Does anybody else ever feel like hunting down certain home educators and beating them round the head with a rolled up copy of the Guardian, until they stop talking like idiots? No? maybe it’s just me. Once again, I have encountered somebody who suggests that there are such things as ‘parents’ rights’. Needless to say, a very important ‘right’ is the ‘right to home educate’. Let me try one last despairing time to make this clear; children have rights and the adults around them, including their parents, have duties. These are two completely different things.
To see the absurdity of the notion of a ‘right to home educate’, let us look at some of the rights which children enjoy. Among these are the right to be sheltered and fed, the right to an education, the right to protection from abuse and exploitation, as well as a number of others. Parents have a duty to ensure that these rights of their children are observed. Education and protection from abuse are precisely the same sort of rights, but some parents get muddled up and start thinking that education is some sort of right of theirs; this is why you will sometimes hear foolish and misguided people talking about their ’right to home educate’ their child. This is dangerous nonsense and to see why, it is only necessary to think what we would say if a parent began appropriating some other of the children’s rights and claiming that they were actually parental rights. How would this work?
Well, children in this country have a right not to be sexually abused or trafficked. Suppose I decide that this is in fact my right. I might say, ’As Mary’s father, I have a right to decide whether she is sexually abused or trafficked.’ This sounds wrong, because of course this is not a parental right, but a duty. In the same way, I could not claim that I had a right to decide whether my child had access to food or not. She has a right to be fed and I have a duty to see that she receives food. Claims such as, 'I have a right to home educate my child', are wrong for precisely the same reason. The parent has a duty to ensure that the child recieves an education; this is very different from having a right.
As soon as parents start talking about ’rights’ over their children, they fall into error. We have no rights at all; just duties. Our children have a right to an education and parents have a duty to see that they get it. We can fulfil this duty in a number of different ways and as long as we see it in that light, as a duty and not a right, we will not go far wrong. Any talk of parental rights, whether about education, food, sex or anything else, is abhorrent and shows a horrible misunderstanding of both the legal and ethical situation.