Homeschooling Is A Human Right, But That Doesn’t Make It Immune To Regulation

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Homeschooling Is A Human Right, But That Doesn’t Make It Immune To Regulation, By Nicholas Bolzman

HA note: Nicholas Bolzman blogs at Looking for Overland, a joint blog project “authored by three friends who met at Patrick Henry College and then worked together at the Home School Legal Defense Association.” Nicholas Bolzman received his JD from Michigan State University College of Law last spring and is a graduate of Patrick Henry College.

In a recent post, Ryan made the case that homeschooling is not a human right and, as a result, state regulation of homeschooling (or even outright prohibition, as in Germany), does not amount to a violation of human rights. As much as I have been appreciating his examination of homeschooling culture, in this instance I disagree with his analysis. When I posted a truncated version of this on Facebook, he asked if I could expand it.

Ryan uses the example of the right to travel, which is a basic right, and contrasts that with the right to travel by horse, which is not a basic human right. He then equates homeschooling as the right to travel by horse, which is different, he argues, than the basic recognized right. In his argument, the former does not include the latter.

This analogy requires further examination. If the right to travel is a human right, then the exercise of that right (such as by horse, or by boat, or by car) would be likewise protected. Or, to use a parallel argument from American law, Ryan’s argument is like saying that since the First Amendment doesn’t mention blogging, government censorship would not violate the First Amendment.

Absent protections of specific methods of exercising rights, the abstract right does no one any good.

Ryan also included a discussion of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he cited as authority for the child’s right to an education. However, his analysis only lightly brushed on part 3 of Article 26, which explicitly endorses the right of parents to direct their child’s education. Article 26 in its entirety reads:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

The context for this third provision is particularly interesting, especially given the question of homeschooling in Germany. Johannes Morsink, professor or of Political Philosophy at Drew University, explains the history of that very provision in his book The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent:

Article 26 (on education) is one of the articles most clearly shaped by the experience of [WWII]. This article has three paragraphs, a nuts-and-bolts paragraph that is a standard constitutional item, a goal-and-purpose paragraph, and a paragraph that gives parents a prior right in deciding what kind of education their children shall have. The second and third paragraphs were put in the article as a way of condemning what Hitler had done to Germany’s youth and of making sure that it would never happen again….

The War Crimes Report that the Secretariat had drawn up for the Human Rights Commission explained to the delegates, as if they needed to be told, that “‘in order to make the German people amenable to their will and to prepare them psychologically for war,’ the Nazis reshaped the educational system and particularly the education and training of German youth, imposed a supervision of all cultural activities, and controlled dissemination of information and the expression of opinion within Germany as well as the movement of Intelligence of all kinds from and into Germany.” The second and third paragraphs of Article 26 were written in direct reaction and opposition to this Nazi abuse of state power. Paragraph 2 of the article states: “Education shall be directed to the full development of human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

The first draft of Article 26, paragraph 2 was placed on the drafting table by Bienenfeld of the World Jewish Congress because his organization felt that there was a need to spell out both the goals and the spirit of educational institutions so as to avoid all kind of brainwashing the Nazi state had engaged in. Article 26’s third paragraph was added for the same reasons. Both the Dutch and the Lebanese delegations submitted amendments about parental rights. It being the shortest one, the Lebanese amendment was adopted after a vigorous discussion. The defense again was that the Nazis had usurped the prerogative of parents when they demanded that all children enroll in poisoned state-controlled schools, the paragraph was especially necessary because the word “compulsory” had been used in the first paragraph. [internal citations omitted]

Citing Morsink, Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon also made the same point in her book on the Universal Declaration.

Given this explicit wording and direct context to compulsory attendance laws, it is difficult to say that Article 26 does not permit parents to opt out of said compulsory attendance laws and seek alternative forms of providing for their children’s education.

Those alternative methods would include homeschooling.

Furthermore, similar wording identifying this prior right of parents appears in other human rights treaties. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art 18(4), states that “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13(3) declares “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

Even the oft-criticized Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 29(2) cautions that no educational goals “shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.”

All of these, while recognizing the authority of the state to set minimum standards, protect the rights of parents, either individually or collectively, to determine the methods of education for their children.

The government’s role is secondary—to ensure that the parents fulfill their obligation to the children; but the obligation (and corresponding ability) is first and foremost on the parents. In this sense, they resemble Blackstone’s description of parental responsibilities and rights in education.

The last duty of parents to their children is that of giving them an education suitable to their station in life: a duty pointed out by reason, and of far the greatest importance of any. For, as Puffendorf very well observes, it is not easy to imagine or allow, that a parent has conferred any considerable benefit upon his child by bringing him into the world, if he afterwards entirely neglects his culture and education, and suffers him to grow up like a mere beast, to lead a life useless to others, and shameful to himself. Yet the municipal laws of most countries seem to be defective in this point, by not constraining the parent to bestow a proper education upon his children.

* * *

The power of parents over their children is derived from the former consideration, their duty: this authority being given them, partly to enable the parent more effectually to perform his duty, and partly as a recompense for his care and trouble in the faithful discharge of it. And upon this score the municipal laws of some nations have given a much larger authority to the parents than others. The ancient Roman laws gave the father a power of life and death over his children; upon this principle, that he who gave had also the power of taking away. But the rigour of these laws was softened by subsequent constitutions; so that we find a father banished by the emperor Hadrian for killing his son, though he had committed a very heinous crime, upon this maxim, that “patria potestas in pietate debet, non in atrocitate, consistere.” But still they maintained to the last a very large and absolute authority: for a son could not acquire any property of his own during the life of his father; but all his acquisitions belonged to the father, or at least the profits of them, for his life.

Notice how both Blackstone and the human rights documents connect the parental power to parental responsibility, placing responsibility first. A failure of the responsibility can certainly lead to a forfeiture of the power, but that failure must be demonstrated before the forfeiture takes place.

Consequently, even though the right to select the education for one’s child is a human right inherent in parenthood, it is not absolute (a point parental rights advocates often miss, and I suspect, the larger point Ryan was trying to make in his original article).

No human right is absolute.

Free speech does not include libel, and it subject to neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. The consensus is that even life itself can be taken under the right circumstances, as demonstrated by the permission of the death penalty and abortion. Likewise, this parental right does not include the right to deprive a child of education (which should be self-evident, since the parental right stems from and is related to the child’s right to an education.).

As with other rights, it can be subjected to reasonable minimal regulation, as well as forfeited under certain circumstances.

But in those instances, the burden of proof is on the state to show why the interference with the parent-child relationship is necessary.

Absent that, the parental right wins.

2 thoughts on “Homeschooling Is A Human Right, But That Doesn’t Make It Immune To Regulation

  1. Ricker September 30, 2013 / 5:12 am

    I think it’s interesting that Ryan’s original article is more philosophically based, relying more on logic and reason than your rebuttal. Not that your post isn’t well thought through (it very much is) but you reference existing laws and treaties in your case while Ryan sets those aside and somewhat starts from the ground up. I find Ryan’s approach a little more compelling because it does not rely on the assumption that laws/treaties are automatically valid by way of their existence. (In my college Calculus classes and even thermodynamic class, we had to prove the mathematical law was valid or derive the relevant equation before we could use it) However, I lean slightly more towards agreeing with your conclusions.

    The other thing I wanted to point out is something you touched on. I could agree with homeschooling being an implicit right based on the stated right of either 1 (A child has a right to an education) or 2 (As a parent, it is my responsibility to ensure the well-being and upbringing of my daughter which provides me with the right to provide her with an education). I agree with Ryan that homeschooling is no more explicit than public/private/religious schooling is; however, it is an implicit right as a means to seek the end. But that being said, as homeschooling transfers the obligation to provide quality education to the parent, I feel homeschooling should be subjected to some regulation. With public/private/religious schools, the quality of education is the performance factor of the teachers and the primary metric of their success in their service to the parents. However, when parents take on the mantle of educator, they are only answerable to their child. While America continues to share kinship with third world countries in denying children have rights, this means homeschooling parents are essentially unaccountable. For homeschooling to be recognized as a basic, implicit (or explicit) human right, it needs to be subject to the same scrutiny as the other methods of education.

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