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Parent Power: Cooperation Not Confrontation

by J. Michael Atherton

The NH Republican platform powerfully proclaims: “We believe that the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, healthcare, education, and wellbeing of their children is a fundamental right.  Decisions in regards to the upbringing, healthcare, education, and wellbeing of children should be the free choice of parents, acting on the children’s behalf, unimpeded by intrusive government regulation and control.”  Surely this cannot be what they really believe because it includes some over-the-top claims about parents. 

What are the multiple burdens the NH Republicans place on the shoulders of all parents?  It is not just to care for their child’s education, health, and welfare.  Such is the definition of parenthood, so hopefully the NH Reps are not wasting our time by stating the obvious.  No, they go much further to place intrusive, obstructive, and costly burdens that may well be beyond the abilities of most, if not all, parents.  


Let’s get specific.  Can all parents without exception spend the time, energy, and income it takes to protect the health of their child?  But the key question is whether they have the medical knowledge, training, and experience to effect such care.  Most parents can detect fevers and minor scrapes but the GOP wants to place a heavier burden on parents: that of the health caregiver.  Are they to substitute for primary care providers?  

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Of course, all parents cannot do these things and the smart ones admit it.  Parents serve as initial examiners who determine the mental or physical problem. Once known, they seek out the appropriate level of care.  Most can be addressed at home because they are minor and temporary.  But the rest must go to experts, to physicians and therapists trained to diagnose the problem and prescribe solutions.  Those parents arrogant enough to think they should have the last word in healing need a good talking to by authorities.

Let’s look at the NH Rep’s claim about education.  Here, as in medicine, we have parents who can guide their child up to a point; however, beyond that point they must accept their own limitations and entrust them to people with the education, training, and experience to continue the task of educating their child.  Our schools are filled with well-meaning professionals of high integrity and education.  These teachers and administrators have dedicated their lives to understanding children, their subjects of study, and the best way to link children with the subject.  


The GOP “one size fits all” charge is a red herring set to distract us from the need for professional educators.  Professional educators are hyper-attentive to variations in abilities, interests, and goals and provide more abundant opportunities to follow variable paths to learning than can be found in most homes.  If you doubt this just ask yourself if you could teach analytical calculus, Shakespeare, economics, and the history of America.  


Good, well-meaning, educated parents know their limits and ask for appropriate assistance.  Those who think parents represent the last word in education engage in ideological posturing to win votes under the dubious flag of “parent power.”  Parent power claims can make life risky for children. 


Some parents alarmingly ignore or deny their limits.  Even worse, some parents are dangerously ignorant, mentally unstable, or just plain evil.  Witness, for example, the upsurge in polio due to anti-vaccine parents who think an internet scan makes them vaccine experts.  If it is true that not all parents are good and competent, then who must intercede on the child’s behalf when parents endanger their own children, if not the government?  In such cases it is the duty of the government to protect children from dodgy parents.  If no one protects children from harmful parents, then we leave every child open to a world of hurt.  

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Maybe Republicans want parents to teach their children only what they know.  Seems reasonable compared to trying to teach a whole school catalog.  But this shrinks the world of educational opportunity.  Most parents of necessity focus a great deal of their energy, attention, and time on their job.  Non-job topics cannot receive the attention necessary to teach them.  An accountant might do well in accounting and math, but what of chemistry, music, and literature?  Are these to be discarded?  Are Republicans urging children of accountants to learn just accounting, and tool makers’ children to learn just tool making, and bakers’ children to learn just baking?  Must all children follow their parents’ lives?  Is that what we want for children?  Should the baker’s child ever dream of something other than bread?  Might an accountant’s daughter want to pursue biology?  Might a tool maker’s son love literature?  Apparently, Republicans will not allow such aberrant thinking if they get the power to enforce their platform.

Surely, we want our children to explore ideas and make their own life as they see fit.  We should not grow clones of ourselves because such a narrow view assumes (1) we are the perfect goal for our children’s lives and (2) children should have no say in what they seek in life.  The commonwealth has trained professionals called teachers and administrators who dedicate their whole lives to education.  As a group they do have the energy, expertise, and abilities to teach all the subjects, to broaden the horizons of our children, and to let them explore unexpected goals. 

When parents do not take care of their children, as the historical record has frequently shown, the state protects them.  For example, we have mandatory school because historically many parents forced their children to work instead of going to school.  The state protected children from their parents’ money lust on behalf of children. Republicans would repeal mandatory education and replace it with voluntary schooling thus returning us to the 19th century where children worked 14 hour days in mills and mines.  Doubt this?  What stops parents from earning money on their children’s backs if not the state?  Without governmental rules parents could legally force children to work long hours. This occurred in the past and we are no better today. Are we just to trust in the universal goodness of parents, as do Republicans.  Such naivete is dangerous.

“Wait a minute,” say the Reps. They are not saying every parent is a self-taught master of all. They want vouchers to allow parents to choose their own schools. But vouchers are not innocent.  In the real world vouchers take my taxes and hand them to schools of questionable quality, filled with mysterious curricula, and taught by “teachers” who may or may not be certified to do this complex job.  Voucher students are beyond the state to determine if they make progress in a timely fashion.  Also, vouchers steal money from the public school that has carried the American people from the pre-public school era, where the majority of the population was largely illiterate and innumerate, to the present state that is the envy of the world. 

Vouchers act like vampires that drain the life-blood of an effective and efficient institution that is subject to the voters.  Reject vouchers as you would reject a vampire to run a blood drive.  Like vampires, vouchers will drain the energy and students we need to improve our public schools and leave us with empty husks unable to educate anyone. Support our public schools, keep them vampire free, and reject vouchers.    

About the author

J. Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy(after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). He spent four years in the

Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage to Cynthia Walter, the birth of their first child, and a PhD all at the University of Chicago. They moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where Cynthia taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. They moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values: compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. And they are great fun to be around. A winning combination!


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