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Family and state in education: What role for parent's rights?

Professor Anthony O'Hear OBE, November 2022

This essay from Anthony O’Hear (professor of philosophy at the University of Buckingham) explores the issue of parental rights in education from a philosophical perspective, starting with the work of Plato and Aristotle before looking at more contemporary challenges.

The 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states in unequivocal terms that ‘parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children’. In the UK, the British Parliament passed a landmark Education Act in 1944 which stated that ‘pupils (are) to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents’.

Anthony O’Hear examines the reasons why both documents are correct in placing parental rights in educational matters above those of the state. He argues that it is no longer clear that parental rights are recognised in practice in many places, nor is there is any general understanding of why they should.

The intimate relationship between parents and their children means that parents are best placed to make certain decisions over the way their children should be reared and educated, and in this sense, parents have rights over and above any we may think belong to the state in this respect.

Parental rights are important and in this essay Anthony O’Hear sets out the ways they are currently under attack and how best defend them. O’Hear argues that strong family rights, particularly in education, benefit both families and society where families are allowed to flourish and that an over mighty state in education is the antithesis of a country that encourages strong families.

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