UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: U.S. Homeschoolers’ Fears Confirmed in British Report

According to BBC News, the British government, following a report provided by former education chief Graham Badman, will force homeschoolers in England to register with the State and allow authorities access to their homes at least once a year. The stated purpose of this government oversight is to ensure that homeschooled children in England are receiving a “suitable education.” [1]

If “parents do not meet certain standards,” according to the BBC, the children can be “sent back to school.”

In reaction to criticism that the standards by which parents will be judged are ill-defined, Mr. Badman responded, “This is not some woolly statement; they will be judged on their [educational] plans. These statements should contain some milestones for children to achieve.”

Yet in spite of his implication that the homeschooling standards are reasonably clear, Badman went on to tell the BBC, “I’m calling for further work to be done, but also setting some parameters.”

Homeschoolers are clearly concerned.

One unnamed homeschooling parent told the BBC that she would not favor monitoring visits from the local authority because it had failed in its duty to provide a suitable education for her son in the first place.

Homeschoolers in the United States are paying close attention to the connection between these events and the fact that the British government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 2008.

The UNCRC, while signed by U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 1995, has never been ratified in the United States — a process that requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate — a situation that Barack Obama called “embarrassing.” [2]

Home educators in the U.S. have long feared that ratification of the UNCRC would undermine their parental rights in the name of “children’s rights” as defined by the UN. Recent events in England have only served to confirm these fears.

“An education should be broad and balanced and enable children to make choices,” Graham Badman told the BBC, sending up red flags for concerned homeschoolers.

According to a report from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an advocacy group located just outside of Washington, D.C., “UNCRC will be used to significantly restrict the freedom to homeschool in England.” [3]

The HSLDA report quotes Badman’s recommendations to the British government as stating, “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives children and young people over forty substantive rights which include the right to express their views freely, the right to be heard in any legal or administrative matters that affect them and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:

‘Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.’

Yet under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views.”

HSLDA points out that Badman’s report cites the requirements of the UNCRC and proposes, “That designated local authority officers should have the right of access to the home and have the right to speak with each child alone.”

While homeschoolers have reason to be particularly concerned, all Catholic parents should recognize that ratification of the UNCRC in the U.S. could threaten parental rights in a way that is irreconcilable with Church teaching.

The right and duty of parents to educate their children in accord with their Christian faith is nothing less than a fundamental matter of human dignity. It is not the purview of the State, properly speaking, to grant the right of education to parents; rather it is an inalienable right given by God, not the government.

The Vatican II Decree on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis , teaches that “parents are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” (GE 3).

The State does indeed have a role to play in educating its citizens, but according to the Council it is best understood as merely a supporting role, one that should never pose a threat to parental rights, but rather should enhance them.

“Civil society’s function is to promote the education of youth in many ways, namely: to protect the duties and rights of parents and others who share in education and to give them aid according to the principle of subsidiarity” (ibid.).

The principal of subsidiarity is often cited in Catholic teaching as one of the keys to an educational approach that honors the God-given rights of parents. It simply means that control is best exercised by the simplest, most local social unit as is fitting according to its ability. In this case, the principal of subsidiarity suggests that educational decisions are best made in the family as opposed to being dictated by the State whose role it is to aid in the “work of education in accordance with the wishes of the parents” (ibid.).

The Council goes on to say that “parents must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools. Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children (GE 6).

In this day and age when public schools so often teach our children in ways that run counter to a truly Christian conscience, this “true liberty” would naturally include not only leaving parents in peace to homeschool their children, but enhancing their ability to do so by providing public funding. First things first, however…

Democrats like Sen. Barbara Boxer of California have expressed a desire to bring the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to a ratification vote as soon as possible. As the situation unfolding in England makes clear, Catholics in the United States must keep a close eye on the progress of the UNCRC ratification process and mobilize to defeat this enemy of subsidiarity and parental rights.

Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Letter to Families could have been speaking specifically of the dangers posed by the UNCRC when he said, “Whenever the family is self-sufficient, it should be left to act on its own; an excessive intrusiveness on the part of the State would prove detrimental, to say nothing of lacking due respect, and would constitute an open violation of the rights of the family.”

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/8095864.stm

[2] http://debate.waldenu.edu/video/question-12/#content

[3] http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/200906161.asp

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