In a comment on my previous post on homeschooling, Burgess Laughlin issued a friendly challenge:
Should the state require parents to provide any education? If so, what is the justification?Here is my answer to this challenge.
The parents have the obligation to provide for the child. What does this mean? Well, the child is born helpless. It did not ask to be born. The parents, having chosen the bring the child into existence, take upon them the responsibilities of its development from a helpless infant into a self-sufficient adult.
What are these responsibilities? Since man (including a child) is an integrated being of mind and body, the responsibilities divide into physical and mental. The physical include such things as food, clothing and shelter. The mental include such things as teaching the child how to speak.
Furthermore, as part of bringing the child to the point where he is self-sufficient, he must be provided with at least the rudiments of knowledge necessary for such independence. This is culturally contextual. As Branden pointed out in The Objectivist Newsletter, in a more primitive society that might mean teaching your child how to hunt. In our more advanced, knowledge-based society, it means teaching him reading, writing and arithmetic. Of course, parents should and typically will teach their child much more (history, science, literature, etc). However, with the 3R essentials the child can complete the process on his own, whereas without that basic knowledge he is left without even the means to develop his knowledge further.
Thus it is proper, as part of the parent's obligation to provide for the child's transition to independence, for the state to require that the parent arrange for the teaching of at least these fundamentals so that an essential part of the child's independence is achieved. However, absent specific evidence to the contrary, the state should assume that the parents are fulfilling their obligation. Parents, just like everybody else, are innocent until proven guilty. It also remains a difficult question as to the exact time frame by which the state can require this obligation to be fulfilled. For example if a child has not learned to read by age 9, should the state intervene? How about age 14? I support early education but have not yet thought this aspect of the issue clearly through. However, the requirement itself derives from the parent's obligation to provide for the child's transition to independence.