Education Montana Politics

Parent’s Bill of Rights: Another Bad Idea from the Montana GOP

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Billings Republican Mike Lange wants to amend the Montana Constitution, adding the following:

Parents have the right to the custody of their minor children and the right to control and direct their education, religious training, social training and contacts, and general upbringing. These rights may not be infringed by the state or a political subdivision of the state without a compelling state interest of the highest order. Failure to mention a right of a parent in this section does not exclude another right of parents regarding their children. This section applies to parents whose marriage has been dissolved to the extent possible. The legislature may implement this section by appropriate legislation.

This is a bad bill, and it was a bad bill when it was proposed with almost the same wording in Colorado ten years ago. While the Legislature does not have the direct power to amend the Constitution, Lange’s bill and the apparent endorsement of the Republican Party demonstrate clearly that their priorities are not those of the people of Montana. What’s more, they are bad lawmakers, not to mention not terribly creative. This incredibly broad constitutional wording presents a number of concerns. The language of the amendment would place an incredible burden on state social service workers trying to remove children from abusive homes, open the door for religious practice that conflicts with the law, and decrease children’s access to critical counseling services.

The biggest impact will be felt in education. Though Lange tells the Billings Gazette that the proposed legislation will not impact the requirement of compulsory education, the bill will contribute to a hostile atmosphere in education, with parents constitutionally entitled to question and change any element of education they see fit.

The People for the American Way note that proposed legal changes like the Parents Bill of Rights are cover to attack issues that the right wing finds objectionable in schools:

The truth is that school districts around the country are already under great pressure to eliminate sexuality education programs and health clinics, as well as literature ranging from Halloween stories to works by such authors as Mark Twain and Maya Angelou…such efforts will be more likely end up in court or whether they will instead be resolved through intimidation at the classroom level to the satisfaction of schoolbook censors, neither alternative is particularly attractive.

The last thing we need to do is make it easier for the social minority to impose its agenda on the schools. They have already had a chilling effect on science, health, and even literature curriculum. Montanans would do well not to legally enshrine the rights of this minority to control our education.

Make no mistake, I think parents should be involved in education. Personally, I love having the input of parents and invite them to attend my classroom. That’s positive interaction. This proposed amendment, however, goes too far, giving parents essentially unquestioned rights to challenge educational materials, delivery techniques, and requirements.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

4 Comments

  • Sir,

    I should presume by your opposition to this legislation, that you do not believe a parent should have the legal right to “control and direct thier children’s education, religious training, social training and contacts, and general upbringing.”

    From the above listed rights, which would you deny to me, as a parent? Who should have the right to direct my child’s religious training? Should it be you? Shoud it be another who does not love my child as I do?

    Sir, when my child is sick, who is the one who cannot rest until he is well? Is it you? Who would give their life to protect him? Is it you? There is none other who sacrifeces more for the well being of my child then I. Should a person who loves my child less be the one who is responsible for his upbringing?

    As a teacher, you are arrogant. You invite the parent to be involved in thier child’s education, but only so far. The parent may attend your classroom, but should have no right to challenge the materials you use? Answer me this, who hired you? Who pays the taxes that support your school and purchase your teaching materials? Is it not the parent? Are you not the agent of the parent in educating the parent’s child?

    How would you feel if your child came home to tell you that he or she was taught that homosexuality is a mental disorder? Would you not want, no, demand that the the school curriculum be changed? Welcome to the world of the religious family whose child is taught at school that homosexuality is good and healthy. While demanding your right to direct your child’s upbringing, you would deny another parent’s his or her right to direct the uprbringing of thier child.

    Please tell me, very plainly, why I should not be guaranteed the rights listed in the above ‘Parents Bill of Rights’.

    Thank you.

  • My simplest response is, how do I teach, under this law? If a novel addresses homosexuality–in a positive or negative light–do I need to send a note home, asking permission? Do I need to prepare multiple assignments for every topic in literature, because someone is potentially offended by any argument. Some might object on moral grounds to the argument that racism is destructive–must I offer a racist tract to that student?

    No one questions the right of parents to be involved in the process of their children’s education, least of all me. I would love to have parents who did involve themselves, but this law is just cover for social conservatives to impose their vision of reality on the schools, ending discussion of evolution, mythology, homosexuality, sex education, and a host of other issues.

    It’s a red herring. In most districts, including mine, parents (and even students) are given the right to ask for alternative assignments–passage of this vague law will only make the minds of our students more narrow, our schools more litigious, and our communities more fractured.

  • As an instructor, is is your responsibility to understand and respect the values of the parents whose children you teach. For instance, you would probably approach the subject of American History very differently were you teaching on Rocky Boy Indian Reservation than you would if you were in Bozeman.

    Obviously, not all parents of children in a single class share the same world view. However, communities typically have a prevailing culture. A teacher should seek to understand that culture and seek to promote it (or at a minimum, avoid confronting it) through class materials used, topics covered, etc…

    You ask, if a novel addresses homosexuality, weather you should sent a note seeking the parents permission to teach it. Perhaps, if you feel that there are a significant number of parents who would not want thier children to read that novel, you may opt to choose another novel. Why would you introduce materials that you believe parents would not support? There is much fine literature that our children can be exposed to that is not controversial. Think Shakespeare, Tolkien, Golding or Twain. There may be a rare parent who may object to a single title selection of this sort; but on the whole, complaints would be minimal. What is the purpose of introducing a friendly view of homosexuality when you know that the majority of your parents do not share your views?

    You expect the parent to support you in educating their child, yet you do not support the parent in your choices of materials. As an instructor, you must remember that you are teaching other people’s children, not your own. The classroom is not the place for you to introduce your worldview. If what you desire to teach runs contrary to what the perponderance of parents want you to teach, perhaps you are teaching in the wrong place. To you, it’s a job. To the parent, it is thier child.

    I have read the text of the Parental Bill of Rights, and I find no mention of ideology whatsoever. On what grounds do you accuse ‘social conservatives’ of wanting to impose visions of reality? This recognition of parental rights treats all parents equally, I see no distinction. Please show me how this would give the social conservative more power than the social liberal. Do you mean to tell me that social liberals do not desire to control and direct the upbringing of thier children? Is it only conservatives that care about the way thier children are being raised? Is that what you are saying?

    Sir, as a teacher, why would you desire to address ‘discussion of evolution, mythology, homosexuality, sex education, and a host of other issues’ that parents of your students may object to? Do you not respect thier role as parents?

    On a side note, is your reference to mythology a veiled reference to Christianity?

    Regards,

  • I couldn’t understand some parts of this article s Bill of Rights: Another Bad Idea from the Montana GOP, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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