Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Rights & Reason: Resisting Educational Tyranny

The latest battle in the cultural war between the state education monopoly and individualists is taking place in Waltham, Mass., and things may get worse before they get better:
Two homeschooled teen-agers in Waltham, Mass., have consistently refused to take a mandatory assessment test demanded by the local school district, and their parents have backed up the kids' decision – a six-year stance that culminated in an early-morning standoff with government and law-enforcement officials outside their home.

According to a report in the MetroWest Daily News, social workers from the Department of Social Services and police officers confronted the family at 7:45 a.m. Thursday, demanding that George, 15, and Nyssa, 13, complete a standardized test.

As they have done in the past, the children refused to go, even though the government now has legal custody of them.

"There have been threats all along. Most families fall to that bullying by the state and the legal system," dad George Bryant Sr. told the paper. "But this has been a six-year battle between the Waltham Public Schools and our family over who is in control of the education of our children. In the end, the law of this state will protect us."

DSS worker Susan Etscovitz tried to use the fact that the Bryants technically don't have custody of their own children in her plea.

"We have legal custody of the children and we will do with them as we see fit," Etscovitz told the Bryants, according to the Daily News. "They are minors and they do what we tell them to do."

Four police officers were also at the scene and attempted to coax the Bryants into complying with the DSS worker.

One of the law-enforcement officers told the paper: "We will not physically remove the children."

According to the report, the Bryants contend that no government entity has the legal right to force their children to take standardized tests, even though DSS workers have threatened to take their children from them.
There is no other way to say it: The state’s actions here crossed the line from merely abusing power to outright tyranny. Ms. Etscoivitz’s statement makes it perfectly clear the state’s principal interest here is exerting force over the minds of the Bryants and their children without any regard for the objective merit of the state’s pretextual goal. The Bryants are completely right in defying the state’s demands, and they should continue do so by any rational means available (which means I’m not suggesting they precipitate a Waco-like siege.) Indeed, if they voluntarily allowed their children to be coerced by the state into taking these tests, the Bryants themselves would be committing moral treason against their children, and the Bryants appear to understand this.

Mrs. Bryant made a statement that particularly impressed me. She said that her children’s education was their “intellectual property.” That’s an important identification, and one we don’t hear about much. The educational debate in this country, more often than not, treats children as mere pawns or property (as Etscovitz’s statement demonstrates.) Educational policy is directed towards appeasing politicians and teachers unions. Politicians want standardized tests, while unions seek control over as many students as possible to enhance their bargaining power with school districts. Little of this policy has anything to do with teaching children to become rational adults.

Viewed in this light, the Bryants should be applauded for their courageous, principled, and moral stand. The state’s goal here is to harm the education of the Bryants’ children; that is to say, it’s an effort by the government to destroy the educational process these children have learned under, despite their merits or successes. This is not simply a random state action, but a deliberate attack on the principles of individualism and, ultimately, on the mind itself.

The question is how will this situation resolve itself. If the Bryants continue to defy the state’s tyranny, will the state respond with force by removing the children against their will? I know that if I were a police officer caught in the middle, I would not obey such an order. We all remember the horrifying images of Elizan Gonzalez being forcibly taken and shipped back to Cuba. If such a thing were to happen to two American teenagers in the name of standardized testing, I suspect the public’s reaction would be substantially more inflamed.

No comments: