Education, privacy and tyranny

On November 1, the San Francisco based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Fields v. Palmdale that school districts and the state are the ultimate moral authority in the raising of children. Parents who naively assumed that such responsibilities were inherently theirs are outraged. Yet, although their outrage is fully understandable, they have no excuse for being surprised.

At issue in the Ninth Circuit's decision was a complaint lodged by parents in the Palmdale school district of California that their children had been subjected to official queries regarding such intimate topics as their sexual thoughts and 'touching [their] private parts too much.' Were the gardener down the street to engage in a discussion of similar matters with passing children, he would surely be labeled as a sexual predator and appropriately charged in most jurisdictions.

In its ruling, the court merely reasserted the philosophy that has undergirded the overwhelming bulk of what has passed as 'education' in America for the past several decades. Are Americans just now beginning to figure out that the little red schoolhouse no longer exists?

Meanwhile, the parents of Palmdale are expected to unconditionally accept the notion that the possession of 'professional credentials' by those engaging in this prying somehow shielded their children from any harm or humiliation that might have resulted from these encounters. The state knows best. Case closed.

But if any element of surprise should be connected with this situation, it is that such action by the state is perceived as something new. It has happened before, and on a frequent enough basis that no one has an honest excuse to now be caught off guard.

In March of 1996, parents in the East Stroudsburg School District of Pennsylvania were shocked to learn that, during the course of the school day, 59 of their sixth—grade daughters had been removed from class and forcibly subjected to invasive genital exams. The outrage was perpetrated under the theory that, by turning guardianship of their children over to the school system during the course of the day, parents were effectively relinquishing all authority over them to the state.

Bureaucratic excuses notwithstanding, the harsh reality was that students were legally subjected to treatment that essentially constituted sexual assault. It meant little or nothing to the victims that those committing the assault possessed some official certificate posted on the wall back in the home office, or that the 'exams' were ostensibly conducted in the interests of their health and well being.

They had been violated, and short of sitting through every subsequent class with them, their parents were absolutely helpless to prevent any recurrence of the outrage. Local health officials and school employees held public demonstrations in support of the action. And more than three years passed before a token judgment was imposed on the school.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of this tragedy is that appropriate, if costly, recourse is indeed available to parents. Yet most parents remain steadfastly opposed to exercising their option. From East Stroudsburg to Palmdale, they can, on an individual basis, not only prevent further assaults on their children, they also have the ability to impose multi—thousand dollar 'fines' for each child so violated. It is hardly a secret that they can simply remove their children from government schools that condone such behavior, and thereafter home school them or enroll them in private schools.

If and when this ever becomes the standard response, school administrators throughout the country will quickly get the message that in the end, such actions ultimately affect them where it hurts most... in their budget. Every child pulled out of a government school causes that school to lose thousands of dollars of state and local funding. Thereafter they might well think twice before risking future funding for the sake of their political/social agenda.

Unfortunately, the message sent to the schools by most parents is quite the opposite. On this past Election Day in California (where this most recent controversy took place) voters overwhelmingly opted against reform of the state's disastrous educational system.

The presumption of absolute authority over the moral and spiritual development of the next generation has always been a cornerstone of every totalitarian state. The intrusions of American schools into the private sphere, even the private body parts of students, not only violate the unfortunate children and their families, they illuminate a path toward tyranny. But for the immediate future, Americans still have the ability to pre—empt such a future.

If, however, parents continue to go with the flow, the ultimate disgrace will not fall on those morally reprehensible school districts nor even the activist courts, but on parents who weigh the costs of protecting their children but still find it cheaper and more convenient to place them in harm's way.

Christopher G. Adamo is a frequent contributor.

On November 1, the San Francisco based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Fields v. Palmdale that school districts and the state are the ultimate moral authority in the raising of children. Parents who naively assumed that such responsibilities were inherently theirs are outraged. Yet, although their outrage is fully understandable, they have no excuse for being surprised.

At issue in the Ninth Circuit's decision was a complaint lodged by parents in the Palmdale school district of California that their children had been subjected to official queries regarding such intimate topics as their sexual thoughts and 'touching [their] private parts too much.' Were the gardener down the street to engage in a discussion of similar matters with passing children, he would surely be labeled as a sexual predator and appropriately charged in most jurisdictions.

In its ruling, the court merely reasserted the philosophy that has undergirded the overwhelming bulk of what has passed as 'education' in America for the past several decades. Are Americans just now beginning to figure out that the little red schoolhouse no longer exists?

Meanwhile, the parents of Palmdale are expected to unconditionally accept the notion that the possession of 'professional credentials' by those engaging in this prying somehow shielded their children from any harm or humiliation that might have resulted from these encounters. The state knows best. Case closed.

But if any element of surprise should be connected with this situation, it is that such action by the state is perceived as something new. It has happened before, and on a frequent enough basis that no one has an honest excuse to now be caught off guard.

In March of 1996, parents in the East Stroudsburg School District of Pennsylvania were shocked to learn that, during the course of the school day, 59 of their sixth—grade daughters had been removed from class and forcibly subjected to invasive genital exams. The outrage was perpetrated under the theory that, by turning guardianship of their children over to the school system during the course of the day, parents were effectively relinquishing all authority over them to the state.

Bureaucratic excuses notwithstanding, the harsh reality was that students were legally subjected to treatment that essentially constituted sexual assault. It meant little or nothing to the victims that those committing the assault possessed some official certificate posted on the wall back in the home office, or that the 'exams' were ostensibly conducted in the interests of their health and well being.

They had been violated, and short of sitting through every subsequent class with them, their parents were absolutely helpless to prevent any recurrence of the outrage. Local health officials and school employees held public demonstrations in support of the action. And more than three years passed before a token judgment was imposed on the school.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of this tragedy is that appropriate, if costly, recourse is indeed available to parents. Yet most parents remain steadfastly opposed to exercising their option. From East Stroudsburg to Palmdale, they can, on an individual basis, not only prevent further assaults on their children, they also have the ability to impose multi—thousand dollar 'fines' for each child so violated. It is hardly a secret that they can simply remove their children from government schools that condone such behavior, and thereafter home school them or enroll them in private schools.

If and when this ever becomes the standard response, school administrators throughout the country will quickly get the message that in the end, such actions ultimately affect them where it hurts most... in their budget. Every child pulled out of a government school causes that school to lose thousands of dollars of state and local funding. Thereafter they might well think twice before risking future funding for the sake of their political/social agenda.

Unfortunately, the message sent to the schools by most parents is quite the opposite. On this past Election Day in California (where this most recent controversy took place) voters overwhelmingly opted against reform of the state's disastrous educational system.

The presumption of absolute authority over the moral and spiritual development of the next generation has always been a cornerstone of every totalitarian state. The intrusions of American schools into the private sphere, even the private body parts of students, not only violate the unfortunate children and their families, they illuminate a path toward tyranny. But for the immediate future, Americans still have the ability to pre—empt such a future.

If, however, parents continue to go with the flow, the ultimate disgrace will not fall on those morally reprehensible school districts nor even the activist courts, but on parents who weigh the costs of protecting their children but still find it cheaper and more convenient to place them in harm's way.

Christopher G. Adamo is a frequent contributor.