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October 18, 2007

Another Argument In Favor Of Separating Education And The State

by Doug Mataconis

This time from Portland, Maine:

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — After an outbreak of pregnancies among middle school girls, education officials in this city have decided to allow a school health center to make birth control pills available to girls as young as 11.

King Middle School will become the first middle school in Maine to make a full range of contraception available, including birth control pills and patches. Condoms have been available at King’s health center since 2000.

Students need parental permission to access the school’s health center. But treatment is confidential under state law, which allows the students to decide whether to inform their parents about the services they receive.

This isn’t about birth control or contraceptives, it’s about the fact that the school system has decided to take upon itself a job that, rightfully, belongs in the hands of parents. And, unless, parents can afford to send their children to private school, they have no choice but to accept policies like this even if they disagree with them.

The solution, it seems, is obvious. Get government out of the eduction business, let parents choose where they send their children to school. And stop this insane practice of turning teachers and school nurses into replacements for a Mom and a Dad.


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72 Comments

  1. Not that I agree with allowing 11 year olds access to birth control and condoms (I shudder at the thought because my oldest son is 10 1/2), but there is obviously a problem with pregnancies at this middle school. To me this says that the parents are not involved in their kids lives and they are not talking to their kids about sex, so what do you do when you have parents that aren’t active in their kids lives when it comes to these topics? When you have an abundance of parents that frankly dont give damn, they force the hand of school officials to do something about it, because it is a distraction to learning when you’ve got pregnant girls all over school, especially at a middle school! At least there are some that care about the students. This just goes to show that the government is wasting tons of money on these abstinence only programs.

    Comment by Aimee — October 18, 2007 @ 10:22 am
  2. Aimee,

    From the article:

    Portland’s three middle schools reported 17 pregnancies during the last four years, not counting miscarriages or terminated pregnancies that weren’t reported to the school nurse.

    The Portland School Committee approved the plan, offered by city health officials, on a 7-2 vote Wednesday night. Whether the prescriptions would be offered this school year or next wasn’t immediately clear.

    Five of the 134 students who visited King’s health center during the 2006-07 school year reported having sexual intercourse, said Amanda Rowe, lead nurse in Portland’s school health centers.

    I’m not sure I’d describe this as a “problem”, certainly not an epidemic.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — October 18, 2007 @ 10:33 am
  3. I agree with you strategically but not tactically. Yes, we should privatize our schools. But in this case, the school did the right thing. Pregnancy for a middle school girl is catastrophic. Taking preventative steps to protect such young girls is always to their benefit.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 18, 2007 @ 1:31 pm
  4. Chepe,

    On what authority does the school purport to do something like this without the knowledge or consent of the parents ?

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — October 18, 2007 @ 8:52 pm
  5. Doug, I agree that there’s a tricky problem here. But I question the implicit assumption that a child is the chattel of the parents. Our society is in transition on this point; we have established the basic principle that children do possess rights independent of those granted by the parents. How far down this road should we travel? I am quite the extremist on this point; I think that parents should be treated only as guardians, not owners, of the child, and should be held to high standards of guardianship. I’d like to see society take a more activist role in intervening when the parents drop the ball. As a libertarian, I would expect you to take a similar stance. The child is an individual with rights, too.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 18, 2007 @ 8:58 pm
  6. Chepe,

    If you are asking me to choose between parents and the state as to who is best suited to determine the best interests of the child, then, on balance, it’s an easy question for me.

    Except in extreme cases where clear evidence of abuse or neglect exists, there is no reason for the state to interfere in the parent-child relationship, and there are almost no circumstances that would justify what the school board in Portland, Maine has done in placing itself between parents and children as a superior authority.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — October 18, 2007 @ 9:06 pm
  7. Doug, you believe that the state should not interfere “Except in extreme cases where clear evidence of abuse or neglect exists”. OK, so what about cases where a middle-school girl is having intercourse and doesn’t know how to use birth control? Do you believe that the parents in such a case are doing an acceptable job of raising their girl?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 18, 2007 @ 9:24 pm
  8. Given the fact that even the children of very good parents turn out bad, and not knowing the circumstances of a particular case, my answer would have to be that I don’t know.

    But you haven’t answered my question.

    Since when it is the business of the state to get involved in such a situation ?

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — October 18, 2007 @ 9:28 pm
  9. As a libertarian, I would expect you to take a similar stance. The child is an individual with rights, too.

    Yes, but an individual without the capacity to thrive on his own.

    So unless you’re willing to let a child call all the shots, you end somewhere on the spectrum between the parents looking out for his best interest and the government looking out for his best interest.

    It’s certainly not an easy matter, but I would make sure to err closer to the parent.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 18, 2007 @ 9:30 pm
  10. Jeff,

    It’s certainly not an easy matter, but I would make sure to err closer to the parent.

    I’ve always thought that should be the default rule when it comes to issues related to children.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — October 18, 2007 @ 9:41 pm
  11. Regardless of whether or not the school should be doing it, the real question is how does a parent who doesn’t consent to these policies react? What recourse does he/she have? Under the current system, he/she has none. Moving is cost prohibitive, private school is more expensive than moving, and pulling your kid out of school is illegal.

    Comment by Bret — October 18, 2007 @ 10:10 pm
  12. What recourse does he/she have?

    It probably wouldn’t be too hard to oust the boardmembers.

    pulling your kid out of school is illegal.

    Homeschooling is still legal, though most politicians are whittling away at it.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 18, 2007 @ 10:24 pm
  13. Doug, you ask “Since when it is the business of the state to get involved in such a situation ?”

    I’d say since children have been having an effect on other members of society — which has been the case for thousands of years. If you raise your kid to be a psychopathic murderer, I have a right to intervene and say, “You can’t raise your kid that way, because he could well hurt me.” And don’t respond with this crap about reacting after the damage is done — the parent could be dead by that time, which means that there’s no deterrent value in such measures.

    Yes, parents are the best people to raise kids — but that doesn’t mean that they can do so in whatever manner they choose. We have already established that principle in the case of child abuse and child neglect. So now it’s a matter of deciding where to draw the line, not whether to draw a line. So I put the question to you: is a parent whose middle-school girl is engaging in unprotected sex above the line or below the line?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 18, 2007 @ 11:01 pm
  14. Bret, you ask, “how does a parent who doesn’t consent to these policies react?” If we’re dealing with the topic I’m talking about — minimal standards of guardianship — then I’d say that the parent’s choice is to meet those minimal standards or have the child taken away. Please, before you explode in fury at this statement, reread the ENTIRE sentence.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 18, 2007 @ 11:03 pm
  15. Bret is talking about a parent who exceeds the minimum and doesn’t want the presence of a safety net to undermine the job he has already done.

    “Mom, what’s that net for?”
    “Sweet, there’s a net now! I can be reckless!”

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 18, 2007 @ 11:21 pm
  16. If the parent meets the minimum standards of guardianship, then none of the interventions addressed to those minimum standards would be invoked. What’s the problem?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 18, 2007 @ 11:29 pm
  17. Minimum standards of guardianship should include food, water, and shelter. Objective tasks required to keep the child alive and in good health. I don’t really see where mandating a healthy sex life is part of the basic requirements for parenthood. Regardless, it’s not something the state can supply in any meaningful way.

    The age of having sexual relations is more a function of social norms than the child’s actual physiology. I don’t really want the state passing judgment on what are almost purely morality questions.

    The parents I was speaking about above are the ones who do the basics, but don’t want their children subjected to the school’s plan. It’s not that I personally find anything wrong with it, but how does a parent who does find something wrong with it opt out? They can’t, because they can’t legally go to any other public school and the state has choked off the supply of private ones.

    – B

    Comment by Bret — October 18, 2007 @ 11:50 pm
  18. So in this particular instance, you would make contraception available to students who have shown a certain degree of delinquency?

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 18, 2007 @ 11:51 pm
  19. Bret, I think that the minimum standards of guardianship include a lot more than food, water, and shelter. I think they include things like teaching the kid about sex so that the kid doesn’t have sex at too early an age — and if the kid is going to have sex, at least use protection. You want to permit parents to fail to teach their kids the facts of life, and then prevent the school from doing so. Thus, you feel that there is no need to prevent teen pregnancies. I do.

    Jeff, I’d start off with a simple test for all kids before they reach puberty, to determine if they’ve been taught the minimum about sex. Anybody who fails the test is required to attend the otherwise optional sex education course. And any kid who wants contraceptives can have them. I don’t give a hoot what the parents think — the kid’s needs come first. There is no situation ever where a 14-year old is benefited by pregnancy. If the parents have taught her properly, she’ll never need contraceptives. If they haven’t, then if they don’t like the school picking up the ball they dropped, they can go to hell.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 12:05 am
  20. to determine if they’ve been taught the minimum about sex.

    Yeah, remind me to steer clear of the bloodbath that will occur when you try to reach a consensus on what the “minimum” is.

    And any kid who wants contraceptives can have them…If the parents have taught her properly, she’ll never need contraceptives.

    Schrodinger called… He says he has a cat he’d like to show you.

    Once again, Chepe, your position derives directly from your assumption that government can improve the overall situation. It can certainly change the dynamics of the situation and that will benefit some and harm others. Now there may or may not be a net benefit from the intervention, but it should come as no surprise that many of us here would prefer to avoid the merry-go-round of government intervention and let the chips fall where they may.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 19, 2007 @ 12:16 am
  21. Yeah, remind me to steer clear of the bloodbath that will occur when you try to reach a consensus on what the “minimum” is.

    Do you disagree with the concept that children should be taught to refrain from sex until age 18, but if they do, they should use condoms? Do you feel that no majority exists in favor of this position?

    Schrodinger called… He says he has a cat he’d like to show you.

    What on earth are you talking about? Schroedinger’s Cat is a gedanken experiment from quantum mechanics that demonstrates the problems arising from the probabilistic interpretation of the wave equation.

    your position derives directly from your assumption that government can improve the overall situation….many of us here would prefer to avoid the merry-go-round of government intervention

    Actually, I do not assume that the government can do things better. It appears, however, that you assume that government will make things worse. I take no position on any specific case — I evaluate each case on its own merits. I agree that, in most cases where the government has intruded into the marketplace, the result has been unsatisfactory. But I am not an anarchist. I believe that government is the best way to implement certain social functions, such as defining and enforcing the minimum standards of social behavior. It appears that you do not share this belief. I shudder to think of a society without laws.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 10:18 am
  22. Chepe,

    “Do you disagree with the concept that children should be taught to refrain from sex until age 18, but if they do, they should use condoms? Do you feel that no majority exists in favor of this position?”

    I agree that parents are the best qualified to determine what is and isn’t appropriate behavior or sexual education for their children, not the government or the “majority”.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 10:21 am
  23. And we don’t have to “assume” that government will usually make things worse…we just simply have to point out that it usually does.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 10:22 am
  24. UCrawford, if the parents of a young girl decide that she should not know anything about sex, and that girl subsequently gets pregnant and is infected with the AIDS virus, do you believe that the parents made a good decision?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 10:26 am
  25. And we don’t have to “assume” that government will usually make things worse…we just simply have to point out that it usually does.

    This is a first-level application of the data. Yes, it’s appropriate for quick-and-dirty guesses. On average, whites in this country have higher education than blacks — but that doesn’t mean that it’s proper to reject a particular black applicant for a job because he’s probably uneducated. You always reach better conclusions when you take into account as much data as possible. So yes, if the entire extent of our discussion was a single-sentence analysis, then I’d go along with the “government usually screws up” line and leave it at that. But inasmuch as we’re looking a little deeper than bumper-sticker slogans, that line doesn’t have much value.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 10:34 am
  26. … I’d start off with a simple test for all kids before they reach puberty, to determine if they’ve been taught the minimum about sex. Anybody who fails the test is required to attend the otherwise optional sex education course.

    I understand the concern to help guard the innocent from mistakes brought about by the negligence of their guardians. No one wants to see a middle school child become unexpectedly…expectant. (sorry).

    The problem in approaching these tragedies is that we first have to define what constitutes a tragedy (your point about where to draw the line). And there are many more events we have to place above or below the line we draw.

    Is it OK for parent to teach their children:
    - That violence is an appropriate resolution for petty disagreements?
    - Casual use of drugs and alcohol?
    - Racism?
    - Bad nutrition?
    - Insufficient critical thinking?
    - To use plastic, not paper?

    There is an entire universe of behavior that a child will learn from his or her parents. Another universe comes from peers. Another comes from culture.

    In that soup, how many tests on how many subjects should we allow the state to impose when making sure that children are “raised correctly”? (my term, not yours) Could we ever universally define the expression?

    If the parent meets the minimum standards of guardianship, then none of the interventions addressed to those minimum standards would be invoked. What’s the problem?

    I agree with your initial premise. There needs to be a line that defines “below minimum” guardianship. I just disagree with where the line should be drawn. Unless the line is drawn at the immediate health of the child (Brett’s point about food, water, and shelter) and not his or her behavior, we start down our slippery slope towards state controlled child rearing.

    Comment by Akston — October 19, 2007 @ 10:39 am
  27. Akston, why is the establishment of criminal law a slippery slope? If we make murder illegal, does that mean that we shall surely slip down the slope to making picking one’s nose illegal?

    In the same way, we can determine by our usual legislative practices what kind of guardianship behavior constitutes illegal behavior. Moreover, we can have a soft edge by not criminalizing failures of guardianship, but instead requiring the schools to provide make-up classes for students who fail basic tests. Thus, if the parents don’t teach the kid about sex, then the school steps in.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 3:39 pm
  28. Chepe,

    “UCrawford, if the parents of a young girl decide that she should not know anything about sex, and that girl subsequently gets pregnant and is infected with the AIDS virus, do you believe that the parents made a good decision?”

    I think that if her parents are really that ignorant about raising their kid there’s not a hell of a lot that the state’s going to be able to do to change it if they give her birth control pills and tell her how babies are made, and frankly I’d rather not waste my tax dollars on their exercise in futility or force anyone else to do the same.

    I also think that the overwhelming majority of parents aren’t as stupid as your example, and that what you’re discussing isn’t so much about saving lives as it is imposing state-approved values (always a popular trend in public education). Frankly, I wouldn’t want my kids to have their values instilled by the state, considering the large numbers of bigots, religious fanatics, and just-plain idiots, I’ve encountered running the public school systems while I was a student, and since I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that there should be one set of rules for me and one for everyone else I don’t agree with the idea that my values should be imposed on everyone else’ kids (or that their parents should be forced to pay for it) simply because I believe my values to be undeniably superior to theirs. Standing up for individual freedom includes standing up for the freedom to make stupid decisions, and that includes the right of parents to make bad choices in educating their own children.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 3:51 pm
  29. UCrawford, you and others keep veering off in the never-never land of vague generalities while I’m trying to focus on specifics. You talk about “imposing state-approved values”, but you refuse to address the idea of providing sex education when the parents fail to do so.

    Now, if all you want to do here is slosh around a bunch of vague generalities, be my guest. Just realize that you haven’t said anything relevant to the point I am making regarding sex education.

    So I repeat my basic question: is it wrong for schools to provide sex education to students who have been found not to know the basics of sex?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 3:58 pm
  30. Chepe,

    I’m saying that it’s not the place of the state to be imposing values on sexual behavior at all short of legislating against that which infringes on individual rights (i.e. rape, battery, child molestation, etc.). If the parents of a child don’t want to teach their kid about sexual behavior, I agree that it’s a stupid choice but that’s their right as parents because that’s a values issue and parents have a right to raise their kids according to the values they adhere to. If the parents of a child don’t want their kid using birth control (which most Catholics would probably agree with) I may think that’s a stupid choice but that’s their right as parents to choose what values they want their kid to follow. When the state gets involved and makes those choices for the parents, the state, or more specifically the people enforcing the state’s rules, are putting themselves in the role of the parent. There’s nothing vague about that at all.

    As for sex education, I think that if parents don’t want their kids learning about sex ed, it’s a stupid choice but they shouldn’t be forced to send their kids to the classes (which was an option offered to parents when they taught us sex ed). In an ideal world we wouldn’t have public education at all, considering that it’s rife with busybodies who use the power of the state to usurp parental authority, and people could choose educators for their kids who reflect the values they want. But right now it’s largely unavoidable to anyone who can’t afford private education so the very least we can do is not make sex ed mandatory if the parents don’t want their kids learning about it.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 4:18 pm
  31. To answer your question specifically: It’s wrong to force parents to send their kids to sex education if the parents don’t want their kids to go.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 4:20 pm
  32. Thanks for addressing the specific question. Your position, I take it, is that the state has no right to impose values upon people. This means that the state has no right to teach children that murder or rape are wrong — that’s the parents’ job, you believe. I disagree. I believe that, just as the state has the right to enforce those values that are widely accepted by society, so too it has the right to teach the values that are widely accepted by society. If the state has laws criminalizing murder, then the state has every right and duty to teach children that murder is wrong. So, if the community shares a broad agreement that children should be taught about sex for their own good, then it is appropriate for the community to instill those values into their school’s curriculum.

    Now, I acknowledge that many communities have not established that broad agreement in regards to sex education. In those cases, I see no justification for including sex education in the curriculum. But if there IS a broad agreement — and I’m deliberately refraining from defining that term for the moment — then it is perfectly fair and proper to teach it in the schools.

    BTW, somebody mentioned earlier that parents aren’t the only influence on kid’s upbringing. In fact, I read a study somewhere that concluded that the three immediate environments in a child’s life (parental, peer group, and general culture) share overall impact roughly equally. Thus, parents only control about one-third of a child’s upbringing. This raises a secondary issue: if the parents have only one-third of the responsibility, does that increase the role that should be played by the schools?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 4:37 pm
  33. Chepe,

    Wrong again, and I’ve addressed this straw man argument of yours before.

    The only “values” the state has the right to impose involves the upholding of individual rights against violent coercive action. Murder and rape are violent, coercive activities. Whether or not the parents teach their children that it’s okay to commit rape or murder is irrelevant. Once those children commit murder or rape another individual is harmed and the state has the right to intervene and punish the individual who committed the act of violence. As they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    Your sex education example, however, is not about the state preventing violent coercive activity but about the state dictating appropriate sexual behavior and mores to children, usurping a parent’s right to raise their child in the manner they see fit. You’d probably call this something along the lines of “combating ignorance”. You’d be wrong, because combating ignorance is not the state’s prerogative, it’s the parents’. So long as violence or coercion is not involved the state has no authority to advocate moral behavior or encourage intelligence choices…at all. Parents may instill whatever ignorant values they want in their children, people may adhere to whatever ignorant consensual morality they choose…in short, people are entitled to be as stupid as they want to be as long as they’re not violently forcing their stupidity on anyone else, they’re entitled to raise their children to be just as stupid as they are, and it’s not the state’s right to say any different. And it’s not your right to force other people to adhere to your own idea of morality or intelligent decision-making when it comes to raising their kids, which is what you’re advocating when you say that values should be taught in school.

    As for your “community” argument, I’ll agree that communities have the right to set up their own schools and have those schools teach whatever values they want. What they don’t have a right to do is force parents who don’t agree with those values to pay for those schools or send their kids there, which is what usually happens. Which is yet another reason why I consider the public schools to be a laughable exemplar of moral values and the worst possible choice to instill moral values in kids…because they are inherently hypocritical institution that often exist only because of coercive means (forced taxation).

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 5:23 pm
  34. UCrawford, you’re making some hidden assumptions here:

    “a parent’s right to raise their child in the manner they see fit.”
    “combating ignorance is not the state’s prerogative, it’s the parents’.”
    “Parents may instill whatever ignorant values they want in their children”

    You’re assuming that the children are the chattel of the parents. Can you provide a moral justification of that other than tradition? Are you denying that children have any rights other than to food, clothing, and shelter?

    You write that,
    “people are entitled to be as stupid as they want to be as long as they’re not violently forcing their stupidity on anyone else”

    Do children count as “anyone else”?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 8:16 pm
  35. UC, filled in well, so I won’t bother backtracking to where I left off.

    Chepe, you just brought the conversation back to where it was 24 hours ago. As I said then, and I believe UC agreed:

    [A child is] an individual without the capacity to thrive on his own.

    So unless you’re willing to let a child call all the shots, you end somewhere on the spectrum between the parents looking out for his best interest [by preempting some of his rights] and the government looking out for his best interest [by preempting some of his rights].

    It’s certainly not an easy matter, but I would make sure to err closer to the parent.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 19, 2007 @ 8:58 pm
  36. And why should any child be subject to the arbitrary whims of their parents? If the parents are going to train the child to get AIDS, why do you consider that acceptable?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 10:03 pm
  37. Jeff,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your last post.

    Chepe,

    Giving a child a substandard education does not qualify as a violent act. As for the rest of your comment, please tell me you’re not saying that children have the same capacity for exercising full individual rights as adults. Please tell me you’re not seriously making that argument. Because if you are it’s an absurd proposition, it’s a waste of time to discuss and I’m not even going to dignify it with further debate.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 10:09 pm
  38. Rest easy, UCrawford: you have completely misunderstood my arguments.

    You write that “Giving a child a substandard education does not qualify as a violent act”. But does the parent not rule the child by physical violence? If the child disobeys the parent, does not the parent enforce his will through violence? I think that this is the wrong way to approach the problem.

    The truth is that a child is not a free human being because, as has been noted, the child is not a fully developed human being. Therefore, the volition of the child is irrelevant. My argument is that there is no fundamental moral argument that grants rightful power over the child to the parents. Tradition grants them that right. But it is only the inertia of tradition that continues this practice. Not one of you has yet offered a single argument justifying the rights of the parent to make decisions for the benefit of the child. You seem to think that the child is the private property of the parent, yet at the same time you admit that the parent has no right to abuse the child and in fact has a legal duty to provide some minimum standard of care for the child. Your position is inconsistent. You have already conceded the principle that society can imposed a minimum standard of care on the parents. The only issue remaining is to determine where to draw the line. You write that the minimum standard of care must be set at food, clothing, and shelter — without offering any justification for drawing the line there.

    I argue that the minimum standard of care is whatever it takes to assist the child in becoming a productive member of society. That means, among other things, teaching the child not to run in front of cars, not to stick his finger into electrical sockets, and not to engage in unprotected sex. You guys seem to think this is an unfair imposition upon parents. HAVE YOU LOST YOUR SENSES?!?!?!?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 10:56 pm
  39. Chepe,

    Violence is not necessarily a characteristic of child-rearing. My parents didn’t beat me or my siblings. My brother and sister don’t hit their kids. So the threat of violence is not inextricably linked to parenting.

    We were, however, dependent on their care, less so as we got older. Clearly parents are required to provide some things for their children such as shelter, food, clothing, security from physical abuse. A government-standard education, to my mind, is not something they’re required to provide. Moral upbringing, educational choices, sexual education, these are the prerogative of the parents. If they want to have the schools to provide that for their kids, that’s fine (my arguments against public education notwithstanding). If they don’t want the state to provide that instruction, that’s fine (the kids I’ve known who got homeschooling, sometimes shitty homeschooling, turned out okay). If they don’t want their kids to learn about sex or evolution or whatever while they’re dependents, I think that’s a stupid decision but still the parents’ right so it’s still okay (not that their kids won’t find this stuff out from the Internet or their friends or porn mags anyway). What’s not okay are people who aren’t the parents stepping in and dictating how parents will raise their kids, or what they will teach them, or what morality they will instill. I say this because a) a government stamp of approval does not insure excellence or even competence, b) I’ve met a not insignficant number of people in public education who are just as fucked up, stupid, and incompetent as the worst parents (and the worst ones always seemed to have tenure), and c) parents are overwhelmingly in the best position to judge the needs of their own children.

    If it’s a situation where a child is being physically abused, or starved, or placed in physical danger, I’ve got no problem with the state or local community stepping in to address the issue. Children do have individual rights (albeit somewhat abridged ones) and I think physical abuse or neglect that threatens the physical safety of a child is a pretty concrete abuse of those rights. But when it comes down to giving the state the power to determine whether or not parents are providing perfect or optimal care for the kids, I think the state has crossed the line from protector to busybody, I think they’re the poorest equipped to render a verdict on what a quality upbringing is, and I think the state (or, more specifically, the representatives of the state enforcing the law) need to butt the fuck out and let the parents do their job.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 11:22 pm
  40. My argument is that there is no fundamental moral argument that grants rightful power over the child to the parents. Tradition grants them that right. But it is only the inertia of tradition that continues this practice.

    That’s stretching the word “tradition” to a pretty absurd degree. Parental dependence is a fundamental characteristic of our species and most other mammals. It’s not some mere cultural thing; it’s what we are.

    You seem to think that the child is the private property of the parent

    No, he already covered this when he concurred with my comment at 8:58.

    I’ll draw it this time.
    GA = Gov’t authority over a child’s “well being”
    PA = Parental authority over a child’s “well being”

    UC and I believe:
    GAPA

    Chepe seems to believe:
    GAPA

    Or:
    GAPA

    That, in all its ASCII glory, is the difference between us, Chepe. None of us are likely to change our beliefs, so this is where we agree to disagree after having improved our understanding of how other people perceive things.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 19, 2007 @ 11:25 pm
  41. As for the “productive member of society” argument, my parents raised me with the goal of being self-supporting, financially stable, and, above all else, happy. The goal of a maximal contribution to society didn’t really enter it because my parents were people who believed in minding their own business, raising their own kids the best they could, and not obsessing about how other people raised their kids. That obsession is what most of the arguments for state intervention really boil down to…a belief that every other parent is too stupid to do a good job. And it’s pure narcissistic generalization.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 11:30 pm
  42. D’oh! My beautiful ASCII was eaten by the filter. I should have known better. And I should have checked the preview. :-)

    Anyways, those were single axes with GA on the left and PA on the right. Chepe, you seem to be in the middle or far to the left. UC and I are far to the right.

    Why do we believe what we do? Probably because PA is natural and GA is a relatively recent invention of society. We’re not anarchists, though, so we recognize some GA, just not much. Not much at all.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 19, 2007 @ 11:30 pm
  43. Jeff,

    You lost me…did you put a typo in there somewhere?

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 11:31 pm
  44. My reasons for distrusting government intervention also stem from the fact that while most of my teachers were intelligent, capable, and influential for me, a substantial number of them were complete fuckups who only got into education because they couldn’t get a job anywhere else. Frankly, I figure that the split between competent and incompetent teachers isn’t much different from the split between competent and incompetent people in society at large so I don’t consider the school system to have any more inherent credibility or competence than the parents do when it comes to imparting wisdom.

    And since the parents are in the best position to judge, I cede authority to them.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 19, 2007 @ 11:37 pm
  45. Actually, Jeff, you’re quite incorrect in the anthropological argument. Throughout most of hominine history, children were brought up by a group of females, mostly older women and just one or two lactating females. The mothers were out gathering and the fathers were out hunting. Kids really were raised communally and it was community standards, not individual standards, that determined how the kid was raised.

    Once civilization got started, things changed — but even then the parents didn’t get the full say. The local religion usually played a huge role in the upbringing of the children, and the parents were pretty much required to do it the way the priests demanded. Moreover, most people lived in big households with lots of servants, relatives, hangers-on, and so forth. Children were raised by the group, not the parents.

    The nuclear family with the parents providing complete control over the children is very much a new phenomenon, and it seems particularly American. In the more traditional societies, child-rearing is spread out among a number of people and the parents often are required to conform to community standards.

    Thus, what you guys are claiming to the be the only right and proper way to bring up children is in fact an American aberration that has little basis for claiming success.

    I remind you that neither of you have yet presented any fundamental theoretical basis for your repeated assertions that the parents have a right to determine the upbringing of the child. I claim that no such right exists. Can you gainsay me?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 11:46 pm
  46. Oh, and a followup on UCrawford’s observation that violence is not necessarily part of parenting:

    The government doesn’t shoot many people for failing to pay their taxes, yet millions of Americans pay their taxes anyway. So, is the government just as non-violent as your parents?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 19, 2007 @ 11:48 pm
  47. Chepe,

    You’re certainly right that our society has greatly reduced the role of the extended family, but that’s immaterial. In the history of our species, very few parents have ever been the exclusive caregivers for their children. It doesn’t matter if the substitute is a relative, neighbor, or business, mom has always been given breaks to attend to other matters.

    My anthropological argument is sound because no matter what role the group plays, the mom still has a special bond with her child. The group doesn’t forget who is whose child and the mom does have final say. If she deviates too far from the norm, she may get kicked out of the group, but they’re not going to take a dependent child from her.

    I remind you that neither of you have yet presented any fundamental theoretical basis for your repeated assertions that the parents have a right to determine the upbringing of the child. I claim that no such right exists. Can you gainsay me?

    I don’t know about philosophical rights, but genetics yield a practical answer to your question. If my genes happen to make me better or worse than average at child rearing, the species is worse off for having any other individual raise my children.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 20, 2007 @ 12:36 am
  48. Chepe,

    But the government does put a lot of people in jail for not paying taxes. The government does confiscate your property for not paying taxes. And if you think that those actions aren’t predicated on violence, just watch what happens if the people being targeted decide to resist.

    All law and governmental authority is based on violence or the threat of violence. I accept that and still cede the government authority in some areas. But not when it comes to parents’ choices on their kids’ education or moral upbringing as long as the parents aren’t committing violent acts or acts that endanger the physical well-being of the child.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 20, 2007 @ 12:58 am
  49. Well, I get called away for work and other events and the conversation has left me far behind :-)

    First, let me say that I agree wholeheartedly with UCrawford and Jeff. I was about to start feeling like I was piling on but I realize that Chepe is holding his own just fine. That said, I have a suggestion for an additional way to phrase what I read in UCrawford’s and Jeff’s posts.

    It seems that everyone agrees (myself included) that children are not able to live independently until they mature. For the sake of argument, let’s put that threshold at the current age of majority, 18 years old. It seems that we also agree that at the very least, cases of physical abuse, lack of food, basic health care, shelter, and safety (Maslow’s first two steps), should be protected by some level of government. Whether governmental intervention is warranted above this level is the issue.

    I believe that the answer to that question is the same, whether we’re discussing a dependent person who has a guardian, or an independent adult. The answer I support is to resolve the issue at the most personal possible level, affording the most liberty and diversity (I know, a trite term these days).

    Not one of you has yet offered a single argument justifying the rights of the parent to make decisions for the benefit of the child.

    My argument is simply that there is no objective standard for what would constitute action in a child’s best interest in issues beyond Maslow’s first two steps. The answers are as subjective and varied as there are people. One man’s sexually at-risk child is another man’s sexually aware and prepared child. One man’s physically secure child is another man’s brute. One man’s pious and God-fearing child is another man’s brainwashed supplicant. And so it goes.

    Since there is so much variation in subjective opinion on issues beyond baseline physical well-being, the only ethical and appropriate response is to opt for liberty and tolerance of variation unless other citizens’ rights are impinged.

    The further away from the individual in question that his rights are addressed, the more injustice ensues. The only reason I support anyone being able to decide issues for a child is that the child is not yet mature enough to make them himself. Adding a guardian, while mildly unjust, brings decisions on his well-being up to par with any other independent adult. The further from that child you go to select that guardian, the more you compound the injustice. To exaggerate to make the point: which seems more appropriate to you, the biological parent assuming guardianship, or a stranger on the opposite end of the Earth? Yes, it’s an absurd question. But when stepping back from the absurd, I find that the parent end of the guardian spectrum represented the best answer and the stranger end represented the worst. All other things being equal why choose worse over better, even when the difference is slight?

    This is the same argument in favor of personal liberty against all things collective when the issue is controversial.

    Comment by Akston — October 20, 2007 @ 2:28 am
  50. Chepe says: “Not one of you has yet offered a single argument justifying the rights of the parent to make decisions for the benefit of the child.”

    I’m reminded of a story in which a Conservative was talking with a Liberal claiming that “Society” should raise children. The Liberal was claiming with great vigor that he loved the Conservative’s child just as much as he did and could be trusted with the task of raising him.

    “If that is true, asked the Conservative, then just tell me his name.”

    The point is that, again, Chepe, you are ignoring important distinctions. First, there is a huge difference between the “care” provided by the modern bureaucratic state and the environment provided by a hunter-gatherer band. Claiming that anthropology provides a context of socialized child-rearing is simply senseless: they don’t map at all.

    Second, you are also ignoring the very high degree of genetic overlap in the small hunter-gatherer bands studied by anthropologists. That is, even if “Mom” doesn’t have absolute authority by virtue of her maternity, she A) does have a very powerful voice in the decision-making process and B) the other voices contributing are typically grand-parents, aunts, uncles, cousings, etc. So, again, you are simply wrong in the big picture: families do raise children – not the state – even if the direct parental authority is more dilute than in the modern West.

    The bottom line is that, in all but a relatively few maladaptive cases, the family simply cares more than anyone else for the welfare of the child. In particular, the parents usually care most of all.

    Observing that others in a community may have an interest in proper upbringing, or pointing to the exceptional, abusive parent, or trying to take refuge in anthropology doesn’t change this central fact. It also flies in the face of centuries of established case law and the common sense embodied in essentially all modern societies.

    Of course, you do have the Cultural Revolution and the Khmer Rouge regime to fall back on to bolster the case that the state should raise children. We all know how well *that* worked.

    Comment by Wildmonk — October 20, 2007 @ 8:13 am
  51. Akston & Wildmonk,

    Well put.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 20, 2007 @ 10:33 am
  52. First, I’d like to commend Akston for a well-reasoned riposte to my comments. Here’s a man I can constructively disagree with. A tip o’ the hat to you, sir!

    But before I respond to the excellent points you raise, I’d like to respond briefly to some of the simpler points made by others:

    1.”Parents care more than others, therefore parents should raise the children.” This is true in general, but not universally. It is also generally true that people don’t murder each other, but that doesn’t stop us from having laws against murder and detailed procedures for dealing with murder. In the same manner, the great majority of parents do a great job of raising their kids. But a few parents screw up badly, raising kids who end up being a burden on society. Those are the parents I’m targeting.

    2. “If my genes happen to make me better or worse than average at child rearing, the species is worse off for having any other individual raise my children.” This is obviously a typo of some sort. But the sentiment seems similar: genetic factors predispose the parent to superior performance. This is true in many, possibly even most cases. But there remain lots of cases where it’s not true — and those are the cases in which the child’s interests are better served by somebody other than the parent.

    3. “the mom does have final say.” No, in Chinese society it’s the grandmother who rules the house, usually with an iron hand. Throughout most of human history, women began giving birth immediately after puberty, long before they had gained the experience necessary to raise a child successfully. Usually the most experienced mother (usually a grandmother) took charge of the process; mom’s primary role was to give suck and sleep with the baby. Dad played almost no role in the child’s upbringing. Remember, too, that infant mortality rates were astronomical and so most mothers recognized the crucial importance of relying heavily on the advice of the allomothers.

    4. “All law and governmental authority is based on violence or the threat of violence.” But parental authority isn’t?

    5. I remind everybody that I’m not proposing anything so extreme as taking children away from their parents. My proposal is limited in two ways: first, it provides supplemental education only, not a complete takeover; and second, it does so only in those cases where the parents have demonstrably failed.

    Now at last I can turn to the more penetrating objections raised by Akston. His main point is that the inherent subjectivity of child-raising makes it impossible to establish appropriate standards. I agree that there are plenty of areas in the complex field of child-rearing that are too subjective to admit the establishment of standards. But that doesn’t mean that there are NO areas where such standards can be established. In fact, we have already established such standards in the matter of child abuse.

    Consider: one parent might say: “An uppity kid needs to be smacked around sometimes to teach him respect for his elders.” That’s a subjective opinion, and it is certainly held by a significant number of parents. But we as a society reject that opinion and declare that we will impose our own standard upon that parent: you can’t beat your kid. Granted, we recognize that the the use of physical discipline is necessary in some cases and we give the parents some leeway — but we also have a threshold, usually expressed in terms of physical injury, above which we say the parent’s behavior is unacceptable, even if the parent insists that the violence is necessary in that child’s case.

    So yes, if the parent wants to bring up his kid as a Catholic rather than a Baptist, that’s far too subjective a decision for society to intrude into. But no, if the parent wants to give his kid black eyes, that’s not a subjective judgement call, it’s always wrong, and we all agree it’s appropriate to intervene.

    The issue then, as Akston and I have agreed, lies in determining where to draw the line, not whether a line is to be drawn. Let’s put it in terms of popular assessment. If 90% of the people agree that training behavior X is unacceptable, then should they impose that standard upon all parents? What if it’s 99%? 80%? 51%? Legally speaking, our society formally puts that number at 50% plus one, but puts it much higher in practice. I myself don’t know exactly where to draw the line, but I’d say that it has to be above 70% and below 90%. Even if two out of three people say that parents must adhere to standard X, I respect the one-third who disagree enough to leave it be. But if 9 out of 10 people say that parents should adhere to standard X, then I’d say we can be pretty sure it’s a good rule.

    Akston’s second point, that personal propinquity is a vital factor, is absolutely correct. Yes, when in doubt, we should always err towards the persons closest to the child. My only response is that I would intrude only when there isn’t a doubt, as in cases where we as a society are confident that a certain behavior is unacceptable. Again, this is already an established principle. We take children away from drug-using parents, and from abusive parents.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 20, 2007 @ 11:03 am
  53. Chepe,

    Addressing some of your points…

    1. Laws don’t target just the bad people…they target and regulate how everybody interacts. That’s what the law of unintended consequences is all about. As for parents who violate Maslow’s first two levels, laws already exist to deal with them (cruelty laws, neglect laws, abuse laws). What you’re attempting to do is prevent them from committing these acts, which won’t work because, frankly, people who abuse their kids are fucking stupid and stupid people generally don’t care about preventative laws. And if you make the laws too strict you end up penalizing people who aren’t doing anything wrong.

    3. We don’t live in China and, last I checked, China did not embrace individual rights nor has their country or culture been particularly embracing of that concept. Since most of the people you’re debating with here consider individual freedom a fundamental basis for all their positions on issues, this is pretty much an irrelevant argument.

    4. I addressed argument about parental authority not being based on violence (along with distinguishing between violent and non-violent acts) earlier and you’ve never refuted it. I notice that your entire argument after your numbered points similarly fails make this distinction between violent and non-violent acts. I’m going to use this to go off on a slight tangent and point out that part of the reason some people on this site tend to treat you with disrespect is that you apparently either never bother to read the full text of what they’ve written or you apparently fail to comprehend it (and never ask for clarification) thus you end up repeating the same bad arguments and straw men over and over again despite the repeated efforts of many of us to explain our reasoning. It’s frustrating continually reinventing the wheel for you. I’m not saying this to snipe at you, just pointing out one of the reasons your views often don’t get the respect they might otherwise deserve.

    5. Your proposal pulls the decision-making for children further from parental control. This is what Akston was pointing out creates the injustice…because parents are always the ones in the best position to judge their kids. And, except in a relatively small number of cases, they do a good job with it. Parenting preceded the existence of a state and humanity still thrived, so I think it’s safe to say that the state can leave parenting well-enough alone as long as the parents aren’t violating Maslow’s first two levels.

    Comment by UCrawford — October 20, 2007 @ 11:36 am
  54. Laws don’t target just the bad people…they target and regulate how everybody interacts. That’s what the law of unintended consequences is all about.

    This is a general arguement against the rule of law, not a specific response to my points. If you wish to argue against the rule of law, that’s another discussion.

    What you’re attempting to do is prevent them from committing these acts, which won’t work because, frankly, people who abuse their kids are fucking stupid and stupid people generally don’t care about preventative laws.

    But the laws provide a basis for intervention — which is the basis of their value. We’re not trying to make the parents be better people, we’re trying to help the kids.

    And if you make the laws too strict you end up penalizing people who aren’t doing anything wrong.

    This is a hypothetical speculation. Are the proposals I am making too strict?

    We don’t live in China and, last I checked, China did not embrace individual rights nor has their country or culture been particularly embracing of that concept.

    My point here concerned anthropology, not law.

    I addressed argument about parental authority not being based on violence (along with distinguishing between violent and non-violent acts) earlier and you’ve never refuted it.

    OK, I’ll be explicit: parental authority is ultimately derived from violence in the same way that governmental authority is ultimately derived from violence. There.

    I’m going to use this to go off on a slight tangent…

    yada, yada, yada…

    because parents are always the ones in the best position to judge their kids.

    Always? Every single parent on this planet does a perfect job? No parents ever make mistakes? No parents ever beat their kids?

    And, except in a relatively small number of cases, they do a good job with it.

    OK, so state intervention will be applied in only a relatively small number of cases — so what’s your objection?

    Again, I remind you that you have already conceded the principle of state intervention in those cases where the parents have failed in their responsibilities. The question before us is not whether the principle of intervention is wrong, but how to draw the line between intervention and non-intervention. You draw the line at Maslow’s first two levels. Please justify this position for your line. What if 99.9% of Americans agree that behavior X, which is not included in Maslow’s first two levels, nevertheless constitutes unacceptable behavior? Would you defend the right of the parent to engage in that behavior?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 20, 2007 @ 12:07 pm
  55. “This is a general arguement against the rule of law”

    No, it’s an argument against the rule of proactive law and the idea that the laws can address any topic without creating undesirable consequences. As I’ve stated before, laws can be useful by punishing people for an act they’ve committed…they cannot prevent people who don’t care about the law or its consequences from committing those acts.

    “But the laws provide a basis for intervention — which is the basis of their value.”

    Sure, as long as those laws are reactive and not premised on the idea that a law can prevent future abuse. Laws can’t do that.

    “Are the proposals I am making too strict?”

    Yes…you’re proposing to minimize the parent’s role as chief decision making in favor of giving an increased role to the state. This undermines a fundamental basis for human society, the right of a parent to raise their own children (except when they violate that child’s individual rights, of course, which the Maslow argument has somewhat defined).

    “My point here concerned anthropology, not law.”

    Citing an example from a different culture that is often incompatible with our own. Your example did not cede authority to the state, as your proposal does.

    “yada, yada, yada…”

    There’s that not listening thing I was telling you about.

    “parental authority is ultimately derived from violence in the same way that governmental authority is ultimately derived from violence.”

    So you’re saying that the state has the same moral authority as any parent? So much for any thought that you’re not an authoritarian.

    “Every single parent on this planet does a perfect job? No parents ever make mistakes?”

    We’ve addressed this and you’ve never refuted. Did you actually read the arguments that other people carefully chose and went over, or did you just skim? Or is “argumentum ad nauseum” your only debating tool?

    “so state intervention will be applied in only a relatively small number of cases”

    There you go, asking us to reinvent the wheel for you again…

    Comment by UCrawford — October 21, 2007 @ 11:08 am
  56. First off, UCrawford, I reject your accusation that I ignore what you write. The problem here is that your responses to some (not all) of my questions have been evasive or disingenuous, so I keep hammering away at them. You may think that you have provided an answer, but I do not. It is not laziness on my part (I just went back and re-read the entire discussion), but my perception that you’re not being responsive.

    Now look, if you don’t want to discuss this issue, that’s fine. But it’s a cheap shot to accuse me of vices because you don’t like having your feet held to the fire. So long as you keep evading the issue, I’m going to keep hammering at it.

    Now, to some specifics:

    Again we clash on the matter of the utility of preventative law. Your position here has long since been discarded by civilization. We’ve had preventative laws since the dawn of civilization. Here’s Hammurabi’s seventh law:

    If any one buy from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, silver or gold, a male or female slave, an ox or a sheep, an ass or anything, or if he take it in charge, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death.

    Note that this law does not assume or require any actual injury; the purchaser could well have paid a fair and proper price, yet he is put to death solely because he didn’t follow proper procedure. This is no different from laws against drunk driving; one could drive while impaired and not inflict any injury on anybody; it is the probability of injury that is unlawful, just as with Law #7. There are several hundred more laws from Hammurabi, and I’m sure that I can get some more. And we haven’t even started with ancient Greek or Roman law.

    So you’re welcome to hold on to your tenacious belief that law should address only actual harm, not potential harm, but the rest of the world left behind that notion about 4,000 years ago.

    you’re proposing to minimize the parent’s role as chief decision making in favor of giving an increased role to the state.

    This is what I mean when I refer to evasive responses. I most certainly did NOT propose to minimize the parent’s role. My proposal still assigns parents the primary role in the upbringing of the child. I propose to intervene ONLY when two conditions are met: 1) society has determined a minimum standard in some form of behavior; and 2) the parents have demonstrably failed to meet that minimum standard. I have said this several times now, and you just keep ignoring what I write and responding to straw men.

    This undermines a fundamental basis for human society, the right of a parent to raise their own children (except when they violate that child’s individual rights, of course, which the Maslow argument has somewhat defined).

    Here’s another example of your failure to respond: you keep asserting that there exists a fundamental right of parents to raise their children in any manner they see fit (save for abuse), and I keep demanding that you provide a justification for this supposed right, and you have never provided such a justification. I just went back a second time and double-checked. There were only two responses to my challenge to justify the claimed fundamental right. Akston claimed that there was no objective basis for establishing community standards, therefore the right defaults to the parents. Wildmonk told an irrelevant story. That’s it. You yourself never responded to the challenge, and I responded to Akston’s argument with the observation that NO community standards can ever be objectively founded. So I’m going to keep hammering away at this point until somebody comes up with a good answer.

    You continue to misunderstand the China example I presented. The point of that example is that few cultures have ever awarded the mother exclusive control over the raising of the child. Chinese society has always granted control to the senior female in the household — AND THIS HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH THE POLITICAL SYSTEM CURRENTLY OPERATING IN CHINA!!!! It’s about the culture. And it’s not just China. Mongol society has somewhat similar arrangements (although the newly married couple establishes their own household, the mother remains under the tutelage of the mother-in-law.) In Greek society, the senior female exercised dictatorial control over all female members of the household, including all mothers. Roman society didn’t grant the senior female as much power, but she still had a lot of control. The real power was the paterfamilias, who exercised life and death power over everybody, especially the newborn infant. If he didn’t like the looks of the kid, the infant was exposed and left to die, regardless of the wishes of the mother. Western culture began diversifying on these matters after about 1500, but the father retained primary control; a lot of kids were dumped on convents because the father thought them inconvenient.

    So you’re saying that the state has the same moral authority as any parent? So much for any thought that you’re not an authoritarian.

    And I suppose I could call you a “parental authoritarian”. Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh. My point is that the parent has no special claim to moral authority, a point that you have failed to address. Please provide me with with some justification for the parent having a “moral right” to control the upbringing of the child in defiance of community standards.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 21, 2007 @ 12:21 pm
  57. We all agree that parents are the best guardians for their own children. I think we also agree that, in the minority of instances where direct parental actions can be proven to violate the health and safety of their children, government should have the power to step in and defend the wards from their guardians.

    Again, the issue is where to draw the line where the government takes that action.

    One proposal on the table is choosing via popular assessment. If 90% of the other people in that society disagree with a parent’s decision, would that be sufficient reason to for government to step in and overrule the parental decision? We all agree that subjective issues like religion should certainly not be subject to any governmental interference, majority or not. So what, if any, issues should be?

    I would maintain that popular assessment is only a valid resolution when we must choose a single answer for many citizens. These “majority rule” issues are, by definition, always a tyranny on some minority. As such, they should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, and should be brought about only when no other course is workable for the citizenry as a whole. National defense is one of these issues (we can’t defend just some of us from foreign attack). Religion and sexual preferences of consenting adults are not (I’ll get to minors in a moment).

    When we are not forced to select one answer for an entire group, popular assessment is simply a tyranny of the majority and anathema to the libertarian views which define the country.

    So how do we choose when the government is needed to defend a ward who already has a guardian?

    I agree with Crawford here. The only objective placement of the line has to be at the child’s health and safety. Once we move past Maslow’s first two levels, all issues become subjective. And while popular assessment can indeed measure the cultural norm on subjective issues, using it to enforce that subjective majority will on the minority is exactly the kind of tyranny this country was founded to oppose.

    On the specific matter of the original post, I would support investigation and prosecution of the parties responsible for the sexual contact and impregnation of the female minors involved. Whether the father is a legal adult himself, or the father’s guardian (if he’s a minor), there are already laws that cover that instance.

    Any preventive law enforcing sexual education in defiance of the guardians’ wishes is action before any objective violation of that child’s rights has occurred. When we condone that, we step into a world where many such tyrannies are now possible.

    Comment by Akston — October 21, 2007 @ 1:18 pm
  58. Good points, Akston. It’s especially useful to restate where we are in agreement. So now to refine our points of disagreement.

    You draw a line at physical health and safety, citing that as an objective line. Whatever makes that an objective line? What law of physics dictates that the line be drawn there? The truth is, we agree on that line because it enjoys the agreement of the great majority of the American public. It has no cultural history to justify it — Roman fathers had the right to kill newborns. It’s solely a matter of majority rule. There is certainly a minority that disagrees with drawing the line there, believing that disciplinary actions that stray into what the rest of us call abuse are justified. But we overrule that minority — not very libertarian of us, is it?

    So let’s dispense with the artifice that the line you draw has some sort of objective justification. It’s solely a matter of majority rule. The real question is, how much agreement do we need to declare something illegal? 99%? 90%? 80%? I have already stated that I put the line somewhere between 70% and 90%. Does anybody else care to offer a number?

    Let’s remember that this is distinct from normal libertarian considerations (I just know that some idiot will argue that, if 90% of the public disapprove of homosexuality, does that make it right for them to criminalize it). We’re not talking about the right of the parent to do what he pleases with himmself. We’re talking about the parent doing something to somebody else: the child. The child is not the property of the parent. The parent’s right to do whatever he wishes does not permit him to do whatever he wishes to another person — including the child.

    We must also be mindful of another complication: the affirmative responsibility of the parent to actively raise the child. Suppose that we have a case of a parent who feeds, clothes, houses, and provides all necessary care to the child but otherwise ignores it. The parent doesn’t abuse the child, the parent simply ignores it. You guys seem to feel that this is acceptable. I don’t. I think that a child has a right to a level of care established by the community.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 21, 2007 @ 2:28 pm
  59. Chepe,

    It looks like we just disagree here. The line I draw for where an external group can override parents’ guardianship of their own children is set on demonstrable abuse. I use Maslow’s first two levels as my own general guide (for anyone still reading this thread and not familiar with them, see this link). These are areas which can be seen and measured physically. When I step beyond these issues, I can only attempt to evaluate the mental state of the child, using my standards, not his or his parents’. Perhaps the line grays a bit in cases of massive psychological dysfunction which causes physical damage or imminent danger to the child, but the general line remains in the physical realm. Maslow’s third, fourth, and fifth levels are far too subjective for me to support that kind of intrusion.

    As I already wrote, I would support investigation and prosecution of the parties responsible for the sexual contact and impregnation of the minors involved – whether the father is a legal adult himself, or the father’s guardian (if he’s a minor).

    As you predict, while I completely disagree with parents who ignore their children, I would never support legislation against it. There are of host of parental behaviors I don’t support. But that is a very different list than the behaviors I would seek to have criminalized.

    You have not specified where you would place your line, but you’ve implied it’s somewhat more than physical well-being and safety and somewhat less than banning homosexuality. Being a libertarian, I accept whatever line you choose to draw for what you personally find acceptable, if you draw one.

    Some people will always choose to draw their line far higher in the hierarchy. Some of those will want the government to enforce their conclusions. They’ll want the right to teach other people’s children “majority values” of sexual intimacy, peer choices, self-image, morality, patriotism, or religion (all the issues at those top levels). The further we move along a path like this, the more Orwellian our society becomes, and the more passionately I would oppose those efforts.

    Comment by Akston — October 22, 2007 @ 11:55 pm
  60. OK, I see your point about the objectivity of measuring physical abuse. Yes, that is certainly an objective measurement — although I’ll point out that, in practice, it’s nowhere near so clean a dividing line. If you have a child with an injury, does that mean that the kid had an accident or that the adult is abusing him? Family courts struggle with this problem all the time, so there remains a lot of subjectivity in the assessment.

    Now, there are plenty of psychological tests that are used reliably to assess the mental health of a child. They can’t tell the difference between a healthy child and a super-healthy child, but they can identify a psychologically abused child. Such children can become autistic, and autism is a measureable malady. No physical abuse is necessary to mentally injure a child in this manner — it can be done simply by ignoring the child.

    Thus, your position requires you to assert that a parent has every right to produce an autistic child, a person who is mentally handicapped and will never be able to function independently in society — even when such an outcome could be averted by taking the child from the parent and allowing it to be brought up by loving alloparents.

    I suggest that you are allowing ideology to outweigh simple human decency. I support a lot of libertarian ideals, but I do not sacrifice my basic sense of decency on the altar of libertarianism.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 23, 2007 @ 2:19 pm
  61. Chepe,

    If you can conclusively (and I mean conclusively) demonstrate mental abuse, the state should be able to step in in an appropriate fashion, just like it does with physical abuse.

    But that’s a high burden to meet and the whole teen birth control/pregnancy thing that started this conversation would not meet it.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 23, 2007 @ 3:17 pm
  62. Jeff, you are introducing a special term for standard of proof. There are a variety of these: “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “preponderance of evidence” are the primary ones, the former used for criminal cases and the latter for civil. This does raise an interesting problem in that the matter might be considered both criminal and civil: criminal in that the state has an interest, and civil in that it pits the best interest of two parties (the parents and the child) against each other. On this point, however, I’d be willing to yield to the stricter definition and treat it solely as a criminal matter.

    Thus, we’d end up with a trial in which the crucial evidence would be testimony from a psychologist to the effect that he had applied the standard test for the condition to the subject and obtained conclusive positive results.

    OK, I’m going to assume that everybody will agree that in such a clear-cut case, it is appropriate for the state to intervene. This is still far from the case I’m arguing. The gap between this case and my position lies in the application of community values. We can all agree that autism is an unacceptable malady to visit upon a child. However, there are degrees of autism and in fact the mildest forms of autism do not prevent the child from growing into a happy, healthy adult. So even here, dat ol’ debbil “community values” still arises to curse our deliberations. How much autism is acceptable?

    And we’re still not even close to the case I’m championing, the requirement of basic sex education. In following Akston’s sensible lead, let’s concentrate on what we can agree upon, and leave off pursuit of the more difficult task for the moment.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 23, 2007 @ 4:53 pm
  63. In following Akston’s sensible lead, let’s concentrate on what we can agree upon, and leave off pursuit of the more difficult task for the moment.

    We just did.

    If you have conclusive, undisputed evidence that the actions of the parent are causing serious harm to the child, the state can intervene. If, however, there’s even the slightest doubt amongst the community about whether the parents actions are harmful (for example, the mental equivalent of a spanking), forget it.

    The parent cannot do her job without having the clear benefit of the doubt.

    If you can meet that standard with regards to “basic sex education” (however you define it), more power to you. I don’t like your chances though, because there are still some very prudish segments of society.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 23, 2007 @ 5:22 pm
  64. Jeff, you’re mixing two different things together:

    1. The general community determination of what constitutes unacceptable behavior;

    2. The specific determination in a single case of whether that law has been violated.

    This is nothing more than the basics of law. The community sets its standards of values and codifies those values in laws; and then applies those laws in specific cases. What we’re concerned with here is not any particular case but the general question of where the community should draw the line. The point of contention is that I am arguing a general case that the community can rightly set ANY standard it chooses, so long as a large majority of the community agrees with that standard. If 99% of the people think that it’s a crime to wear a wig, then who are you to gainsay them? What evidence can you provide that they are wrong — other than your own opinion? Ultimately all values boil down to community-wide standards.

    Now, the good news is that communities tend to be diverse and broad agreement is obtained on only the most fundamental points. The fact is, we’re NEVER going to see 99% of the community agreeing on outlawing wigs. But the principle remains sound. Philosophically, you simply have no basis for claiming that any one ethical principle is objectively correct. In the end, when it comes down to the task of making society work, these decisions are made by large majorities. Remember, every single right that we consider fundamental can be taken away with a 2/3 vote — and we really don’t have to worry about the Bill of Rights being thrown out (at least, not explicitly thrown out).

    So what I’m arguing is really more of an observation of the way things really work. I assure you, if we ever got 90% of the public to agree on something, it would be trivial to get it written into the Constitution.

    Now, I agree that basic sex education does not enjoy the support of 90% of the population. Indeed, I suspect that the support it enjoys falls well short of my minimum of 70%. However, the level of support has been slowly rising over the decades and there’s no question in my mind that it will someday cross that line. I expect that sex education will become near-universal well before that happens.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 23, 2007 @ 11:46 pm
  65. I’m all for letting a super-super-majority overrule a parent if it believes certain actions constitute abuse.

    However, I don’t see any need or justification for the community to get involved if a parent simply chooses an unconventional approach that may or may not turn out to be beneficial in the long run. Mind your own business, even if you’re sure you could raise him “better.”

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 24, 2007 @ 1:25 am
  66. OK, so we have reached a vague agreement in principle. Now the problem is a matter of drawing a line based on the degree of agreement within the community — and at this point, I’m happy to agree that this is a matter of personal opinion.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 24, 2007 @ 10:29 am
  67. OK, so we have reached a vague agreement in principle. Now the problem is a matter of drawing a line based on the degree of agreement within the community

    The devil is in the details and I’m not sure which language you believe we agree on. Please restate it.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 24, 2007 @ 11:36 am
  68. The vague agreement is that a sufficiently large majority of society can rightfully impose what it considers to be a minimum standard for child care upon all parents. Whether “sufficiently large” means 99.99% or 99% or 90% or 70% remains unstated — and I will agree that 70% is the lower limit.

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 24, 2007 @ 11:48 am
  69. he vague agreement is that a sufficiently large majority of society can rightfully impose what it considers to be a minimum standard for child care upon all parents.

    Sure, I acknowledged as much several times over the past week. There exists a point at which the state may justify intervention.

    The problem is that you and I disagree about what could possibly qualify as a “minimum standard for child care” by several orders of magnitude and we’re probably off significantly about the “sufficiently large majority” part too.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 24, 2007 @ 12:18 pm
  70. OK, Jeff, I see the problem: I define the solution in terms of the percentage of the population that the agrees to any particular behavioral standard. You’re defining the problem in terms of your own personal standards. That is, I’m happy to accept the vox populi, so long as it is loud enough, where you accept vox populi — but you still appear to impose your own standards. So my question is, do you in fact insist upon applying your own standards or would you be willing to accept the decision of a sufficiently large majority? If the latter, how large a majority would you require for society imposing minimum standards of behavior upon parents?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 24, 2007 @ 1:03 pm
  71. So my question is, do you in fact insist upon applying your own standards or would you be willing to accept the decision of a sufficiently large majority?

    I accept the vox populi.

    If the latter, how large a majority would you require for society imposing minimum standards of behavior upon parents?

    Very high. In the neighborhood of 99%.

    That was the intention of my second paragraph, to point out that you and aren’t even close on what the appropriate threshold would be. I would place the threshold so high that it damn near requires unanimity.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — October 24, 2007 @ 1:29 pm
  72. OK, so the next question is, why do you put it so high? We require only 50%+1 for criminal law. We require a 2/3 majority to override a veto and 2/3 of the states to amend the Constitution. In other words, we live in a country in which, at the whim of 67% of the people, Libertarianism could be banned — yet you would set the standard for parental behavior at 99%.

    Now, I can understand your basic motivation: that you really don’t accept the 67% rule for amending the Constitution — you’d like to see a 99% rule for that as well. Am I correct?

    Comment by Chepe Noyon — October 24, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

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