- - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The platforms adopted by the two dominant political parties in their just-concluded national conventions will not bind any future presidential administrations, but they do give insight on the current political philosophies of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The contrast of perspective is particularly sharp on parental rights. Acceptance of the ability of parents to school their children at home without governmental interference may be the surest barometer of political support for educational freedom.

Once again, as it has done in each of its quadrennial platforms since 1988, the Republican Party recognized homeschooling as a legitimate choice parents may exercise. Democrats, on the other hand, continued their streak of not acknowledging the burgeoning home-education movement at all.

This time, the Republicans not only recognized that parents “have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing,” but also advocated a constitutional amendment to protect that right from “interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.”

In addition to homeschooling, the Republican platform supports such options for families as “career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools.” And it favors in particular “the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.”

The platform is not perfectly consistent in favoring parental decision-making over prescriptions handed down from Washington, D.C. For instance, it lauds the congressional Republican majority for enacting the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which closely resembles the federally directed School-to-Work Opportunities Act scheme that Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to cement in place as part of Goals 2000.

Despite occasional detours of that sort, the 2016 Republican platform did sagely observe the true purpose of education goes far beyond the transmission of skills and knowledge; it also includes ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. In short, it entails the “handing over of a cultural identity.”

“That is why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces from outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have done immense damage,” declared the platform writers. They added perceptively the Declaration of Independence “rejects the dark view of the individual as human capital — a possession for the creation of another’s wealth.”

In contrast, the Democrats’ platform implies strongly parents have rights only insofar as a government program exists to care for their every need and those of their children.

Notably, “Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education and universal preschool a priority. Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality preschool programs.”

Preschool and day care for all are only the start. The platform proposes government-funded afterschool programs, summer learning programs, and mentoring programs for children. Parents can rest easy under the Democrats’ plan knowing they never have to worry about finding time to supervise their young. The platform also calls for enriching early childhood programming to prepare children in such areas as “literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.”

Moreover, the Democratic platform vows to use high standards to ensure schools provide support “to meet the needs of every child,” and it swears “we” — meaning the Clinton administration, no doubt — will hold “schools, districts, communities, and states” accountable for achieving results.

Rights? What parent needs them when the federal government is going to take care of their children from cradle to college and career?

Goals 2000, School to Work, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core national standards and assessments have vastly increased the federal presence in family life during the Clinton, Bush and Obama years. What could possibly go wrong if Hillary Clinton’s administration takes centralization to the next level?

Ultimately, do Americans starting families today want government to make all their decisions for them, or do they prefer to have the independence to rear their children and educate them as they see fit? That is one of the many large questions to be answered this November.

Robert Holland is a senior fellow for education policy with the Heartland Institute.

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