Parents: Guilty until Proven Innocent?

What’s been said?

Kerry McDonald, education policy writer and unschooling advocate from Massachusetts, comments perceptively on UK demands for registration and monitoring of HE families in her article Homeschoolers: Guilty Until Proven Innocent? published on the Foundation for Economic Education’s [FEE] website on 7 February.

Reading about the Salem Witch Trials with her daughter had reminded her that for newly settled English Puritans there was “no presumption of innocence.” In fact, the opposite was true. “The phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’,” she writes, “was coined by an English lawyer in 1791, but even then it took a long while to become the legal precedent we all now take for granted.”

This principle is still “imperfectly applied,” states McDonald, “particularly in cases of fear and bias against certain groups.” [Emphasis added] She goes on to describe how individual liberty and personal privacy were compromised after the passing of the US Patriot Act in 2001, albeit with the best of intentions.

McDonald observes this presumed guilt and “pattern of privacy invasion by the state” in other areas too, opining that in the UK it is the “dramatic rise in the number of homeschoolers” that has caused the state to believe that “it must regulate and monitor the practice”. In fact, HE could be “the fastest-growing education option in the UK,” according to her sources. [Readers should be aware here of what McDonald fails to specify: some of the figures quoted are for the whole of the UK and others for England only.]

After considering whether compulsory state registration schemes could be justifiable on the grounds of the tiny minority factor, McDonald comes to the defence of parents, most of whom “are going above and beyond to provide the best education for their children and should not have their decisions questioned and educational approaches monitored.”

After effectively demolishing the “state oversight is no big deal,” argument, she concludes in none too positive a tone. After all, it’s “antithetical to the values of a free society” for innocent people to be suspect and have to “prove themselves worthy”.

Why does it matter?

Perceptive observation and cogent reasoning feature throughout the article. The sub-title could not be clearer – Subjecting all homeschooling families to regulation and oversight because of fears of a few is a blatant example of state intrusion.

McDonald gets to the root of the issues, noting how officialdom has been unnerved by “the rapid growth of parents taking back control of their children’s education.”

She is clear-sighted about what does or does not constitute “legitimate reason to violate the privacy and personal freedom of law-abiding citizens,” pointing out that legislation to protect children’s welfare is already in place and just has to be employed.

She also makes a valid connection between compulsory state oversight for homeschoolers and it being “okay for the government to search my house and read my emails – without a warrant,” demonstrating that both presume guilt over innocence.

There are some advantages to the position from which this author writes. Currently homeschooling four children herself, being an advocate of unschooling and an education policy writer, she can see things from both the practical and the policy viewpoints. Writing from outside the UK also gives a certain objectivity about developments here.

What can I do?

Read McDonald’s article carefully, noting her main points.

Further material of hers may be viewed here.

For reasons stated above, this article might usefully be offered to anyone willing to think through the underlying principles.