Myths of Rights and Monopolies

I notice the handwringing, mainly from conservatives, about the problems with educating children in America. I have to confess I have lots of worries, too. But as you might suspect, mine sometimes differ.

When my daughter was in Catholic school, I was worried about the cliques and classism in the parish filtering down (as it inevitably does) to the kids. Today she’s in the public school system. I worry about the infusion of corporate selling via the young miss’s peers: sex, consumption, indulgence, the whiny culture of complaint. Stuff like that. In both settings the secular religion of sport threatens to overwhelm other community considerations. Boys, especially, become the focus of stardom, punditry, and the conduit for anger mismanagement.

I noted a video advertising itself as “cracking an education monopoly.” The notion that schools of any kind have a monopoly on education is ridiculous. Parents are responsible for the education of children. Let’s say it again, this time with feeling: parents are responsible for the education of children.

My daughter and I interact frequently in educational mode. Homework problems are brought to me. I think of new ways to help the young miss understand the concepts and principles she’s exposed to–usually in math, science, or writing. Before she went to school, my wife and I read to her, and we still encourage this, especially adding her reading to us. We visit interesting places, and she learns from day to day activities we do together. Certainly her religious and moral upbringing is ours to guide. These are all responsibilities my wife and I take very, very seriously.

At times I do sense even our allies undermine our efforts. For example, I would take exception to the pope’s otherwise well-intended statement in which he advocates for “the right of parents to educate their children.” Education isn’t a right. Parents have a responsibility to educate their children.

While some parents may think that they have “hired” — either through taxes or tithes — teachers, religious educators, coaches, mentors, or other “servants” to service them and their families, the reality is that they–or really, we–are just specialists. Specialists supplementing what should be the substrate of formation in every home. Without the parental commitment to encourage and stimulate the imagination, and the reinforcement of parents in all areas of childrearing (information, behavior, morality, and especially good example) the process of education is fruitless.

While I appreciate the fervor of the parents in the above-linked video, the sad truth is that many of them have failed. They have failed by not reading to their kids. They have failed by not playing great music for their children. Do they teach their kids to cook, to launder clothes, to care for pets, to maintain a house, to drive the family car? Do they stop for a moment of curiosity to look at the moon, to ponder an insect or a spider, to listen to birdsong, to watch the play of water in a fountain, or waves in a swimming pool? Is television a babysitter? Or is it a tool with which we point out bad and occasionally good behavior, and discuss what we would have done differently than the sitcom kid, teen or adult?

This is not to say that public education doesn’t have challenges to address or problems to rework. I can only imagine if the Los Angeles parents decided, “Hey, Hollywood has good schools. Why don’t I send my kid there?” Somehow I think the walls between these various “monopolies” would go up darn quick if schools were choices completely untethered from the neighborhood one lives in.

Even supplemental education, as offered by charter schools, would come with more responsibilities than rights for the education providers. If they were losing money or going bankrupt, they would not be able to just bail out. Or they shouldn’t be allowed to. The stockholders and executives would need to suck it up.

So sure, let’s continue the discussion on education. But let’s keep our terms straight. Narcissists focus on “rights,” on what is “mine.” When it comes to our kids, let’s keep in mind that “responsibility” trumps “right.” I don’t have a right to an education for my daughter. I have an obligation to provide it. If coaches, teachers, charter schools, catechists, mentors, and others want to help; hey: I can use all the help I can get. But let’s keep our language focused on the reality, not some entitlement we think we deserve.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Myths of Rights and Monopolies

  1. Liam says:

    As the saying goes: “Only YOU can prevent narcissism.”

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