Saturday, 12 February 2011

Laying down the rules

Recently it was reported that a 'libertarian conservative' objected to Katherine Birbalsingh's strict disciplinary code, on the grounds that it was infringing the child's liberty. I would not usually bother with such trifles, but for some reason I feel like examining it - to consult the sacred books of Libertarian orthodoxy and issue a fatwa to resolve matters amongst the laity.

Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure where these venerable texts are located and my British Library card is long out of date (or did I return it in protest over the Biafra - Nigeria War? I forget), so may have to make it up as I go along.

So, we have a scruffy child who won't do his homework. To what extent is it permissible to force him to conform?

To the extent that his parents deem correct.

A child by definition is not fully responsible, nor fully at liberty to do as he pleases, and the parent retains a kind of 'power of attorney' over his affairs. This is the rule, and covers the majority of circumstances. There will be exceptions, but these should not unbalance our view of the issue. The exceptions arise where the child is beyond parental control, due to the child's aberrant behaviour, or the parents' failure in their duty through neglect, incapacity or malice.

But leaving such exceptions aside, and saying only that the principles of justice and equity, to be expected in a civilised, law-governed country, must naturally be applied in such circumstances (and acknowledging that this is not always the case), this rule I declare is based on these presumptions; that the parents love the child; that the child may resent the imposition of discipline, but that this is of secondary importance, as long as the parents consider it in the child's best interest to be so disciplined; furthermore, I believe that common sense and long-standing social norms have set out the boundaries of parent/child and teacher/child relationships. It is reasonable for a teacher to insist that a child obeys the rules, assuming these to be reasonable. The contractual relationship is that the parent has empowered the teacher, who thus acts in loco parentis.

Application of parental authority must take into account the child's individual nature, and is not unlimited -the child is never to be seen as a possession of the parents, the authority over the child is only temporary. This being the case, it is wise for the parents to seek a suitable education for their child, one that fits both the child's nature and the parents' understanding of what a good education consists of. This brings us to larger issues of a political nature, concerning the provision of education and its current organisation under a large degree of state control.

If a libertarian were to take issue with Katherine Birbalsingh, it would be surely over her commitment to state-run education, not in her insistence on discipline, which is absolutely her right to require of any child given into her charge. Even then, it must be remembered that she is first and foremost a teacher, and her views on political issues are separate to her ability to do that job. If there must be a state-run system, the more teachers like Birbalsingh there are the better, and it is one indictment among many that her ilk find themselves levered out of positions of authority within it. So any remonstrance I would make to her would be of the mildest kind, asking her to reconsider her support for a system that has done her down.

Finally, driving the argument from the libertarian point of view, is the belief that a freer system, made up of independent and heterogeneous schools in competition with each other, without such centralised control and interference as now exist, would serve society, the parents, teachers and children, better than the present model.

Further arguments can always be made, disputing the legitimacy of the taxes raised to pay for it, and the malign influence of state-enforced conformity. Nevertheless, we should assume that schools will continue to exist whatever role the government takes, and however they are paid for, and in such places discipline will be required. So, returning to the original question:

So, we have a scruffy child who won't do his homework. To what extent is it permissible to force him to conform?

To the extent that his parents deem correct, always remembering that the child's presence in the school signifies agreement between the parents and the school on any such matter of discipline and that the school retains the right to throw out any child who causes the parents to break this agreement.


fraser said...

You cannot force the child to conform.

As for reasonable rules,if the child isn't disruptive or violent,thats reasonable for me?

The parents enpower the teacher?forced by the state to enpower the teacher in most case's.

You my or my not have seen this video,what do you think?

Trooper Thompson said...

I am not addressing the state's involvement, but the relationship between teachers, children and parents. Even in astate-less society, schools will exist.

There must be a contractual relationship between the child and the school, and as the child is not old enough to enter into contractual relationships, it is between the parents and the school.

The school is under no obligation to continue with a child who is more trouble than he's worth. This would apply across the board, in, say a karate club or little league football. (This statement ignores current legislation to the contrary, as I am looking at the 'unhampered market').

The practicalities of parent/child relationships, I leave to the individuals concerned. A child is not fully responsible or at liberty, and until the age of majority, the parents retain the final responsibility, but as I've tried to say, all children are different and a parent who goes against the grain of his child's nature, will likely have problems.

Nevertheless, that is not my concern, but the concern of the parents. If you reject this concept of parental authority, then your only alternatives are:

1) The child must be considered as no different as an adult, which is clearly not the case, as the child cannot take care of himself. Certainly this is more true of a babe-in-arms than a 15 year old, but the blurring at the border between child and adult does not negate the validity of the distinction (no more than the existence of hermaphrodites negates the distinction of male and female).

The other alternative is that the state takes the place of the parent, which you will surely not prefer.

I'll watch the video, cheers.