Parents v. schools
What to do when parents don’t want their children exposed to certain material?
//www.thepublicphilosopher.com/2010/09/28/the-loss-of-innocence-is-more-than-a-literary-trope/”> post yesterday raised some critical questions as to when “parents should have the power to ban school texts.” While there are obviously difficult cases, I think most people would balk at the idea of pulling Catcher in the Rye or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn off of the shelves of school libraries. But, what about parents who don’t want the book removed from the library or classroom altogether, but instead simply object to their child having to read the work as part of a class assignment? How far should schools go to accommodate the wishes of the parents of individual students?
Education should help students learn to deal with controversial and complex issues, and grapple with different viewpoints and perspectives. Schools offers students a chance to be exposed to a worldview that might be broader than that of their immediate family. Thus, one can see how it could be problematic if students were insulated from material that could potentially conflict with their families religious or cultural values.
Of course, it may be possible to balance the wishes of
individual parents and students with the requirements of a rich educational experience. Shelly Burtt makes a similar point in her article, Religious Parents, Secular Schools, A Defense of an Illiberal Education, arguing that we shouldn’t be
too quick to stereotype the motives of parents who would want their children excused from certain classroom activities.
If religious parents were truly devoted to squelching all spirit of rational inquiry in their children while exterminating any glimmer of mutual respect for those of different faiths, philosophers and the court are perhaps correct to discourage accommodation… But this is an exaggeration of the challenge that fundamentalist Christians pose to secular culture…described from the more inclusive perspective I suggest, the conflict transforms itself from a political difference over citizenship goals to a cultural clash centered on differing judgments of what values and dispositions best equip children to deal with the modern world.
Burtt makes a solid argument here, we may not always agree with the values or methodology of some fundamentalist Christian parents, but we should be able to empathize with the desire to raise one’s children according to certain values and ideas. This does not mean that the values of parents must take precedence over those that a school wishes to foster, but it does suggest that we shouldn’t automatically interpret any request to “opt out” of a certain classroom activity as a serious threat to the overall goals of the educational system and democratic society.