Who owns your kids?

Few things raise my ire as much as reading about parents who take the initiative and awesome responsibility to provide an environment where their children can learn, only to have their children taken away for doing exactly that. Thus, I read with much displeaure this article about a family from my current state of Massachusetts [via Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler]. I want to quote the whole thing here for posterity's sake:

Home-schooling standoff in Waltham

By Melissa Beecher / CNC Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2003

WALTHAM -- A legal battle over two home-schooled children exploded into a seven-hour standoff yesterday, when they refused to take a standardized test ordered by the Department of Social Services.

George Nicholas Bryant, 15, and Nyssa Bryant, 13, stood behind their parents, Kim and George, as police and DSS workers attempted to collect the children at 7:45 a.m. DSS demanded that the two complete a test to determine their educational level.

After a court order was issued by Framingham Juvenile Court around 1 p.m., the children were driven by their parents to a Waltham hotel.

Again, they refused to take the test.

"The court order said that the children must be here. It said nothing about taking the test," said George Bryant.

The second refusal came after an emotion-filled morning for the family, when DSS workers sternly demanded the Bryants comply with their orders.

"We have legal custody of the children and we will do with them as we see fit," DSS worker Susan Etscovitz told the Bryants in their Gale Street home. "They are minors and they do what we tell them to do."

Four police officers were also at the scene and attempted to coax the Bryants to listen to the DSS worker.

"We are simply here to prevent a breach of the peace," said Waltham Youth Officer Detective James Auld. "We will will not physically remove the children."

Yesterday's events are the continuation of a six-year legal battle between the family and Waltham Public Schools and the state.

The Bryants contend that the city and state do not have the legal right to force their children to take standardized tests, even though DSS workers have threatened to take their children from them.

"There have been threats all along. Most families fall to that bullying by the state and the legal system," said George Bryant.

"But this has been a six-year battle between the Waltham Public Schools and our family over who is in control of the education of our children," Bryant continued. "In the end the law of this state will protect us."

The Bryant children have never attended public school.

Both sides agree that the children are in no way abused mentally, physically, sexually or emotionally, but legal custody of the children was taken from Kim and George Bryant in December 2001. The children will remain under the legal custody of DSS until their 16th birthdays.

The parents have been ruled as unfit because they did not file educational plans or determine a grading system for the children, two criteria of Waltham Public School's home schooling policy.

"We do not believe in assessing our children based on a number or letter. Their education process is their personal intellectual property," said Bryant.

George Bryant said he was arrested six years ago, after not attending a meeting that the city contends he was summoned to. The meeting was called by the Waltham School Department for his failure to send his children to school.

"We want these issues aired in the open, in public. The school system and DSS have fought to keep this behind closed doors," said Bryant.

Superintendent of Schools Susan Parrella said she was unaware of yesterday's incident and that, currently the school department approves of the education plan filed by DSS for the Bryant children.

"An acceptable home school plan is in place right now," said Parrella. "I was not aware of any testing occurring today."

The Bryant children freely admit that they have no intention of taking a test.

"We don't want to take the test. We have taken them before and I don't think they are a fair assessment of what we know," said Nyssa Bryant. "And no one from DSS has ever asked us what we think."

Kenneth Pontes, area director of DSS, denied that workers have never talked to the children privately, but admitted that this type of case isn't often seen by his office.

"This is an unusual case. Different school systems require different regulations for home-schooled children. Waltham requires testing," said Pontes.

Pontes said that a possibility exists that the children will be removed from their home, but that was a last course of action.

"No one wants these children to be put in foster homes. The best course of action would for (the Bryants) to instruct the children to take the test," said Etscovitz.

The Bryant family is due in Framingham District Court this morning, to go before a juvenile court judge. According to DSS, this session will determine what their next course of action will be and if the children will be removed from the Bryants' home.

"These are our children and they have and always will be willing participants in their education," said Kim Bryant.

In the article, it is stated that both sides agree that the children have not been abused in any way by the parents. The parents have simply chosen to provide their children's education in the way the believe is best for them. Yet, the public school system that is failing miserably to provide American children with a safe, stimulating, and individualized education wants the Bryant children to take a test based on its standards.

Is this America, land of the free? Or is this a different place? When the Saigon regime collapsed, many anti-communist Vietnamese were taken to 'reeducation' camps, whose purpose was to make-over 'incomplete' individuals. Certainly, it would be an exaggeration for me to claim that this country is anywhere near that point. But rarely is liberty lost overnight. More often, it is a creeping erosion which comes inch by inch. So stories like this act as a canary in the coal mine.

Out of the many less than redeeming quotes in that article, the most appalling is probably this one:

"We have legal custody of the children and we will do with them as we see fit," DSS worker Susan Etscovitz told the Bryants in their Gale Street home. "They are minors and they do what we tell them to do."

My question for Susan Etscovitz: By what fundamental assessment of objective reality do you claim ownership of the Bryant children?

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Obviously an abuse of power

Obviously an abuse of power by the DSS. I guess the one difficult question for homeschooling parents is how to prove their children are in fact learning.

Standardized tests are great idea in theory but don't work in reality because it is subjective to determine what a kid actually needs to know at a certain grade level.

Perhaps an "interview" with a social worker where a child presents what he/she has learned. Of course the danger here is that the kid knows a lot more than the social worker and confuses the hell out of them!

At some point, if the homeschooled kids want to go to college, they will have to take the SATs, which is a voluntary standardized test. An interesting study would be to compare the average SAT score of homeschoolers vs. public vs. private schools.

In the end I would propose a compromise. At age 13 require homeschooled kids to take a test similar to the SATs (reading, writing, & arithmetic only). At age 16, the kid gives a presentation of their knowledge in whatever form they see fit. If it is reciting Bible verses, playing a musical instrument, performing a science experiment, or painting a picture, just to prove to the Social workers they have learned something their parents thought was important.

We have to offer some solution to the problem or we will get dismissed as a bunch of whiners.

Spoonie Luv noted that: "At

Spoonie Luv noted that:

"At some point, if the homeschooled kids want to go to college, they will have to take the SATs, which is a voluntary standardized test."

This is precisely the point: the SAT, ACT, et al are VOLUNTARY. I am not moved by the argument that the state has a compelling interest in the education of children. I consider mandatory schooling laws to be in breach of the Constitution. Moreover, when feeling cynical, I'm of the opinion that these laws are nothing more than a means of guaranteeing the existence of a public school system that by any objective measure is a failure.

"I am not moved by the

"I am not moved by the argument that the state has a compelling interest in the education of children."

I'm not either. Interestingly, though, it is true! The STATE has an interest in the STATE educating children. The people themselves have no such compelling interest. I think the facts show that the people have every interest in educating their own.

Considering parents have virtually no control whatsoever over what is taught to their children at public schools, I think compulsory education is a tyrannical practice. Lenin, incidentally, agreed that government education was always and everywhere a weapon to be wielded by those who controlled it against those who didn't. Incidents like this only prove him, and me, right.

okay dumb question: What

okay dumb question:

What protection and assistance would children, handicapp, mentally disabled, poor, and/or sick people get if Libertarians were running this country?

I'm struggling with this question in the context of a Libertarian govt. (Granted I am not very proficient in the details)

I do not want the Government to restrict my individual rights but I also recognize that we all live in a society, whether we like it or not, and some sacrifices are made for the "greater good".

"What protection and

"What protection and assistance would children, handicapp, mentally disabled, poor, and/or sick people get if Libertarians were running this country?"

I'm going to attempt to add a link, not knowing whether it will work, so paste the href into the address bar of your browser if it doesn't.

Here's the link.

This link describes the theory that there is a relationship between disposable income and charitable giving. In other words, the less taxes incured and therefore the more disposable income, the more giving. Personally, I have much more faith in a competitive market of charities attempting to meet the needs of the indigent than I do in governmental bureaucracy.

Aside: This blog is good stuff! I just found it and intend to blogroll it. Cheers.

Spoonie, What is your

What is your definition of the 'greater good'?

mal-3, thanks for the link.

mal-3, thanks for the link. As stated in the link the other competing theory for charitable donations is that if taxes go up then so do the donations because of the tax incentives. So I don't think the jury is out whether charitable organizations can effectively support the "greater good"

so what is the "greater good"? I doubt I can craft any definition that is not easily to tear apart. Basically I believe the "greater good" is the ability for a society to provide assistance and protection for those who need it. Without it, we start to resort to a modern day form of Darwinism. But I do recognize that it is a slippery slope because the terms are so vague.

Basically I believe the

Basically I believe the "greater good" is the ability for a society to provide assistance and protection for those who need it.

What is preventing you (and by 'society' I assume you mean you and other people like you) from providing assistance to those who need it?

what prevents me from

what prevents me from providing assistance is my limited resources.

For example, I bought a condo a few years ago and the builder did not make the front entrance handicapp accessible even though it did meet the County codes. Your solution would be to have me and a few others pay for the correct doors.

What ended up happening was that the builder eventually put in the appropriate doors b/c we had a handful of residents in wheelchairs and a lot of pressure.

What if the builder simply refused? We don't have the money to correct the problem or get into a long legal battle. Perhaps you would say the handicapp and older people should move out and find a better building. Unfortunately our lives are not that agile and we need protection in these cases.

In the end, everything is not so black & white and the shades of gray are areas that we must address. I'm still waiting to hear solutions not excuses to the difficult problems.

One problem that is not

One problem that is not solved by the market in real life is the distribution of charity resources. For example, my mother runs an excellent non-profit for children's literacy, but it's for rural children who don't have all of the programs available like urban children do. Her program provides a library for pre-school children who otherwise wouldn't have one. It's an excellent, successful program, other than the fact that it's very difficult to get funding. As one person said, "it's easier to get $50,000 for an urban program than $50 for a rural one." And when people write a check for charity, they are much more likely to give to "American Heart Association" or whatever. Unfortunately, I haven't see the market provide a rational disbursement of resources in this case. Some visible hand seems necessary.

I think this ties into the education because I think that we all have an interest in educating children on the basics of citizenship, etc. I don't want to be supporting an uneducated populace and I don't want to take it out on the children who had no say in what education they received or didn't. Look at the girl in NY who is 15 and has enough credits for an associates degree, but can't pass high school. At first it might seem outrageous, until you consider that if she just gets her associates, then she will have very narrow trade skills, without a broader background of American history, etc., to assist her in being a good citizen. We must be able to assume a basic cultural literacy or we have lost ourselves, IMHO.