Limits on What Parents Teach

Should there be limits on what parents are allowed to teach their children? If so, what should they be? I suppose there are two aspects to this question. What limits there ideally should be independent of the problem of enforcement and then the practical issue of where we as a society should draw the line. That is we might look at parents and say, “they ought not be doing that,” but feel it inappropriate to interfere.

This came up in a discussion about science teaching and home schooling. For instance if parents thought that the earth was flat, should they be able to withdraw their children from school and teach only that the world is flat? Or should schooling entail some things that must be taught. I suppose this is the negative form of the question. That is are there things a parent should teach.

The positive form of the issue is what things are there that a parent teaches that shouldn’t be taught. Consider some of the polygamist groups who teach that older folks ought be able to marry young cousins and so forth. Given that children are so young and unable to really make rational decisions (especially if indoctrinated) should they be able to teach such things?

Any thoughts? Where do you think the limits ought be? I’ll hold off giving my own opinions for a while.

22 thoughts on “Limits on What Parents Teach

  1. This is an issue that raises strong feelings, as my “day in the life” post at FMH showed when I suggested that there is a “best practice” for teaching and I spent 100 comments defending that position.

    I think there are two issues here: one legal and one moral.

    Legally: enforcing the teaching of specific content for homeschoolers is incredibly difficult. That fact makes me hesitate, because it is one thing to say, “All homeschoolers in the state of Texas must be taught that the earth is round.” and quite another thing to enforce that: Are you going to require a standardized test where, if the child fills in “(C) flat, like a pancake” you will then–what?–force them into a school? This would last about six seconds before a court anyway–I can’t imagine any ruling other than that a parents’ religious beliefs–no matter how wacky–would be infringed if the state forced them to teach certain things to their child.

    Morally: I think all parents–homeschooling, young earth creationist, polygamist, whatever–have an obligation to make it clear to their children cases where what the child is being taught in an academic setting differs from the mainstream thought on a subject. So if you want to teach your child that the earth was created 6000 years ago, fine, but I think you have a moral obligation to teach them that most people do not agree with you. And, yes, I do plan on doing this with my own children: when the topic of homosexuality comes up, I will tell them that I believe that it is sinful, but most people in out society do not.

    I am curious to hear what others have to say on this issue.

  2. Your point about legality is a good one. After all right now in the US there are laws that pretty much limit what the state can do about parents. I’m more thinking of the issues independent of the legalities since I’m not sure the legalities are due to passed law by legislatures or by supreme court interpretations of the constitution. But of course not everyone is in the US either.

  3. All parents should be required to teach children the difference between “lay” and “lie” and the proper conjugations of those verbs.

    Likewise, children should be taught the difference between “imply” and “infer”, and to avoid the passive voice and the formation of “-ize” verbs from nouns.

    They should teach them to distinguish between rabbets and dadoes, blind or otherwise, and to know a mortise from a tenon, and what quarter-sawn hardwood is, and why it is preferable to slab-sawn hardwood or rotary-cut veneers.

    Before they ever read Alma 36, the parents should teach them what a harrow is. If possible, take the children out to look closely at one in action.

    Finally, they should teach the children to read aloud. No whacking the knuckles of the kid who mouths the words–there will be plenty of time to worry about that later.

  4. While I can see where we might want to, I don’t think we should do anything to force parents to teach their children things. It’s a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope. Today we’re making sure they’re being taught that the Earth is round; tomorrow we’ll be ensuring that they see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage. (Sorry for choosing such a divise example but it’s the strongest one that comes to mind. Before you object that such a thing couldn’t happen, re-acquaint yourself with the convolutions of Congress as it stripped the LDS in Utah of their rights and forced an “acceptable” view of marriage down their throats.)

  5. While I can see where we might want to, I don’t think we should do anything to force parents to teach their children things.

    Basic hygiene? Basic independence? Basic respect for the law?

  6. All children should be taught to give me money.

    Okay, seriously:

    I know quite a few academics in my field who often say that they think parents shouldn’t be allowed to take children to any church at all until age 16 or 18 so that the kids aren’t “brainwashed”.

    Admittedly, it’s only a couple of obscure English profs and a handful of grad students, so there’s not much power behind that sentiment. But, while at this point it’s a slippery slope, I’m not sure where how far we really want to go with this.

  7. Parents should have the right to teach their kids how to spell and use properly:


    Parents should have the right to teach their children morality, as long it does not violate law.

    There are a lot of other things parents should have the right to teach their children.

    But, to say that parents — any parent — should have the right to teach their children anything they want, is the very definition of lunacy.

  8. Children are free not to believe in the foolish and incorrect traditions of their fathers.

  9. Ivan W.,

    Jean Jacques Rousseau is well known as the originator of that position. I call that attitude belief in the “divine right of teachers”, non-parental teachers that is. We might also call it social engineering, hostility to family, religion and culture, and a bunch of other similar things.

    Of course every knowing parent has the following obligation:

    And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.
    (D&C 68:25)

    There is a very long list of things we could add. The problem is trying to mandate teaching certain things. Unless parents are negligent to the point of criminality it appears that it is the Lord’s plan to place the responsibility (blessings and condemnation) squarely upon their heads.

    The doctrine of Rousseau and company would dilute the divine function of the family to the point of insignificance. And one can be sure the state education received in its place would not include anything resembling the gospel of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of the great and abominable, more like.

  10. #7 – I agree, I’ll teach my children what I want, where I want, and when I want…the entire discussion is moot, you cannot legalize what we teach our own children, it would be unconstitutional, and in fact if that ever happens, then why have children uless you are going to give them up to the state for ideological contributions to political and economical gain! Such idiocy!

  11. Nope. You have to qualify what types of parents, what types of children, and what you’re going to teach.

    It would be morally repugnant, for instance, for you to teach your child that participation in child porn is an accepted practice. The state would have every right to take your child from you. And don’t give the excuse of “well, they don’t have to listen to you”, because until children development the emotional maturity to learn to say “no”, they are inclined to follow your lead, whether or not they believe in it (because they believe in you).

    *YOU* may feel you have the right to teach your children anything. And you may very well be a qualified parent. But when you say “any parent can teach whatever they want to their children”, then you’re just being silly.

    Quantify what kinds of parents, what kinds of children, and what kinds of teaching.

    [BTW, I am not making this a homeschooling issue. Don’t take it as such.]

  12. When you talk about legalitites, what about the guy in PA-it was ruled he could teach his daughter that polygamy is a good thing? Her parents are divorced and her mother is against it.

  13. Well let’s give some examples. Wouldn’t we as a culture prosecute as child abuse a parent who refuses to teach their children how to speak? Wouldn’t we as a culture seriously consider removing such children from the home? What about parents who teach them how to murder and trains them as such? (Even if they don’t commit murder) I think the state would remove such children from the home immediately. So clearly there are things that we think parents must or must not teach.

  14. First: Die Gedanken sind frei.


    Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…

  15. Clark (#14)- Parents do have the right to teach their kids how to murder. They may have the responsibility to teach them that murder is wrong, but self-defense training,martial arts, hunting, marksmanship, etc. are not considered child abuse. I guess it could be said that under the concept of child abuse, parents do not have the right to teach their children they are worthless, or that life is worthless, or to teach them that if they cry they are going to be locked in the closet, etc.

  16. Parents (and schools, for that matter) ought to instruct children how to spot logical fallacies and the various forms of influence (reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity). If kids could do that, people wouldn’t need to worry so much about them being brainwashed or joining cults.

  17. MW there is a big difference between teaching your kids to murder and teaching them self-defense and hunting. HUGE difference. I think you’d find that if child protective services found out someone was training their kids to murder those kids would be out of the home in an instant. The difficulty is proving it.

  18. Considering the kind of civil rights violations that are necessary in order to determine conclusively what a parent is or is not teaching their child, I’d go against legal prescription/prohibition. We already have laws against involving children in sexual performances, causing them to commit crimes, etc. — laws against relatively easy-to-define actions, not teachings. Educational neglect generally comes down to “the child is 12 years old and cannot read” cases, not “the child is articulate but shares the world view of random philosphers in Early Antiquity, rather than Ptolemy — moreover, his level of scientific literacy is barely equal to that of William Jennings Bryan’s, circa 1925” cases.

    There are all kinds of things that I feel I would be remiss, as a parent, to fail to teach my (hypothetical) children. Much like what I feed my hypothetical children, or how I dress my hypothetical children, these things are essentially none of the state or community’s business, because parents (not schools, or the state, or the church) are legally and morally responsible for their children.

  19. Who would decide what the limits are? And who would enforce it? I see lots of lawsuits.

  20. Clark, you initially said “Teach How to Murder”(14) then shifted to “Teach to Murder”.(19) In this, you are right, there is a big difference.

Comments are closed.