Children are Property of the State

elian-gonzalezFrom: The Future of Freedom Foundation – by Jacob G. Hornberger, April 2000

Americans everywhere were outraged at the Cuban diplomat's remark that Elián Gonzales is the property of the Cuban state. If only their outrage extended to their own homeland!

Photo at right – Elián González is removed at gunpoint
from his relatives' home in Miami.

For more than 100 years, Americans have lived under a system of state schooling or, as it is commonly termed, public schooling. Under compulsory-attendance laws, the state requires parents to deliver their children to a state institution to receive a state-approved education from a state-approved schoolteacher using state-approved textbooks and following a state-approved curriculum.

Several months ago, I spent a week in Cuba with the official permission of both the U.S. Treasury Department and the Cuban authorities. The purpose of my trip was to conduct an informal study of Cuba's socialist system as well as the effects of the U.S. embargo on the Cuban people.

One day I was visiting an official state historical museum, which was riddled, of course, with pro-communist and anti-CIA memorabilia. The exhibits were fascinating, but when about a hundred schoolchildren (all in uniform, of course) were suddenly ushered into the museum by their schoolteachers, they (and I) were treated to a couple of hours of Cuba's official version of history, which was even more fascinating.

And then there were the billboards. In the cities and in the countryside, the Cuban people are treated to giant government billboards proclaiming Fidel Castro's two proudest socialistic accomplishments: free public schooling and free national health care.

My conversations with Cubans on the street (I speak Spanish fluently) revealed that while many of them still revere Castro for having the courage to stand up to the imperialism of the United States, they despise (and quietly ridicule) the socialist economic system under which they suffer. But significantly, Cubans fully understand that such government programs as public schooling and national health care (and occupational licensure and economic regulations) are socialist programs.

Contrast this with the American people. Expressing outrage over the suggestion that children are the property of the state, Americans honestly believe that public schooling is a feature of free enterprise or capitalism . They block out of their minds that through public schooling, children are effectively made the property of the state right here at home.

Now, it's true that in recent years, homeschooling has made significant inroads into the state schooling system, but what really matters is who wields ultimate control over the education of the child. Even parents who homeschool their children are required to report to state education officials to secure official approval that they are educating their children in a correct manner.

In both Cuba and the United States, ultimate control over the education of the child rests with the state, not the family. When a child reaches the age of 6 years old, his status as property of the state requires that he be educated in a state-approved manner. In American public schools, for example, children are taught an official version of the 1959 Cuban Revolution that is diametrically opposed to the version that the state teaches schoolchildren in Cuba.

If a parent in either country resists, the state will ultimately punish him by removing his children from his control and placing them in the custody of state officials. Or the state will impose an even harsher sanction.

singer_swapp_familySeveral decades ago, a man in Utah, John Singer, paid the ultimate price for resisting the idea that children are the property of the state. Long before homeschooling became legal, Singer refused to permit his children to be subjected to the aberrant environment of public schooling and became one of the first homeschoolers in the nation.

The state ordered Singer to surrender his children to the public-school authorities so that they could receive a proper education, but he refused, believing that his children belonged to him, not the state.

One day, state law-enforcement officers secretly surrounded Singer's home and shot him dead as he went to his mailbox to retrieve his mail. They said that he resisted arrest when he reached for a pistol as they accosted him. [See "The Ballad of John Singer" for additional information]

The ultimate moral issue is: Who should have control over the educational decisions of children, the family or the state?

The ultimate pragmatic question is: If the free market produces the best of everything else, why shouldn't we end state involvement in education and let the free market reign in the educational arena as well?

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia, publisher of Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families by Sheldon Richman. A detailed account of his trip to Cuba is found on The Foundation's website: