April 13, 2010

Smiley Face Tyranny - For the Children

Posted by TMLutas

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." - George Washington

I have three children in the Munster public school system. I have outsourced my children's schooling to them. The school system is in a very real sense my servant as it serves the families of all the children who attend. It's a scary thing when a servant starts to think themselves your master. When you're giving them your kids for 6 hours a day, it's doubly scary. That was my reality this week as a very nice, pleasant woman explained why I must undergo a background check to supervise my own child.

Schools are given certain powers "in loco parentis" (in place of the parents). Since there is no parent normally available on the spot, schools can manage the child in their absence. This is a very important power and necessary for the health and safety of our children.

Schools do occasionally sponsor events which they insist that a parent attend as a condition of the child participating in the event. At that point, their powers should, at least if the school is not out of control, return to the parents who are now there to directly exercise them. In Munster at least, that is not the case and it's a very slowly creeping and creepy sort of tyranny that results.

We all know and understand that if you're dealing with other people's children, you need to have a background check. Munster schools, at least at Frank H Hammond where my children attend, they occasionally have trips where they tell children that parents must come for them to go on them. This year, the 2nd grade is going to a park to fly kites. Separately, several days later, they send home a background check form to permit you to supervise your own child.

The immediate, visceral response is revulsion but it takes a while to intellectually clarify why, even to yourself. For whose child is the school system acting in loco parentis in placing this requirement? It can't be the children on the trip. They're in the company of their parents and the parents don't have the ability to demand such a background check. Nobody is supervising anybody else's children so there is no question of a parent temporarily exercising in loco parentis powers over someone else's child.

So where did the school get the power to demand that check? I spoke with Frank H Hammond's principal, Mrs. Nancy Ellis about background checks. Boiling down her more lengthy rationale to a word, it's convenience. In her opinion, they can't be making special provisions, treating individual parents specially. It would be too complicated. They tried that approach when they instituted their background check policy, carefully weighing the issues and looking at all the nuances. Then along the way they decided that was too much bother and a simple blanket rule would be much more convenient. And I agree that it is much more convenient, for them.

It's inconvenient to remember your place as a public institution that stands in as a substitute for parents when they aren't around. It's inconvenient to deal with the occasional complexity like an event that has parents that are supervising only their own children. But school authorities, any authorities really, remembering their place is one of those vital underpinnings of liberty.

A quick refresher for those who might have forgotten. It is not normal to have public outings with your children where all the other parents there have undergone a background check. You don't have this at the mall, the train station, the theater, parks department events. In fact, the only time you have background checks done routinely is, once again, when you're handing out in loco parentis powers. Routine investigations into your background as a condition of attending an event with your child (when you are not supervising other children) simply has no basis in US law.

And there's the rub. Doing things that are convenient but have no basis in law is tyranny, no matter how smiley you are in your presentation, how convenient it is for the administration of an institution. You just don't do it. It is wrong.

The story has a somewhat happy ending. Only I will be excluded from the event. If you push hard enough, someone else will still come and supervise your child "in loco parentis" if you challenge. But I won't cry over missing a kite flying occasion. But my daughter did. My only damage is that I had to feel like my heart was being ripped out of my chest as she sobbed about not being able to go over the weekend (got the form on Friday, had my talk yesterday).

I do not have any great hopes for this. I've done my push back, I've gotten my child included in a trip she really wanted to go on. And I know that quietly, when convenient, the same sort of soft 'nudge' will go right back in to pressure parents to prove themselves competent to supervise their own child. After all, it's very convenient. It's very popular with the political class. There's even a book.

There is only one real cure, never-ending vigilance. I had the distinct impression that there wasn't a long line of parents complaining about the usurpation of their parental rights. Had there been, suddenly this policy would have become very inconvenient and been reversed, not to be tried again for a very long time. Too bad, because I'll keep my liberty while others give up theirs. I hope their chains rest lightly.

A product of BruceR and Jantar Mantar Communications, and affiliated contributors. Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's half-informed viewpoint on the world.

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