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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thorpe-Freeman Monthly Blog Award: Collectivist Educators vs. Individual Rights

The winner of this month's Thorpe-Freeman blog award is Barbara F. Johnson for her blog post, “The Borg Generation: A Cold War Legacy.” Johnson is commenting on Max Borders’ article “Collectivized Children: All Your Kids Are Belong to Us.”

Johnson relates a powerful personal story that is set at the exact point of social policy where the rights of parents to raise and treat their children as the unique, individual human beings they are meet the legitimate police powers of the State to act on behalf of those same individuals to exercise their rights to self-defense.

Johnson remembers her daughter's refusal to participate in household chores with the charge of being “psychologically abused,” and the fatuous and dismissive attitude of the school official who tried to defend the new federal program that had precipitated the rebellion.

Johnson's blog post extends Borders' article, which presents the conflict as one between collectivist educators and parents seeking to raise unique individuals to reflect their own values. The battle is one against an increasingly Orwellian State, and that conflict rightly deserves the attention both Borders and Johnson give it. But the Lockean concept of the property rights that underlie the right to self-defense includes the right, and frequent need, to delegate upward to the State one's right to self-defense when one is incapable of exercising it for oneself. Nowhere does the potential conflict between the derived powers of the State and the rights of individuals come into starker conflict than when addressing actual or potential child abuse.

The memory that Borders' article evokes for Johnson is one that illustrates exactly how the legitimate role of the State to protect the defenseless can morph quickly into an intrusive government—and educators are frequently the point men for the collectivist army. Borders quotes John Taylor Gatto: “Inevitably, large compulsory institutions want more and more, until there isn't any more to give.” And Johnson's story seems to give us an example of exactly such overreach. But the balance is not an easy one for a society to find—or maintain. The collectivist left does a fine job of presenting evidence of the tragic consequences when the State fails to act to defend the helpless. The tragedies consequent to State overreach can be no less devastating to families and in many ways even more destructive of our culture.

It is probably difficult to find a libertarian who is not appalled by the “it takes a village” concept of education and child rearing and who doesn't abhor the increasingly assumed rightness of “collectivizing” education, epitomized by the words of Melissa Harris-Perry that Borders quotes. It is perhaps somewhat rarer to find the libertarian voice for the rights of the helpless and the legitimate role of even a minimalist government to act. Where is the line between parental rights to raise a child in accordance with their own values, for instance, and a child's right to receive modern medical attention for life-threatening illness? Johnson's blog post, while not addressing that conflict, does provide a moving personal story that, in the telling, places itself at the heart of that conflict.

An honarable mention this month goes to Babatunde Onabajo for his blog post, “Does the U.S. judicial system have a right to intervene in the choice of a child's name?,” also in response to the Borders article. Onabajo takes us back to Socratic thought (related by Plato) to conclude that yes, the State has such a right, and while his argument is rooted in a discussion of culture and “Truth,” he has once again (as Johnson) identified a flex point between the rights of parents and the delegated rights of a defenseless child not to be burdened with the conceits of his parents.

Congratulations to Barbara Johnson, this month's recipient of the Thorpe-Freeman Blog Award.

Karl Borden

Professor of Finance

University of Nebraska

Chair, Thorpe-Freeman Blog Award Committee

  • The Freeman is the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education and one of the oldest and most respected journals of liberty in America. For more than 50 years it has uncompromisingly defended the ideals of the free society.