Monday, April 24, 2006

Who Is Responsible for Educating Children?

It was an honor when Dr. Daniel Haifley, pastor of Grace Bible Baptist Church, Syracuse, IN, invited me to speak at the First Annual Home School Expo held on the grounds of Indiana Fundamental Bible College on April 29, 2006. As I examined the details of Indiana home school laws, it was perhaps fitting to place such an examination in the larger context of a philosophical issue: Who is responsible for educating children?


As we examine the question of “Who is responsible for educating children?”, let us consider three plausible alternatives.

# 1 -- The government is responsible for educating children.

This alternative, commonly expressed in the last 150 years by educators, humanists, and bureaucrats in America and around the world, faces two problems:
• Biblically, government plays no role in education. The Biblically ordained role of government is protection of life and property, not education of children.
• Legally, the courts of America have consistently ruled that government is not primarily responsible for educating children.

# 2 -- The church is responsible for educating children.

The church, assuredly “the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15), should provide numerous opportunities for children to learn the truths of God’s Word; but nowhere does the Bible place upon the church the primary responsibility for educating children.

# 3 -- Parents are responsible for educating children.

Both Biblically and legally, parents have always had the primary responsibility for educating their children.
• In Deuteronomy 6:1-7, the fathers were responsible for teaching God’s Words to his children.
• “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (Proverbs 1:8).

As we will see, God's law and man's law agree on this big philosophical issue. Of course, the reason why is that man's law is based upon God's law (an issue which must be reserved for another day).


As the following three court opinions demonstrate (one Indiana Court of Appeals decision, one U.S. Supreme Court decision, and one federal district court decision), discussed in chronological order, both state and federal courts have clearly placed upon the parents the responsibility for educating children.

A. 1904 -- The State v. Peterman, 32 Ind.App. 665, 70 N.E. 550, decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals near the beginning of the 20th Century, held that the Indiana compulsory attendance laws allowed for the operation of home schools. With regard to the question, “Who is responsible for educating children?”, the Indiana court quoted from a Massachusetts opinion which set forth that court’s opinion as to the relative duties of both parents and government, as follows:

"One of the most important natural duties of the parent is his obligation to educate his child, and this duty he owes not to the child only, but to the commonwealth. If he neglects to perform it, or wilfully refuses to do so, he may be coerced by law to execute such civil obligation. The welfare of the child and the best interests of society require that the State shall exert its sovereign authority to secure to the child the opportunity to acquire an education."

B. 1925 -- Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus, 268 U.S. 510, was a U.S. Supreme Court case which reviewed the recently enacted Oregon compulsory attendance law which compelled parents to send their children to public schools. The Supreme Court noted the role of government with respect to education of children:

"No question is raised concerning the power of the state reasonably to regulate all schools, to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare."

However, with regard to the question, “Who is responsible for educating children?”, the U.S. Supreme Court could not have answered more clearly.

"[W]e think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 [the compulsory attendance law] unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. . . The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

C. 1985 -- Mazanec v. North Judson-San Pierre School Corporation, 614 F.Supp. 1152. This home schooling case was decided in the federal district court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. Applying the Indiana compulsory attendance laws to a home schooling family, the federal judge ruled as follows:

"This court has no difficulty with the values that were announced in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, . . years ago. Nor does this court have any difficulty in concurring with those courts that have found within the ambit of the free exercise clause a constitutional right to educate ones children in an educationally proper home environment, understanding that the State retains a legitimate interest in the fulfillment of certain minimal requirements as established legislatively and administratively as a matter of public policy."

Praise the Lord that we live in America! But the battles for liberty shall never wane. In the meantime, may parents never forget these words by Supreme Court Justice McReynolds: "[T]hose [parents] who nurture him [children] have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."


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