It’s the same the whole word over,

It’s the poor wot gets the blame,

It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure,

Ain’t it all a blooming shame.

— Anonymous

Little Susie doesn’t enroll in a particular kindergarten because that is her personal choice among schools; when she is a bit older, she may influence the selection of her middle and high schools, but the legal authority to do so is never hers, so long as she remains a minor.

But who says she even has to go to school?

The parents enjoyed that authority in most societies eons before American state legislatures, in mid-19th century, made school compulsory for every child, the term “school” entailing minimum requirements to be met by public and private providers alike. One state even tried by force to place all children into its own government schools; Oregon it was, and the Supreme Court found this to violate the constitutional right and power of the parent to choose the school.

So, the state and the parent each holds a certain range of authority. The state decides what qualifies as a school; the parent decides which one, be it public, private, religious – or home school.

So far, the picture of power seems clear enough; the state has, and employs, the authority to say, “Go!” The parent has the power to say, “Go here!” And so, off go the kids to their parent-preferred school. Such a happy democratic family story!

Yes, but be clear. This is not a case of liberty and justice for all. Justice, yes; the child and society both deserve to have, and do, the parents’ will on this, our young person, enriched by his close personal experience and affection. But “liberty”? Not so; the parents’ decision is an act of power. So must it be. The child lacks the experience to protect his or her own best interest.

Some adult human must choose – and best for the task is one who knows young Tom and cares. Who better could we nominate but that family member who has been close to and responsible for the child?

But … you know the next line. The parents, for varying reasons, may know and prefer a certain public school, but it is in an attendance zone where they can’t afford to live; or they may decide on a private religious school but can’t afford the tuition, though it is half the per-pupil cost to the taxpayers of P.S. 22.

Clearly it lies with complete strangers to Susie and Tom, with elites whose political ancestors long ago designed a system to “rescue” such children from the religious superstitions and lower-class habits of their immigrant families – Jews, Catholics and the like – thus to be redeemed by the true message of the New World.

In our own time, the legislators and governors of the states (today with hopeful exceptions) make this weathered system flourish, preserving the Victorian structure that collects and assigns children of the poor willy-nilly to their inner-city destiny. The teacher unions applaud and assure that the lawmakers don’t stray off course. All the while, the more comfortable among us here in suburbia deploy our power over Susie and Tom while voting for the very politicians who have disempowered the inner-city family.

Meanwhile, “the people,” that ultimate authority – in poll after poll – express their strong endorsement of some form of subsidized parental choice. Why doesn’t our “democratic” system reflect this political reality in an exercise of its obvious power?

Apparently, some subtle locus of prior control has it in thrall. I wonder what that obscure power could be.

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