an individual to provide simple answers to simple questions.  In the aggregate these answers and questions will offer insight into the author’s life.  Photos, sprinkled throughout, will complement verbal responses.
At a more advance level, completion of Reflecting provides opportunity for explanation, exploration and illumination of an individual’s life.  And, at its most ambitious, Reflecting will be the foundation for a comprehensive, traditional memoir.
One of the most important goals of Reflecting is to encourage communication. Remembering a life need not be a solitary exercise. Family and friends can be drawn into stimulating conversations about events long forgotten. Moments that might have been spent in awkward silence can now be invested in completing the book. When it’s completed, the book will be a gift to all who participated in its creation, and to those who did not but are heir to the legacy described in its pages.