Checks and Balances—Except for Homechooling?

Growing up, I heard a lot about the importance of checks and balances in our government. My parents explained that the checks and balances in our government—the sharing of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—ensure that our country will not become a dictatorship. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, they explained time and again.

But it was  like all of this was erased from their brains when they started talking about their right to homeschool. Instead, any check or balance on their absolute power over the education of their children was unacceptable—and suddenly absolute power was a good thing. How did my parents never consider that if checks and balances are good for the government of our country, necessary even, checks and balances might be good for the raising and educating of children? How did they never consider that if absolute power corrupts, their absolute power over their children’s education might corrupt them?

And it’s not just my parents. It’s HSLDA too. Here’s what HSLDA’s late Christopher Klicka had to say about regulations on homeschooling: “We want to maximize parental freedom. We want the honor system.” The honor system. No regulations or oversight, no checks and balances, the honor system.

My parents, and HSLDA as well, would probably say that parents naturally have their children’s best interests in mind, as well as an interest in ensuring that their kids are educated, so there is no need for checks or balances. The thing is, it’s simply not true that parents always know or want what’s best for their children. There are parents who choose homeschooling in order to hide their abuse—and never actually plan to educate in the first place. There are parents who start out homeschooling with good intentions but get overwhelmed and stop actually educating their children yet continue to homeschool because they believe it’s the only option they are allowed as good Christians. There are homeschool parents who don’t believe their daughters need to be educated in things other than cooking and cleaning and caring for children. If there is no oversight of homeschooling—if there are no checks and balances—there is nothing to stop these parents from depriving their children of an education.

I think my parents would also say that God has set parents as the authorities over their children, and commanded children to obey their parents, and that a parent’s absolute power over his child’s upbringing, education, and social life is therefore natural and good. But even within their framework I don’t think this excuse works. After all, the New Testament also commands Christians to obey the government, because it is placed over them by God, and it says nothing about checks and balances.

Romans 13: 1 — Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Either checks and balances are the way to go for any sort of authority, or every authority is set there by God and must be obeyed without insistence on checks and balances. You can’t make an exception for one type of authority but not for another. I do believe that’s called “picking and choosing,” something people like my parents are generally against.

And besides that, of course, I don’t agree with their premises.

See, I don’t believe that parents own their children or should have absolute and unchecked authority or control over them. Children aren’t property, they’re people. Yes, they’re people who lack the knowledge and abilities of adults and therefore need help and preparation before they can step out into the world as fully independent. But that doesn’t make the parent the overseer—it makes the parent the guide. Further, children have their own needs to be met, and the right to have an open future. The idea that a parent should have absolute authority over a child? No. Children are not mere slaves or property. And I say this as a mother myself.

It is certainly true that children don’t belong to the government either. They don’t belong to anyone. They are not chattel. While parents may be their children’s natural first guides, it is only right for the government to step in and protect children when their parents are not meeting their needs—the need for food, or for physical safety, or for an education. In defending the needs of children against abuse and neglect, the government serves to balance the power of the parents and is a natural check on parents’ ability to abuse or misuse their children. When children are in public school, the school serves a as a check on the parents and the parents serve as a check on the school. But when children are homeschooled, one side of this balance disappears. This is why I think we need some reasonable regulation of homeschooling, to create a balance and serve as a check on the unrestricted power of parents.

When the children are grown, they can care for themselves and make their own choices. Until then, a balance between the parents and the government, whether that is manifested through the schools or through child protective services or through reasonable regulation of homeschooling, is the best way to keep ensure that children have the best upbringing possible and are set on the road toward a healthy and mature adulthood. After all, wasn’t I taught by my parents that a system of checks and balances the best protection against the corrupting influence of absolute power?

If you agree, sign this petition. It’s a good first step. 

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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