How Government Schools Undermine Parental Authority, Part 1

After sending off our children to play, Lisai sat on my sofa and declared, “I’m enrolling Lexi in WAVA (Washington Virtual Academy). I think she will do better working from home than in a classroom.”

Lexi’s Asperger’s brain struggled to learn in the inconsistent environment of an elementary classroom. Her brain shut down whenever something unusual happened.

“When does she start?” I asked.

“As soon as her specialists can get together and sign off her IEP so she can transfer from the Lake Washington School District to the Tumwater School District.”

“When will that be?”

“Who knows! It’s hard to get all of them together.” Lisa sighed.

“Can’t you pull her out right away?”

“Not with an IEP!” Lisa exclaimed.

“You’re the mom. Who owns your child?” I asked.

“Apparently, not me,” Lisa replied in exasperation.

Within a few months, Lexi was successfully completing schoolwork online without classroom distractions.

Although this event occurred over a dozen years ago, the struggle between parents and the government school system over who has primary authority over children continues.

Overreaching their educational mandate, government schools are usurping parental rights by operating under the premise that children are autonomous creatures of the state. As such, the children come under the caretaking of the state. This care includes training children in a belief system that runs contrary to what many parents teach at home. Notably, the government school worldview collides with the biblical worldview.

Biblical View of Family

In Genesis, God created the first social institutions: marriage and family. By design, the family functions as the first form of government, the first house of worship, and the first school. Children are a gift from the Lord, and he grants parents stewardship over these gifts. As stewards, parents have the duty to train their children physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually so they will grow into mature adults who will serve God.

By being born or adopted into a family, children are naturally connected to a legacy of multiple generations and family traditions. Often, these traditions include a faith that parents have a right to pass on to their children. This connection to family history and belief system gives children a sense of belonging, identity, and being part of a larger story.

Naturally, parental authority comes first in a child’s life. All other institutions are subsidiary and ought to support the family, not compete with it.

Shift from Parent to State

Throughout most of our history, the US government has recognized that parents have the right to oversee their children’s upbringing. The Supreme Court reinforced this recognition in the 1925 Pierce v. Society of Sisters decision:

“The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

Pierce v. Society of Sisters

Unfortunately, the courts today don’t always hold this view. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, beginning in the 1970s, judges no longer agree that the Constitution protects parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit. One judge even said that the only choice parents have is public school, private school, or homeschool. Once the children are in school, the parents have no say in what happens in the classroom (“Politics for Protecting Parental Rights in Education”).

What caused this shift? Some educators and policymakers have rejected the belief that parents have the primary responsibility for their children’s care. Evidence of this appeared in a recent Harvard Magazine article, “The Risks of Homeschooling.” This piece presents Professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s belief that most families choose to homeschool so they can hide child abuse. This suggests she distrusts parents to provide their children with proper care. This June, she has scheduled an invitation-only summit at Harvard to call for a ban on homeschooling.

One of the speakers, James Dwyer, claims that “[t]he reason parent-child relationships exist is because the State confers legal parenthood …” In 1994, he stated that “…the claim that parents should have child-rearing rights—rather than simply being permitted to perform parental duties and to make certain decisions on a child’s behalf in accordance with the child’s rights—is inconsistent with principles deeply embedded in our law and morality.”

State Child Rearing

Where did Dwyer get the idea that the state, not parents, has top authority over child-rearing? And how did he come to believe that it is “embedded in our law and morality”?

This idea has been around since Plato. In The Republic: the Ideal Commonwealth, he explained that the “children shall be common, and no parent shall know its own offspring nor any child its parent.”ii French Revolution leader Georges Jacques Danton said to the National Convention, “It is time to reestablish the grand principle…that children belong to the Republic more than they do to their parents.”iii Communist nations adhere to the same view as well.

Furthermore, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child promotes this view of children. Signed by President Clinton but not ratified by the Senate, this treaty opposes corporal punishment and requires that children have a say in all decisions concerning them. The related UN committee can even determine whether or not religious teaching benefits a child.

Schools have become the battleground for a conflict of worldviews. Who has the ultimate right to direct the training and education of children, the parents or the state?

Meeting Physical Needs

Top parental responsibility is to provide for a child’s physical well-being. Beginning at birth, a child relies on a caregiver to feed, clothe, shelter, protect him from injury, and provide medical and dental care. This nurturing develops a bond between parents and child in addition to meeting the baby’s needs.


Parents continue to provide for their children when they enter school. Yet, the state will elbow its way into the caretaking role when parents struggle to put food on the table. For many years, schools have offered low-cost or free lunches, some even breakfasts and snacks to those in need.

Yes, a child needs to eat, but feeding him at school may cause him to transfer his emotional connection from his parents to the school caregivers. Over time, the child may learn to rely on the state instead of his parents to meet his needs.

Preferably, a nonprofit organization such as a food bank ought to provide the parent with food that the parent, in turn, can feed to his child. This way, the God-ordained parent-child bond can be preserved.

Medical Care

Two years ago, I met a young physician’s assistant who worked in a school clinic. When I asked why a school needed a medical clinic, she explained that many parents don’t have time to take their children to the doctor. The kids could be seen at the school clinic without interrupting the parents’ workday.

That sounds convenient and innocent enough, especially for those sports physicals. However, numerous states allow children to receive medical care without parental consent or knowledge. Having medical clinics in the schools enable children to access medical treatments behind their parents’ backs.

In Washington, children aged 13 or older can receive some medical services, particularly sexual health care, without parental consent or knowledge. For example, a school can release a girl from classes to get an abortion, or a teen boy can meet with a mental health provider without parental permission. Other states have similar provisions.

Not only do school clinics undermine parental authority by providing their children medical services without their knowledge, but parents also aren’t even allowed to access their child’s medical or counseling records without the child’s consent. The government schools drive a wedge between parent and child through these policies.

Mom! Dad! Reclaim your God-given role as parents of your children. Don’t let the state take over your right and responsibilities as the primary caregiver of your children. If you do, your family will fracture. Your children will give their primary allegiance to the state instead of honoring you.

If your family needs assistance, go to your church, another house of worship, or a nonprofit the respects your parental role in your child’s life. Don’t rely on government schools to meet your children’s physical needs. Children need to look to their parents, not the state, to meet their needs.

In my next post, I will discuss how government schools undermine parental authority in the social and emotional spheres.

i Names changed for privacy.

ii Klenk, Jack. “Who Should Decide How Children Are Educated?” Washington, DC: Family Research Council (2010), 18.

iii Ibid.