Monday, January 4, 2010

Compelling Interest

Compelling Interest

January 9, 2010

Does the state have a compelling interest in the education of children?

Several jurisdictions have used the doctrine of “compelling interest” to justify laws that force parents to answer to the state with regard to the decisions they make about the education of their children. Even though such august bodies as the Supreme Court of Canada have expressed this conviction, and made rulings based upon it, I must beg to disagree.

First we must examine the logic behind this legal principle.

The primary concern behind the state’s supposed compelling interest in the education of children is not, as some might think, that children have a “right” to an education. It is, rather, that individuals who do not receive a basic education will not be able to support themselves, in an economic sense, and will thus become a potential financial burden upon the state.

If we examine this concern, we see that it is based upon a false assumption. This is the assumption that because a tiny minority of parents may abdicate their parental responsibility to educate their children the state must oversee the education of all children to ensure that all children are educated to a level which will allow them to support themselves.

No one denies that a small number of parents, for whatever reason, are unable to fulfill their obligations to their children, and that on occasion the state becomes the parent of last resort. This fact does not, however, justify the state’s interest in the education of all children in existence.

In reality, the state has an interest in the education only of those children whose abandonment by their parents can be proven through an unbiased assessment. Such an assessment would allow for parents who chose to challenge the state’s allegations to have access to advocates and reasonable opportunities to present their evidence. It would also permit parents to call their own “expert” witnesses to support their decisions and approaches.

Such as assessment, to be unbiased, could not be conducted by agents of the state’s education system, as these agents have a clear conflict of interest, may have a bias against educational alternatives to public schooling, and often demonstrate a desire to capture as many children as possible for their institutions. (It is for these reasons that Graham Badman was a completely inappropriate person to conduct a review of elective home education in England, and that his report can neither be taken seriously nor used as a basis for legislation.)

If the state abided by these principles, very few parents would be proven to have abandoned their parental duties. It would quickly become apparent if a parent had truly done so. In such a system, parents who chose to employ unusual approaches, such as autonomous education, would have ample opportunities to demonstrate the value, and efficacy of their methods. But most of the time they would never be called upon to make such a proof. Because there would be no evidence that they were, in fact, failing to provide for their children’s educational needs.

When did we stop relying on the need for evidence that someone had committed a crime or violated the rights of someone else before we accused them? When did we decide that everyone is under suspicion?

I would like to turn this around.

In my opinion, the citizen has a compelling interest to ensure that the state does not erode individual liberties with excessive and unnecessary legislation. To this end, the state must be able to justify the necessity for any law that it proposes, and demonstrate that the law will improve upon the existing state of affairs.

Compulsory education laws have violated the freedoms of children and families for more than 150 years now, in many jurisdictions, and have created a system of public schools that fail those same children in every conceivable way. For many children, there is no escape. The children who do escape, because their parents take full responsibility for their learning, are often threatened by the long and sticky tentacles of the state’s insistence on its imaginary “compelling interest” in their education.

I deny that the state has any compelling interest in the education of children. The very fact that many, if not most, people accept that the state has such an interest is evidence of the type of education that state educational institutions provide, for a well-educated populace, familiar with the basic tenets of logic, and with a basic grasp of political history, would never agree that such an interest exists. The state’s only compelling interest in the education of children is to ensure that those children become servants of the state. And that is an interest that a free people must fight against.

I will close with the thoughts of a few other writers on the subjects of freedom, tyranny, and unnecessary laws:
    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C. S. Lewis

    Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. – William Pitt (1783)

    Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it. – Justice Learned Hand

    I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it. – Alexis De Toqueville

    It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones. – Calvin Coolidge

    If you have ten thousand regulations, you destroy all respect for the law. –Winston Churchill

    It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. – Voltaire

    And finally, from the great Eleanor Roosevelt:
    The war for freedom will never really be won because the price of our freedom is constant vigilance over ourselves and over our Government.

There. I think they made my point for me.