18A001 Owning Children by Jim Davies, 1/2/2018   


I'm continuing to read Murray Rothbard's revealing book on the 1880-1920 period, The Progressive Era, and found that one John Swett, a government-school superintendent in San Francisco, stated:

"children arrived at the age of maturity belong, not to the parents, but to the State, to society, to the country.”

Swett had gone West from New Hampshire, and it seems his descendants are still making trouble in these parts; in the 1990s Dick Swett was a Democrat Congressman. But John stated it quite openly: in this country, children "belong to the State."

According to Rothbard, compelled schooling in government care was promoted most vigorously by those he called "Pietists", being Protestants from the Northern states, particularly Evangelical ones, in contrast to "liturgical" denominations such as Lutheran and Anglican. I think he may have missed a point there; during the second half of the 19th Century all denominations suffered a major split, between those who accepted new theological ideas about the fallibility of the Bible, and those who stuck with the traditional teaching that it is divinely and literally inspired. I have some experience of the latter and have never encountered any who campaigned for government schools. They prefer when feasible to home-school their children or to use a church school. But of the former, I can believe it: those are known for their preaching of a "social gospel."

Nonetheless, in the Progressive Era it's undeniable that some protestants did actively do so, and with the express purpose of forcibly indoctrinating the children of Roman Catholic immigrants in the right religion. Swett was among them, and his quoted words vividly exemplify the heavy price these alleged Christians were paying: they were surrendering the right to bring up children, necessarily their own as well as everyone else's. The new owner was to be the State.

This is the ugly truth underlying government schools. Right from the get-go, in the early 1800s in Prussia and in the copycat versions Horace Mann introduced to Massachusetts in 1840, the purpose was to indoctrinate the rising generation; to make them respect the authority of the State. The teaching of skills like reading, writing and arithmetic were much more important then than today, but even then they were secondary to that main purpose.

Another "Progressive" whom Rothbard quotes is Edward Ross, a social scientist; he said the teacher's role is

"to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneadingboard.”

After 7 generations of this, little wonder it's hard to explain concepts of liberty to gov-school graduates.

Little plastic lumps of human dough, or little human beings?

That question is key, to understanding who really "owns" children. If (as is obviously the case) they are human beings, then they own themselves, like everyone else: the self-ownership axiom applies and Edward Ross and all his kind are liars.

But to what extent to their parents own them? - for part of John Swett's premise was that at maturity the State was to take over ownership "from the parents". Do parents own their children, or does self ownership take effect at birth?

There's more on this on the "Children" page at The Anarchist Alternative, but in essence yes, the SoA takes effect at birth. Even the newborn has the right to control his or her own choices; but (you knew there had to be a "but"!) he doesn't have much of the needed ability to do so. That comes very rapidly - fast and furious, in some cases - but until it does, nobody but the parents, who gave her life, are in a position to make those choices on the baby's behalf - so that he does not starve or succumb to exposure or injure herself. Nature makes the mother the primary caregiver, with needed support from the father; and 2,000 generations of experience and tradition have confirmed how well that arrangement works.

As soon as he can make those choices, though, the parent must withdraw and let him.

If they don't, they are interfering with his nature, her right of self-determination; and that means strain, discontent, conflict. In the coming free society, should such a strain become too great, the maturing child will be free to change parents - or, if able, to earn his own living, for no labor laws will forbid children to compete with their elders in the work marketplace.

So yes, parents own their children; but that ownership decidedly comes with an expiry date, it's by no means permanent. In contrast the State, for as long as it continues to exist, has no ownership rights whatever.

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