The education of children is one of the more consequential issues in American politics. This is so, not merely because of concerns regarding the poor quality of education in many locations throughout the country, but also because the issue is used to justify alterations to established institutions and norms. The family and the individual dignity and welfare of the child are among these institutions and norms. Debate regarding education thus tends to wander into such areas as “parental rights” and whether children “belong” to society. These are the issues of actual interest to progressive ideologies, and education is merely one front on which the ideologues seek to advance their agenda.
The idea that society has an interest in children that diminishes the role of families was expressed by former MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris-Perry when she claimed, in 2016, that “…we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.” This claim of Ms. Harris-Perry is not an original one nor, as history has demonstrated, a successful one. Children were regarded as children of the state in ancient Sparta, but the practice did not endure. In Book III of The Republic, Plato has Socrates float the idea that wives and children of the Guardian class be shared for the benefit of the state. This idea is expanded upon in Book V, wherein it is suggested that children not be permitted to know their birth parents at all. It should also be noted that it has been about 2400 years since the writing of The Republic. Advocates of the idea that children belong to the state have had ample time to prove their theory, yet the family remains the center and fundamental unit of every enduring society, and parents remain the stewards of their children’s upbringing.