The State Should Not Define Good Parenting

Legislation that supporters claim will protect parental rights and responsibilities is currently before the US Congress and more than 20 state legislatures. Although the legislation has identified an important need - to support parental rights and responsibilities - history and personal experience suggest it won't work. Such legislation would undermine parental responsibilities, which are more effectively maintained through direct action by families.

Parental rights and responsibilities are worth maintaining. They are essential to the strength of families. However, they are being eroded in a variety of ways, among them the following:

*Many parents feel pressured to spend long hours at their jobs at the expense of essential time with their families.

*Centralization and standardization of education are reducing parents' involvement in education.

*Longer school days and years, and increasing emphasis on preschool, diminish parents' role in children's upbringing.

*The already weakened family is often made the scapegoat for problems in education, health care, and the economy, especially as high-paying jobs vanish and downsizing fails.

In light of these and other developments, action is needed to strengthen the family as the basic unit of our society. It is tempting to think this could be done through laws and/or constitutional amendments. Ironically, such quick-fix legal actions would only further weaken families. It is almost impossible to write a law that protects parental rights in areas that are considered fundamental, such as education and health care, without first requiring that parents demonstrate their responsibility in these areas in ways that meet standards set by those in power.

For example, the federal Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act of 1995 states, "The purposes of this Act are ... while protecting the rights of parents, to acknowledge that the rights involve responsibilities, and specifically that parents have the responsibility to see that their children are educated, for the purposes of literacy and self-sufficiency." This gives the state authority to define what constitutes an appropriate education and to prosecute parents whose children are not getting such an education.

Home-schooling works in spite of homeschooling laws and regulations, not because of them. No legislation can make parents want to take responsibility for their children's education or find joy in learning with them. They understand that they are responsible for their children's educations simply because they are parents.

Home-schoolers are showing that parental rights and responsibilities are stronger and more secure if people work to maintain them in ways that are independent of the state, rather than turning to the state to protect them.

Susan D. and M. Larry Kaseman

Authors of "Taking Charge Through Home Schooling: Personal and Political Empowerment"; Mr. Kaseman is also executive director of Wisconsin Parents Association

Stoughton, Wis.

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