Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parents Rights:What Do These People Want?

Zooming in on those who demand parents rights in schools and libraries, and controlling their kids without any government involvement, who are these people and what do they want?

Without getting involved in any conspiratorial theories at all, you can easily find that while they come from various cities and states, and concentrate on one theme more than another, there is surprising agreement and coordination of effort. They are still a very small minority, but they have intense passion and righteousness. They simply think differently than you and I.

This is part three of a series. The next part will concentrate on efforts to control public and school libraries. Part one of basic concepts and the Mad Dad case is here. Part two on the attack of the control people is here. The post on the efforts to control ideas and books in school and libraries is here.

As much as I avoid the ask/answer questions format, this is a good place to deal with what do these people want? On the surface, the parents-rights sorts who want to control public institutions come from various viewpoints. Yet, they end up wanting a very similar set of goals — an agenda, to use their own slur on the progressives. Moreover, there are some underlying themes that tie each agendum together with the others.

By their own statements, publications and websites, they want:
  • To establish by law a right for parents to control what information public-school students read or hear.
  • To prohibit by law interference with corporal punishment as a training method for parents to use on their children.
  • A nationwide parents-rights law that forbids states defining broad powers for them that do not exist.
  • To stop any sex, health or sexuality education or diversity curricula in public schools, reserving anything remotely related to "moral training" to parents.
  • To require that parents opt into any such topic instead of merely having the choice of opting out.
  • To define as taboo in school even mentions that homosexuality exists, as well as civil unions or same sex marriage in states where those are already legal.
  • To permit parental access on demand to any school or public library records of what their minor children view or check out.
Some of the more extreme of these extremists also want:
  • Abolition of public education, including any taxation for such purposes.
  • School vouchers for any parents who do not want their children to attend public schools.
  • Limits on or dissolution of state child protective agencies with the power to investigate neglect and abuse cases.

UN and Control Issues

The United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly illustrates the distinctions between parents-rights advocates and the rest of us. Read it for yourself to see that it is alternately benign, commonsensical, and humane. Yet it will cause parents-rights sorts to rant and turn colors.

Of course, for many wingers, anything associated with the UN is an issue, which has been the case since President Woodrow Wilson first worked for membership in the League of Nations following WWI. Here, the control issues we mentioned in part two of this series flare. As we saw with the League, the UN and the Kyoto Protocol on protecting the climate, the underlying problem for U.S. rightists is the same. If we sign on, we cede some of our power, or rights, or control...control.

The Parental Rights Organization's assault on the Convention is typical of the hysteria on this and the core issue. Reduced to its simplest, these ask if they can't beat their children at will and must allow them to evaluate information on their own, what is left for parents?!

Meanwhile, as with Kyoto, we stand with only the basest nations. For the Convention on the Rights of the Child, only two nations have not ratified it in whole or part. Those two are perennial human-rights violator Somalia and the United States. That's not good company to be linked with. President Clinton signed the Convention, but the U.S. Senate has refused to ratify it.

So, you might well wonder what is it that inspired 190 countries to sign onto this document to foster children's well-being that so horrifies our Senate and these winger groups. A clear subhead list comes from the Home School Legal Defense Association, including:
  • Overall, disregard for parental authority (presently a "right" only in the minds of the parental-rights folk).
  • "Severe Limitations Placed on the Parents' Right to Train Their Children."
  • Article 13 gives kids the right to read or hear information and evaluation it; the dreaded freedom of expression.
  • Article 14 likewise permits freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This keeps parents from mandating religious training to suit themselves.
  • Article 15 permits freedom of association for children. Parents would have to convince kids to pick or not pick friends instead of forcing their will on them.
  • Article 16 gives kids privacy rights. These groups claim without basis that this means children would thus have unrestricted rights to birth control and abortion as a result.
  • Article 19 is perhaps the worst lunacy of all misinterpretations by the parents-rights groups. It says that the governments must act "to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse." This is the widest chasm between the groups and the rest of us. They would have us believe that virtually all child abuse and neglect claims are trumped up lies, and that such mandates will create many more such unnecessary prosecutions of loving parents.
  • Articles 3, 19 and 37 for "Prohibition on Corporal Punishment. They do, in fact, prohibit torture and other inhumane treatment of children. Unfortunately a subset of the parents-rights groups calls regularly beating children with sticks, paddles and straps "loving correction."
  • Article 29 also seems particularly odious to the wingers. It could have been written by a Unitarian; it is so egalitarian. It directs an education that develops a child to full potential. The extreme parents-rights types home in on its section (d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin. In case you are such a pinko that you don't feel the terror in that, be aware that to the parental control freaks this means that kids may have to consider that it might not be okay to hate and fear homosexuals and others, even if their parents do.
Consider the recap from a widely cited 1990 article by Barbara Johnson, then of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families. Her statement continues to appear in various forms, saying:
The danger of the Convention is posed by the fact that it portrays the state as the protector of children, and the arbiter of how a child should be raised. In pre-emptying this role from the parents, it will inevitably result in weakening the family unit further, and thereby doing untold harm to the children it purports to be advocating for. For, in the end, the only real chance a child has to grow up safe and whole, to live and grow and learn and find happiness, is to be raised in a strong family.

Asserting New Rights

This chasm seemed to become unfordable in the mid to late 1990s with efforts to pass state and national amendments formalizing extreme parents-rights. These so far have failed but the attempts clearly illustrate the divide between these groups and the vast majority of the world.

On one side is a relatively small set of fervent believers in their own brand of parents rights. Many say that their scriptures inform them that the father in particular and parents together have absolute rights over their children's minds, emotions and bodies until they reach majority. While there is scant legal or moral basis for that, as Bob Dylan wrote in 1963, "You never ask questions when God's on your side."

On the other side are normal parents and many dozens of children's rights, civil rights and other organizations, plus governmental agencies, saying, "Not so fast. Your kids are not property for you to do with as your whims and fantasies compel."

The efforts a decade ago to pass a national parents-rights amendment, plus a test one in Colorado, carry a lot of baggage. Granted, the People for the American Way are heavily human-rights oriented, but they have a great set of pages on the national effort, including arguments of those in favor of passing it.

For a microcosm, see the Guttmacher Institute's analysis of why the drive to pass this as the laboratory failed in very conservative Colorado. The short of it is that the anti-amendment side faced the obvious. The LITE version presented by the pro-amendment forces was parents should be able to raise their own kids their own way. That was hard to argue with until the anti forces polled the public and presented a message of:

  • The amendment was dangerous, because children would be left in abusive homes and teenagers would be prevented from obtaining information and services that would help them avoid pregnancy, STDs and abortion.
  • It was unnecessary, because parents already have the right to raise their children as they see fit.
  • Although attractive on paper, in practice it would turn public schools into ideological battlegrounds for parents with opposing values and make adoptions more difficult because adoptive placements could be challenged in court.
  • And it was so vague that it would result in a flood of litigation initiated by angry parents, at taxpayers' expense, against anyone working with children, including teachers, librarians, social workers and counselors.
Again, when the control issue of a few faced reality, the larger public said the risks were way too high to play the game.

Public Says No!

Originally, the Congressional version of the bill was The Federal Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act (H.R. 1946/S. 984). It was very big on rights and virtually devoid of any responsibilities. That seems to be the insurmountable problem of the parents-rights groups. They want to be given legal authority to do whatever they want with their children in private being answerable to no one, private or government.

That's not how it has worked for a couple of centuries in this country and elsewhere. As I cited in the previous parts of the series, existing customs and laws share responsibility for the welfare of children to compensate for irresponsible and abusive parents. It's awful beyond discussion that they exist, but they do. We can't grant all parents absolute rights to do whatever they wish with their children; we have far too much history showing that too many will not be responsible or parental.

I rather doubt that any hard-core parents-rights groupie will realize that he or she had it wrong. They will continue to push, hard, for what we in the larger society refuse to grant.

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Anonymous said...

..."... Article 13~14 likewise permits freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This keeps parents from mandating religious training to suit themselves...."...

Article 13~14 of The United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child
is applicable in the UK also, and your country (usa) is more advanced than here in the (UK).

However that does not stop state officials in our country undermining the rights of the child to have freedom of thoughts and expressions, conscience and religion themselves. And state officials regularly force children into viewing the world similarly as they would, and undermines the children's rights as well as the parents.

By saying they are calling for an allowance to beet up children with sticks (which they are not), your writings are preduce with a lack of understanding.

massmarrier said...

Well, Martin, you apparently comment from Scotland and share that concept that schools presenting ideas forces compliance by the students. Yet, the point remains that exposure to ideas is what the "parents-rights" groups rail against. That's where they so differ from the vast majority of parents who more value training kids to learn and think, to evaluate. They can't do that without the ideas and information.

As to your allusion to corporal punishment, you should speak with representatives of the groups, read their literature and visit their websites. Beating children when they want, or as they put it generally "lovingly train", is exactly what they demand. No one is supposed to tell them when or how hard they can beat their kids.

I have never hit my children and believe that it is absolutely unnecessary to do so to raise respectful and well behaved offspring. However, I was not firmly anti-spanking until I began to read and hear what the parents-rights groups demand. They are scary.