How School Districts Weaponize Child Protection Services Against Uncooperative Parents

Schooling is adept at rooting out individuality and enforcing compliance. In his book, Understanding Power, Noam Chomsky writes: “In fact, the whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on—because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.”

This filtering process begins very early in a child’s schooling as conformity is rewarded and divergence is punished.

Public Schooling Breeds Obedience

Most of us played this game as schoolchildren. We know the rules. The kids who raise their hands, color in the lines, and obey succeed; the kids who challenge the rules struggle. The problem now is that the rules are extending beyond the classroom. Parents are increasingly required to obey, to conform to a school’s demands even if they believe such orders may not be appropriate for their child.

In my advocacy work with homeschooling families across the country, I frequently hear stories from parents who decided to homeschool their kids because schools were pressuring them to comply with various special education plans, push medications onto their children, or submit to other restrictive procedures they felt were not in their child’s best interest. Even more heartbreaking is the growing trend of school officials to unleash child protective services (CPS) on parents, homeschooling or not, who refuse to give in to a district’s demands.

Weaponizing Child Protective Services

An investigative report by The Hechinger Report and HuffPost released last month revealed that schools are increasingly using child protective services as a “weapon” against parents. It said:

Fed up with what they see as obstinate parents who don’t agree to special education services for their child, or disruptive kids who make learning difficult, schools sometimes use the threat of a child-protection investigation to strong-arm parents into complying with the school’s wishes or transferring their children to a new school. That approach is not only improper, but it can be devastating for families, even if the allegations are ultimately determined to be unfounded.

More troubling, these threats disproportionately target low-income and minority parents. According to the report:

Such families also have fewer resources to fight back. When a family in a wealthy Brooklyn neighborhood learned roughly two years ago that their child’s school had initiated an ACS [New York’s Administration for Children’s Services] investigation against them, they sued the city education department. Parents from lower-income, majority-black and Latino neighborhoods, few of whom can afford that option, say such investigations can be a regular, even expected, part of parenting.

Bullying Proactive Parents

For parents who are unhappy with their child’s school and decide to withdraw their child for homeschooling, threats of child welfare investigations can sometimes turn to actions. In Massachusetts, a mother is reportedly suing the Worcester Public Schools after school officials called the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) on her for alleged “educational neglect,” even though the mother contends that she dutifully filed her homeschooling paperwork for her eight-year-old son mid-year.

Brian Huskie, a public high school teacher and homeschooling father in New York, noted a similar case last year with one of his students. Dissatisfied with the school, the parents decided to remove their daughter from the district, filed the necessary homeschooling paperwork, and were soon visited by child protective services investigating “educational neglect.” Huskie detailed the incident on his blog, writing that the school made a “decision to weaponize CPS against a district family.”

Parents who push back against a district’s recommendations or withdraw their child from school for homeschooling are often trying to ensure their child’s well-being. Questioning various educational interventions and examining alternatives is part of a parent’s job. They should be praised for looking out for their child’s best interest, while schools should be sure that they use social services agencies to investigate serious claims of abuse and neglect—not just district snubs or paperwork quarrels.

If, as Chomsky suggests, many of us have grown acquiescent to power due to our successful schooling, it can be hard to challenge authority. It can be even harder when that authority is strengthened by government force and when we may not have the resources to fight it.

Supporting parents, broadening their education choices, and respecting their decisions are crucial steps in liberating families and curbing government coercion.

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Trump’s Foreign Policy War on Americans

Beyond any reasonable doubt, in substance if not in appearance, Donald Trump is a thoroughly conventional American politician. It’s a wonder that anyone requires proof at this late date.

This couldn’t be more clear in foreign policy. Some of us who understand the links among freedom, durable prosperity, and a noninterventionist foreign policy always doubted the sincerity of Trump’s occasional renegade soundbites during his presidential campaign. But some fantasists fell for them, and they refuse to let go of their tissue-thin hope that this execrable man will liquidate the American empire. Nothing will convince them, so efforts at persuasion are futile.

The funny thing is that Trump himself seems to be working hardest to persuade those supporters that he has no intention of changing U.S. foreign policy. He would no more liquidate America’s global empire than liquidate his global business empire. Alas, America is not going anywhere. Sure, he may hector imperial allies to spend more on their militaries (while insisting he respects their sovereignty), but that’s just a show. He’s an all-in imperialist, so we shouldn’t be fooled by the staged populism that sometimes is mistaken for come-home-Americanism. America First in practice embodies George H. W. Bush’s summation of America’s foreign policy: “What we say goes.”

As Glenn Greenwald writes about Trump’s disgusting relationship with Saudi Arabia, it’s “a perfect example — perhaps stated a little more bluntly and candidly than usual — of how the U.S. has conducted itself in the world since at least the end of World War II.”

Forgive me for repeating myself: Trump is a caricature of a conventional American politician — which is why the political establishment despises him so. He lacks the diplomatic costume that makes brutality acceptable or at least enables people to live comfortably with their heads in the sand. But he’s just another faithful defender of the empire, and as such, he needs an enemy. In fact, he has plenty; take your choice: China, Iran, — and, yes — Russia. If someone thinks North Korea is a counterexample, I can only laugh. He has friends too: Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, assorted right-wing politicians. (He is indifferent to what appears to be the barbaric state murder of Jamal Khashoggi, giving the crown prince an out by calling Khashoggi an “enemy of the state” and a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. He also praises the kingdom for lowering oil prices. Does he not know how stupid and naive that sounds? Or does he merely believe his fans are stupid and naive?)

Markers of his devotion to the empire include big boosts in military (please, not defense) spending; his doubling down on the endless Middle East wars; his insane withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Reagan and Gorbachev struck in a major step away from the Cold War; continued expansion of NATO (which he pretends to disdain), and his arming of the fascist-infested Ukrainian government.

The latest exhibit in the case confirming Trump as a conventional American politician comes from the New York Times. It reported yesterday that the current White House occupant is doing what presidents have done at least since the onset of the Cold War: insisting that countries have no choice but to side with the United States or with one of its perceived enemies, in this case, China.

“The rivalry, which has reached a new pitch and scope, is now centered on the trade war that President Trump started this year [which is actually a war on Americans],” the Times reported. “But tensions have also sharpened over a broad range of diplomatic and military issues, like Taiwan, the South China Sea and economic sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

“Across the globe the United States and China are jockeying to build alliances or partnerships and shut out the other power.”

That China plays such games is not a good reason for the Trump administration to do so. The Chinese want to sell to us, not annihilate us. However, China’s moves are easily seen as responses to Trump’s aggressive measures in its neighborhood. For every pro-detente member of the administration, there seemingly are two members who think war with China is inevitable. For Trump, trade has nothing to do with individual freedom and prosperity. It’s just part of the arsenal with which to wage war against perceived rivals and reward friends. A charge of “unfair trade practices” is one of the first refuges of scoundrels.

Viewed as a whole, Trump’s foreign policy is nothing but inimical to individual liberty, peace, long-term prosperity, and the right of Americans and others to pursue their private lives beyond the reach of meddlesome rulers. As the Jeffersonian Abraham Bishop said in 1800: “A nation that makes greatness its polestar can never be free.”

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Fixing Shitholes, Sandboxes, Intelligence, Nullification, & Politics (41m) – Editor’s Break 111

Editor’s Break 111 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: the terrible advice that is encouraging people in third world countries to stay and attempt to fix their governmental problems; the value in thinking of ideologies as sandboxes; what intelligence is and is not; the praiseworthiness that is the act of nullifying liberty-encroaching government laws; the contentious nature of politics; and more.

Listen to Editor’s Break 111 (41m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Against Veneration

Ye venerate me; but what if your veneration should some day collapse? Take heed lest a statue crush you!

Ye say, ye believe in Zarathustra? But of what account is Zarathustra! Ye are my believers: but of what account are all believers!

–Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I have close friends who venerate Adam Smith, John Rawls, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, John Maynard Keynes, Ayn Rand, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig von Mises, Paul Samuelson, Deirdre McCloskey, Elinor Ostrom, Hannah Arendt, Alexis de Tocqueville, David Hume, Murray Rothbard, Paul Krugman, or Thomas Jefferson.

“Venerate.”  I choose the word with care.  “Venerates X” means far more than “Admires X’s intellectual achievements.”  It means, rather, that you (a) ascribe superlative and wide-ranging intellectual insight to X, and (b) energetically lobby to get X ample credit for their supposedly remarkable intellectual contributions.  Thus, people who venerate Hayek don’t merely say, “Hayek made several fruitful points.”  People who venerate Hayek maintain that Hayek’s work is packed with wisdom – and persistently advertise Hayek’s genius to the world.

This veneration of the Great Names mystifies me on two levels.

First, the standard idols just seem overrated.  I’ve read everyone on the preceding list.  When I was a teenager, I venerated a few of them myself.  The more I learned, however, the less impressive even my favorites seemed.  At this point in my life, not a one fills me with awe.  Sure, they’re all smart.  Sure, they all made interesting observations.  But once you set aside the halo effect, each and every one is, in his own way, a massive let-down.

How so?  Some of the Great Names are comically dogmatic.  Others make frequent glaring logical errors.  Some love hyperbole.  Others mask banalities in pompous academic prose.  Some were great for their time.  Others have been overrated from the get-go.  Some simply lived before events and discoveries that seriously discredit their life’s work.  Others manage to be equally oblivious despite an epistemically advantageous birthyear.  Call me hard to please, but after a thorough read, I don’t see why any of the canonical intellectual idols deserve my veneration.  Or anyone’s.

Second, lobbying on the idols’ behalf seems overrated as well.  Suppose I’m wrong about one of the Great Names.  Maybe Adam Smith really is the cat’s meow.  I still have to ask: What’s the point of loudly and repeatedly declaring his awesomeness?  I can understand why you would want to publicize Smith’s great arguments.  Great arguments are what takes rational minds from error to truth.  But habitually talking about the man himself seems like a colossal distraction.

I guess you could claim that today’s Adam Smith worship motivates the Smiths of the future: “O Promising Grad Student, if you become as great as Smith was, one day you too will have acolytes who devote their careers to singing your praises.”  But it’s hard to believe that this has more than a tiny effect on current thinkers’ intellectual effort.  Indeed, if history’s Great Names get too much praise, it’s easy to imagine current thinkers reducing their effort in abject frustration: “I’ll never match the glorious achievements of Adam Smith, so why bother?”

Many will assume that I’m trying to smash existing idols to clear the way for my personal favorites.  There’s a kernel of truth here.  When I hear “superlative and wide-ranging intellectual insight,” the people who come to my mind are none of the Great Names, but Phil Tetlock and Mike Huemer.

Yet in all candor, I don’t venerate them either.  Venerate the living?  That’s cultish!  Kidding aside, I’m confident Tetlock and Huemer are glad not to be venerated.  Truly great thinkers cherish meritocratic intellectual exchange, not Odes to Their Own Greatness.

But, you may ask, where’s the harm in veneration?  Above all else, veneration taxes the search for truth.  Once you idolize a thinker, it’s hard to calmly weigh his arguments.  Perverse nepotism sets in: “Take heed lest a statue crush you!”  Don’t believe me?  Imagine if I randomly inserted some trite words into the works of whatever thinker you most venerate.   Wouldn’t you be sorely tempted, by hook or by crook, to spin my forgery as yet another expression of your idol’s genius?

Finally, you could insist: Veneration may be objectively silly, but it brings meaning to many lives.  A tempting plea, but what of the opportunity cost?  We could take the brainpower we squander on mortal thinkers, and spend it instead on immortal arguments.  Just picture it.  We don’t have to settle for meaning alone.  We can have truth as well.

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The Trap of Niceness

Many libertarians try to err on the side of niceness. I think that’s praiseworthy. It’s nice to be nice.

But, what worries me is that misplaced niceness makes the bad guys believe that they really aren’t doing anything all that bad.

If no one is willing to call you out on what you’re doing, then it must not really matter. Either you’ll believe it isn’t really bad, or no one cares very much so it must not be important.

It’s a hard line to walk, and I know I don’t always get it right.

want to be nice to everyone, but I also don’t see it as nice to let people get away with violating anyone. Yet calling them out on it isn’t nice, and there’s really no way to make it seem nice while making sure they understand the seriousness of what they are doing.

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Best to Be Smart About Social Media

Social media gets a lot of well-deserved criticism. It’s presented as a service, but with the vast majority of social media platforms, you and your information are the products being sold.

Even worse than selling your information to advertisers, it opens its back door to government spies so they can come in, snoop around, steal your data, and watch everything you do. Definitely not the behavior of someone who’s on your side.

When they say “your privacy matters” they are lying. They may as well be saying “your life matters” while dumping plutonium into your drinking water.

You might insist “If you’re doing nothing wrong, what do you have to hide?” but this puts the burden on you to prove your innocence and that’s not how it works. Your privacy matters more than government interests. Your butler can’t be allowed to spy on you, not even “for your own good” or to further the butler’s agenda.

Recently we’ve also seen how social media manipulates opinions by what it allows you to see; promoting its own biased views as news, and any opposing views as “fake news” to be suppressed and banned.

Yet social media isn’t all bad. It deserves a little praise, at least on a couple of things.

Social media helps people reconnect with those they once knew, and stay in touch with friends they no longer live near. In today’s highly mobile society this is a valuable human service.

Another small thing I really appreciate is when it helps find lost pets so they and their owners can be reunited.

I appreciate how it helps people advertise yard sales, services, and social events. This is the free market in action. And it helps people organize.

Social media users frequently shut government and its laws out of the loop. To a point. You’ll still usually be prohibited, for example, from the perfectly ethical act of using these platforms to sell a gun to someone who wants to buy it. And if your group is planning something the politicians have made up rules against, regardless of whether it’s actually wrong, someone may report you to the political authorities. Yet there are still ways around almost all these barriers.

It’s not necessary to shun social media; just be smart. Don’t offer too much unnecessary information that the bad guys can use against you, but take advantage of the opportunities it presents. Opportunities beyond any the world has ever seen.

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