Sunday, June 21, 2009

"But they're MY kids!" Why parents should not have the right to educate their kids however they want

“I myself don’t believe in evolution…so, if it were taught in school, I would definitely want the right to pull my child out of the classroom.”

To many people, a comment like this sounds reasonable. After all, it’s their child, right? And a parent should have the right to determine what their child can or cannot be taught?

I beg to differ. A child does not belong to anyone; a child is not the property of God, the property of the state, or the property of another person – not even their parents. Parents do not own their children, and we ought to vehemently oppose any notion that parents should be able to dictate, regardless of the consequences, how their child will be raised.

In the God Delusion, Richard Dawkins points out, rightly so, that young children are not capable of being adequately informed about a religion such that it is reasonable to ascribe to that child any particular religious label. It is nonsense, he asserts, to refer to a small child as a “Muslim child” or a “Christian child”. Rather, these children are the children of Muslim parents, or the children of Christian parents. The children themselves are too young to have decided for themselves what to believe.

Both of these religions regard freely coming to god as being of the utmost importance. How strange it is, then, that both find it absolutely necessary to thrust religion upon their children from day one. It seems to me that such people are overlooking a crucial point – children are inescapably gullible; while I give children the credit to recognize fact from fiction in many instances, religions have the unique advantage of being believed by wide numbers of people. A child growing up in Iran is surrounded by Muslims, and if all of them believe it, then the child, by the very nature of the human brain, is inclined to believe it, regardless of its actual merits. If you are a Christian, the fact that Muslims are doing this to their children - that is, exposing and thrusting beliefs upon folks who are essentially in the prime condition for being brainwashed – should concern you a great deal, as it means that, by allowing people of other religions to teach their children what to believe in, you are permitting them to be psychologically primed, against their better judgment, to reject your religion regardless of its merits.

On top of this, children growing up under the pall of a particular religious and ethnic identity come to see it as being a part of themselves, as an inescapable of aspect of their identity and a link to their family and friends. This makes it especially difficult to renounce a doctrine, even if, in better circumstances, one could readily admit it if it were false. Again, if another belief system is bad – and most people believe theirs to be superior at least to some extent, then by standing idly by while parents pack ideas into the heads of children is really a form of negligence, as you are allowing those children to be programmed in a way antithetical to that which you believe is best, and these children are nothing but helpless, innocent, and vulnerable individuals who cannot be reasonably expected to escape from their situations.

Thus, the very nature of raising children to be religious has a tendency to set that child’s beliefs in stone, forever coloring their view of the world. While people can and do change, most people fail to appreciate just how difficult such change is. They oversimplify the supposed role of choice in belief. Beliefs are not a matter of choice, and, even if they are, there are so many factors tugging and compelling us for emotional – and not rational – reasons, that for a God to expect a person to grow up and make the right choice regarding which doctrine is truly his is a remarkably naïve way of approaching belief and approaching human psychology. It’s an unrealistic and absurd expectation, and this is one of the many reasons that Islam and Christianity, both of which demand that one either accept their doctrine or be damned, make no sense: what one believes is not a simple matter of choice. One cannot wake up and opt to believe that they are, in fact, a carrot, or that the moon is made of jelly beans. They can no more do that than they can choose to believe god exists.

The whole notion of childhood indoctrination goes against every impulse we have of a genuine right to self-determination. Oddly, in a strange sort of backwards way of thinking, people are inclined to think that a parent has the freedom to raise their child as they wish – but what about the child’s freedom, their right, to be raised in a way that leaves all doors open, rather than, by having the particular biases and prejudices of their parents bestowed upon them as the absolute and unquestioning truth, have their beliefs molded to invariably reflect those of their parents? No, on the contrary, we should all recognize that a child’s mind is not like an adult’s. A child should be raised not to believe this or that belief system, but to be exposed to all belief systems, to be taught about their merits, and to be taught how to examine and critically analyze these views. Only when children are raised this way, can the actual truth shine forth; as long as we permit people to be taught Truth at an early age, rather than implanting in them a passion for its pursuit, we are forever crippling their ability to rationally distinguish fact from fiction.

And what could you do worse to a child than to forever blind them to reality? No form of pain or abuse can come close to forever locking a child within the tangled maze of a muddled mind from which they can never emerge to enjoy the breathtaking nature of reality.

Every time a person tells you that it’s their child, and they’ll raise them the way they want, I am asking you, begging you, on behalf of that child and children everywhere, to challenge that person, and say to them, “what do you mean, YOUR child? That child isn’t yours. That child is a person of their own, and you have a responsibility to equip them with a rational and open mind so that they can, when they are old enough, determine their beliefs for themselves." A child is a parent’s only with respect to the parents responsibility – a responsibility the rest of us have a right to revoke should the parent shirk in their duties – to raise that child as best as can be done. Some parents fail to do this, and the right of the child to as good an upbringing as possible, in every circumstance, trumps the parent’s supposed right to raise their child. This is a call for us to raise consciousness about this matter. When a person says a child is theirs, do not let them hide behind a wall of equivocation about what type of possession they have over that child – if they respond that they don’t literally mean they own the child, all the better; the more we force people to either admit that, and look like monsters for declaring another person property, or deny it, the more we will free children from the shackles of mental oppression.

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