Is Daddy a nutjob?

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It’s a challenging case.

A parent has enlisted the help of a Christian advocacy group to sue “school authorities” for their refusal to keep the parent informed of lesson plans, in particular lesson plans that conflict with the parent’s Christian values:

The group says he wants the information so he can withdraw his child from class for those lessons, or prepare the child in advance for the information.

This is one of those cases where multiple rights collide: parent’s, a teacher’s, a school board’s, even society’s.

Here’s the thing: my baseline position is that society, bureaucracy and government are overly intrusive. As a parent, I balk at the idea of an outsider telling me what is best for my child. I’m also fed up with the idea of schools or school boards operating with anything less than total transparency. Educators can’t see the forest for the trees, which is rather disheartening, given they’re in charge of instructing our kids: they think they answer to their boss, who answers to her boss, who answers to her boss, ad infinitum. No.

Schools answer to children, parents and taxpayers. That’s where the buck stops.

What is all this glorious technology for if we can’t invest in making lesson plans available to parents? (While at the same time realizing there is finite time and resources, and when both are spent on this new project, that needs to be made up somewhere else.)

Sounds like I’m on the parent’s side, right? Well, here’s the problem. I don’t think exposing a child to mainstream ideas that conflict with a parent’s ideas is wrong. On the contrary, I think it’s generally valuable. A published curriculum provides more parental oversight, which would hopefully prevent especially aberrant views from being taught – in other words, the lessons would stick within the broad acceptable norms of society, which includes giving measured insight into the fringes of opinion.

A parent that doesn’t want his child exposed to this information is a parent who wants his child to be ignorant.

So, a parent definitely has a right to know what will be taught, so that a child can be prepped in advance of the lesson with the parent’s values, and engaged in conversation about the lesson afterwards. But society needs to have that opportunity to share another perspective. The danger of published lesson plans – and the advocacy group makes no attempt to conceal this – is that parents will simply withdraw their kids from school on days when things they don’t agree with are being taught. And it’s almost impossible to develop a mechanism by which this could be prevented. Even if you dock marks for absences, a parent can claim illness or some such “justifiable” reason for the absence.

Honestly, it’s a conundrum. Ultimately, I side with the parent in terms of what he wants, but disagree wholeheartedly with the reason he wants it. Schools will inevitably teach our kids things we don’t like. They’ll teach our kids things that are downright wrong. We have the right to know this, and we have the right to speak out publicly about it and challenge it, but the idea every parent will have their child attend only classes they like will create a fractured and ignorant society. Superstition and bigotry will spread, while tolerance of difference and knowledge of science will diminish.

I believe in the rights of individuals, yes, but I’m not a relativist: all beliefs are not equal. Some parents have crackpot ideas. The state shouldn’t take their kids away, but giving the child a window into other perspectives – society’s broadly held view – is a reasonable compromise.

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