Front Page Titles (by Subject) Education and Family Autonomy - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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Education and Family Autonomy - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Education and Family Autonomy
Family Choice in Education: The New Imperative. Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1978, 60 pp.
The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers hold the upper hand over education consumers. Faced with growing state power over the lives and destinies of their children, many parents have concluded that the public education system, by its very nature, cannot respond to the real needs and wants of education consumers. The state will be “responsive” only to the extent that it sees its political survival as dependent upon responding to public demands.
The “hidden curriculum” of any school plays a crucial role in forming the values of students. The standards of conduct, the peer ethos and influence, the teachers' adult example, all weave the complex web of relationships which form the hidden curriculum. Until recently, the hidden curriculum was assumed to be a matter of community consensus. The nineteenth-century American ideal of the public school system presupposed that local majorities would agree on sanctioning conduct, practices, and beliefs. However, modern trends have virtually eliminated local control over school content and programs.
School officials find it increasingly difficult to act for the good of the community in setting standards of conduct. For over a decade, the courts have usurped the function of adjudicating disputes between the school officials' exercise of authority and the “individual rights” of students. As a representative dispute, some students in Fairfax County, Virginia protested as a violation of their rights the presence of undercover agents in their schools. These narcotics agents were intended to stop the high rate of drug use in the public school which functions as a logistic, distributive, and contact center.
By its very nature, schooling involves the inculcation of values and beliefs. It cannot be “value free” even when “value free” is understood as the absence of standards of behavior or conduct. Increasingly, there is conflict between the rights of families who wish to exercise their liberty to control the educational destiny of their children.
Many courts have equated neutrality with secularism. And yet the founding fathers formulated the free exercise and establishment of religion clauses of the First Amendment in reaction to the religious oppression in their English home-land. They wished to prevent the state from taking sides on religious issues which should properly be left within the free realm of choice and debate. Courts have used the First Amendment to drive theistic religion into a closet. The choice left is to adopt secularist or humanistic religion or find oneself subject to alien indoctrination via public education, an arena where the state virtually emasculates family autonomy. Such policy violates the essence of American pluralism.
Consequently, one of the most salient issues concerns who shall have ultimate control over the child's education: the family or the “professional” educators acting as agents of the state?
One possibly fruitful avenue of litigation is the issue of whether compulsory education laws can warrant educators to impose upon students courses in value inculcation without the prior informed consent of parents. Also, a viable question is whether humanistic courses expressly designed to mold and develop non-theistic values violate the First Amendment rights of believers. A variety of “proposals for family choice” are reviewed. To suggest, as many “professional” educators have, that the choice is between state “standards” and illiteracy is an oversimplified and erroneous dichotomy.