Personal Freedom

The Presumption of State Stewardship Over Children

Utah law clearly and correctly states that parents possess “a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of the parent’s children.” Unfortunately, other sections of the state code conflict with this recognition of natural rights.

Despite affirming the primacy of parental stewardship over a child, the state mandates that “the parent of a school-age minor shall enroll and send the school-age minor to a public or regularly established private school.” Several limited exceptions are offered, most notably for those parents who sign an affidavit that they will be homeschooling their child. But even this exception comes with restraints; parents wishing to educate their own children must use “the subjects the State Board of Education requires to be taught in public schools” and “for the same length of time as minors are required by law to receive instruction in public schools.” In other words, this limited concession comes with significant strings attached.

In the section of code emphasizing parental rights, we further read that the state recognizes that “a parent has the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority to raise, manage, train, educate, provide for, and reasonably discipline the parent’s children” and, importantly, that “the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.” This recognition appears to be in name only, for the relevant law falls short of what a full recognition would require.

Compulsory education presumes state stewardship over children. This mandate violates the affirmed fundamental liberty interest of parents who might wish to educate their children in a fashion not approved by the state. To be internally consistent, then, Utah law must be amended to either reject this fundamental liberty interest of parents regarding the education of their child, or to reject compulsion as a component of the state’s educational offerings. We believe that the latter is the correct course.

What would repealing Utah’s compulsory education law look like? It would not change the existence of government schools nor their funding. It would not change the control of school boards nor the curriculum used to educate children whose parents wish to enroll them in government schools. It would simply remove the presumption of state stewardship over children, and parents would act within their stewardship to affirmatively decide to educate their children in whatever manner they think best. (Another effect would be the savings to taxpayers and reduction in the size of government by the corresponding elimination of truancy laws and their enforcement.)

Of course, the basis of justification for compulsory education is that this parental stewardship would allow some parents—either as a result of laziness, incompetence, or ignorance—to fail to educate their children at all, neither choosing to send their children to a government school nor assuming the task themselves. This claim is not new. For example, an 1897 report prepared for the Public Education Association of Philadelphia stated the following about compulsory education:

Undoubtedly, it is not the highest ideal in education. It is but a means to the end desired. With reason, its opponents urge that “the family is the unit of our social fabric; the control of the child is a right inherent in the parent.” Yet so long as we have ignorant or selfish parents, we shall have to resort to compulsion: for by its aid only can the child’s right to an education be enforced. In our zeal for parental authority, let us not forget the child.

Of course, the ends (educating children) cannot justify illegitimate means (compulsion and a violation of parental rights). And it may in fact be true that some parents would neglect to send their kids to school. These fringe cases, however, cannot legitimize the institutionalization of compulsion, nor the abrogation of parental stewardship in matters of education.

Further, it cannot be accurately assumed that schooling is necessary to educate a child. A child learns through play, in conversation with his parents and others, and from everything he does throughout his life. In later years, he learns through reading, work, and conversation with a wide variety of people. Mandating attendance at a school is not required to receive an education. As Mark Twain (whose formal schooling ended at age 12) famously wrote, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

More importantly, Utah law states that, “The fundamental liberty interest of a parent concerning the care, custody, and management of the parent’s children is recognized, protected, and does not cease to exist simply because a parent may fail to be a model parent.” In other words, these fringe cases where some parents may fail to school their child does not provide justification for the state to assume educational stewardship of their children, let alone the children in every single Utah family. Rightly did Thomas Jefferson note that the fringe cases do not legitimize a policy affecting every family:

It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation [removal] and education of the infant against the will of the father.

Ultimately, this boils down to a conflict in state code. Does the state only serve a “secondary and supportive [role] to the primary role of a parent,” including and especially in matters of education, or is it the steward of children in Utah and therefore able to compel them all to attend its schools? This glaring inconsistency must be addressed and corrected. In doing so, it’s important to realize the ideological implications of this inconsistency, as Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz once wrote:

Compulsory education is the chink in the armor of capitalist societies: they try to teach children the values of contract and initiative, but base their educational system on compulsion and conformity. Communist societies suffer from no such inconsistency: they try to teach their children command and obedience, and their educational system is consistent with inculcating this ethic.

We aim to see this corrected, and side with the section of Utah code that affirms parental rights as fundamental. Parents should not be required to seek the state’s blessing in order to homeschool. Parents should not be threatened with jail time and fines for fulfilling their natural stewardship in educating their child. Parents are not supported by the state in the current arrangement, but are made subservient to the legislative mandate compelling them to recognize state stewardship over their own children.

We recognize the importance of all children receiving an education, but believe that parents must be allowed to determine how best that education will be received. As circumstances arise which suggest that some children may be falling behind because of parental neglect or ineptitude, then we believe that family members, friends, and concerned neighbors should fulfill their societal role—being their “brother’s keeper”—by offering support to the parents and children and working through persuasion to improve their circumstances and educational future. Coercion has no place in our society in regard to such important matters.

  • trevor

    An excellent post as always Connor.

  • TomJonesLDS

    The code you quote in the third paragraph is interesting when read alongside The Family Proclamation, specifically the portion discussing parents’ responsibilities with respect to their children. The state is arrogant in attempting to stand between citizens and their natural liberties.

  • CliffordMichael

    You are correct sir!

  • davidmpark

    I have 3 children that have attended homeschool, online charter, and public at different times to accomodate doctors appointments and such. What it came down to in all three is that we, the parents, still enducated them.
    The online charter school did the best job of all three: they provided materials accomodated to our beliefs (and in the case of evolution, discarded the subject in favor of open-ended intelligent design), and we, the parents, had total control over it. We made comments about things based on both curiculum and our beliefs. The online teachers were there more as a reference rather than the last word and authority on everything.
    Homeschooling was tougher with our situation (we have some disabled family members), but it may be a great model for people without those limitations on their time and resources. Didn’t work for us, but it worked for the other families around us who’re doing it.
    Public school has been a nightmare! They send home 3-4 HOURS of homework after the kids were gone for 6.5 hours earlier! They claim the curiculum they teach is based on the state’s model, but they spend most of the day going over something that the online charter took 15 minutes to complete; then the public school cook the books to make it look like the kids are doing well. My daughter couldn’t read by the end the school year. When summer started and I had to quit due to being a caregiver, I got her reading in 2 weeks flat!
    I could go on about how the public schools’ are garbage, but I might as well write a book about it – at least I’d get paid!
    Love the website.

    • davidmpark

      Sorry about my spelling! The 5 year needs me now also.

  • kevin

    This phenomenon in law is called “parens patria” which means the state is the parent.  It stems from the fact that we get a state marriage liscence before we are married.  To read more about this go and click on the featured article “Protect your family” in the column on the right side of the home page.

  • kevinfrank

    This situation with the State is created by our application for a State Marriage License when we get married.  It is known in Law as “parens patria” or the state is the parent.  To learn more go to and select the article “Protect your family on the left side of the home page.

  • rhair2473

    Great news:
    Senator Aaron Osmond (South Jordan) is planning to bring a bill to next year’s legislative session, ending compulsory education in Utah.  Download his article and explanation at
    He will have a meeting where it’s on the agenda, towards the end of August.

  • Concerned

    You are very articulate and I respect your position, but have concerns about the outcome of what you are proposing.
    In your last paragraph, you mention those children who fall behind because of parental neglect or ineptitude. What is the societal role, and how likely is it that neighbors will intervene on the child’s behalf. With our diverse culture, becoming even more so each year, how likely is it that many children will fall through the cracks? Does it matter that some parents will chose to teach white supremacy? Does it matter that some parents may teach their children that whites are infidels and need to be destroyed? What if large groups teach these things to their children, with no possibility of meeting others and getting a balanced perspective? Our society functions for the common good, as a whole. Isolating children and not preparing them for the society they will one day work in with others, is not always the best for children. Being physically able to produce children does not qualify a parent to be “the all knowing” of what will be helpful for their child to be a productive citizen, able to pursue happiness in their individual life. What would really happen if Utah’s compulsory education law were to be repealed?
    When an affidavit is signed and parents choose to homeschool their children, there should also be a clause inserted in the agreement that their children will forfeit any right of qualifying for welfare services in the future. The parent will assume current and future responsibility in this area as well. This seems only common sense.

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