Parental Rights in Homeschooling

This blog began in 2013 when our homeschool rights came under fire here in South Carolina. It’s a work in progress for us to keep watch and protect our homeschool rights. Now, let’s dig into the meaning of parental rights as it relates to our homeschool rights.

Most parents have the base understanding that they are their child’s best advocate. It’s understood that you’ve got your child’s best interest at heart. We are hard-wired to protect our children.

In this polarized political time, we may presume we all agree about our rights as parents. We’re frequently told that our parental rights are under attack. So, we’re supposed to rally around our collective outrage and fear to defend our rights and freedoms.

As Inigo Montoya said, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

What Do We Mean by Parental Rights?

In a previous post, we explored how the weight of responsibility falls on the parents. The parents are already the understood authority over their child’s education.  Parental rights and responsibilities are already woven into the law. These rights can only be revoked under very specific circumstances.

So, why is there so much hype about state and federal legislation to establish a parental bill of rights? Why would it matter to homeschoolers?

Certainly, you have noticed there are different parenting styles and educational philosophies. The homeschooling movement has grown as alternative to public education from two basic ideas that have co-existed, sometimes overlap.

Some view traditional schools as authoritarian, hierarchical, and restrictive; Stifling the learner’s natural creativity, discourage independent thinking, and create a culture of fear and competition. They believe children are naturally curious and do not need to be coerced or forced to learn. John Holt pioneered this movement, he called “unschooling”.

Others view government schools as fundamentally flawed exposing children to secular humanism and cultural decay. They believe education should be grounded on biblical worldview and that parents should be the primary educators of their children in matters of faith and morality. RJ Rushdoony pioneered this movement as a Christian duty.

Both perspectives see homeschooling as a way to cultivate individual talents and abilities in a holistic way, rather than simply preparing for a career. But, I also think these two perspectives illuminate a key difference about the “parental rights” debate.

Parental Rights vs. Child Rights

Some view parents rights as an absolute limitless authority granted by God–even mandated by God.  Some of the recently proposed legislative measures are specifically saying that parents have the “ultimate authority” over their child. Echoes of the Rushdoony home education movement.

The umbrella of protection explains this hierarchy of authority as the biblical order of the family. It supposes the children are under all these layers of protection. The parents have this God-given authority over the child. Also the child has a God-given responsibility to obey the powers of control above them.

I first saw this image as part of the homeschool materials from Bill Gothard Basic Life Principles. It’s the program that the Duggars implement. I don’t know if the image is widely distributed outside of that. But, I heard this family model presented for decades in mainstream evangelical teachings. Now you can see this same ideology permeating the political discourse and culture wars.

This particular interpretation of biblical family structure is called Complementarianism. It comes from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which was established in 1987 as a response to the feminist movement.

This “traditional family” model presumes those in authority will wield their power with benevolence. However, it doesn’t consider how the power imbalance can be misused and abused.

There is another biblical view called Egalitarianism that says all are equal under Christ. Our American values uphold ideals of equality, as well. Many of the John Holt homeschoolers align with this family model, framing children as capable and autonomous individuals. However, this model doesn’t recognize issues that arise when parents are detached or negligent.

In all this rhetoric about “protecting the children”, we prefer not to grapple with our own limitations and imperfections as parents. What about children’s rights?

The United Nations has addressed these concerns in an international treaty called the Convention of the Rights of a Child (CRC) calling on all State Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that children receive human rights including healthcare and education, and protection from exploitation, abuse and neglect. CRC entered into force in 1990, and since then 193 countries joined the agreement, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty.

However, the United States has initially signed, but still not ratified, the Convention. We would need 2/3rds vote of the Senate. The hold up is because parents’ rights advocates see advocating for the child’s human rights somehow infringes on absolute parental rights. Some of the issues concern health care, child abuse and juvenile law. For example, corporal punishment in public schools is legal in 19 states, and private schools in 48 states. Read more here and here and here.

If we want to protect the children, why not start by acknowledging they have rights too?

When Parents Disagree

We also need to consider what happens when parents disagree. Because divorce happens.

“Parents or guardians may teach their children at home”
~SC Code of Law sections: 59-65-40, 59-65-45 and 59-65-47

The right to homeschool can become an issue in custody disputes. A man who previously supported the notion of homeschooling, will instead raise concerns about the insufficient qualifications and substandard education. Women who have wrapped their entire lives up in providing for the children find themselves in jeopardy of losing custody entirely, because they’re “unfit”.

I’ve seen it many times. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Family courts are often biased against homeschooling–because it’s different. A Guardian Ad Litem will be assigned to try to determine what’s in the best interest of the children. But, I’ve seen many of them more focused on evaluating the legitimacy of homeschooling, not the actual academic progress or overall well-being of the children. Guardians often recommend the children transfer into public school.

Finding legal support for family court is expensive. Please be aware that Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) will not touch a custody dispute. They have their reasons.

In a nation where equal rights for women is not guaranteed in the constitution, it might be worth considering how the power dynamic shifts if your family unit no longer fits the “traditional model”. Read more about the Equal Rights Amendment.

What happens in a custody dispute if parents disagree about vaccinations, dietary preferences (like vegetarian/veganism), or religious practices? The court’s bias could turn against you.

Vilifying the Enemy

We’re being told there’s good guys vs. bad guys. An Us vs. Them scenario stoking fear of the “others” who are are enemies.

We’ve been bombarded with messages telling us some big, bad wolf that’s coming to take our rights away–and take our kids away. It’s been a running theme in homeschooling circles that DSS is going to knock on your door to haul your kids away.

Though, it’s actually more likely DSS reports will come from a vindictive non-custodial parent/family member, than a stranger. Nevertheless, rumors persist.

After the Turpin family made national news, legislation was proposed for mandatory fire inspections on homeschool residences. We argued that the policy was unfairly targeting this segment of parents without due process. Just because homeschooling is “different”.

Now, parents rights activists are vilifying the government, democrats, teachers, and drag queens. The policies are targeting segments of our society–many of whom are also parents–without due process. Simply because they’re different.

On one hand, we’re saying we want to push back on the government because the government cannot be trusted. And yet, we’re also pushing forward on increased governmental controls. Even to the point of threats and violence.

Our fears are being manipulated to invoke a response. Let’s take a moment to lean in on that fear response. What is the fear, really? Who’s pushing the fear buttons. And why?

We like to think that we’re able to see the issues objectively and believe that we’re not influenced by any kind of internalized biases. But, we actually hide lots of our own internalized beliefs and attitudes–even from ourselves.

This Implicit Bias Test is a free tool to dig a little deeper into understanding yourself. I was surprised by the results I got. It’s started me on a path toward healing some unresolved childhood and generational trauma–that I didn’t even know was in there.

If we could all take a breath, I think we’d agree that parenting is hard. All this fighting about parents rights is not addressing the real difficulties involved with being a parent. The weight of responsibility feels heavy and these policies don’t offer any solutions to actually support parents.

It’s just a power struggle.

“When humans gain a lot of power, we tend to want to keep it. As our attachment to power grows large and in charge, it often shape-shifts into power’s nasty cousin, domination.

Domination is the kind of power that seeks to impose someone’s will over another, through force or coercion. Domination may claim a narrative that it’s acting “for the greater good,” but it does not transform relationships for the better.” ~Melody Stanford Martin, Brave Talk, Building Resilient Relationships in the Face of Conflict

When you read these proposed measures about parental rights, it’s claiming a narrative acting for the greater good. But, they’re offering very little to transform our lives for the better. Instead, it’s a means to impose one will over over those that are deemed as “others”.

Are they really the enemy we’ve been told they are, though?

The Child’s Best Interests

There’s plenty of concerns about protecting the children. Shouting past each other and  targeting those who are different does not accomplish that. It only serves to divide us against each other. We actually need each other.

That’s kind of the ongoing theme and mission of this blog to keep us together. Connection to each other and connection to the issues that affect us.  We’re stronger together.

For those of us willing to grapple with the issues and share our collective power as parents, I recommend this book: Brave Talk.

Read more about current legislation:

More recommended reading:

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild PossibilitiesHope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild PossibilitiesHope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild PossibilitiesAdult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved ParentsAdult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved ParentsAdult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved ParentsHow We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and CommunityHow We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and CommunityHow We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and CommunityMy Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and BodiesMy Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and BodiesMy Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and BodiesHow We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and CommunityHow We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and CommunityHow We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and CommunityGood Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to BeGood Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to BeGood Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to BeEmergent StrategyEmergent StrategyEmergent Strategy

About Kim Andrysczyk

Homeschool veteran, Association Director, coffee addict, sarcasm expert, and accidental blogger. I'm here to encourage you thru the tough times and inspire you toward excellence. If I can make it, so can you!

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