Less Gum and Barbed Wire, Please

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I am ordinarily a fan of self-described "free-range mother" Lenore Skenazy, and am glad that she has succeeded in raising public awareness of the increasing difficulties parents face these days in encouraging their children to become independent. But she reports as good news an attempt to legislate common sense. I simply can't agree that this is good news:

Last week, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) added an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act giving parents the right to let their kids walk or bike to school without threat of criminal or civil action.

The overall legislation deals with elementary education, which is why Lee framed his provision in terms of getting to and from school. But he believes in Free-Range Kids all around.

"Like many parents, I've been disturbed by recent stories of parents being prosecuted for giving their children the kind of age-appropriate independence that adults today remember as normal and happy parts of their own childhoods," he wrote me in an e-mail. "Unsupervised adventure is part of how children learn, and grow, and build the skills and friendships that prepare them for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."
Before I go on, an aside: I also dislike the idea that the government grants rights. Governments can only respect and protect -- or violate -- the rights that inhere in our nature as rational animals. This is a common error, but I point it out now because it is so pervasive and in such need of rooting out.

This legislation, well-intentioned though it may be, attempts to solve a problem that is a synergistic result of cultural factors (e.g., precautionary thinking) and political factors (e.g., the need for tort reform and the meddling by agencies that, at best, have experienced mission creep). Passing another law to fix problems caused by laws that ought to be repealed or reformed is no substitute for repealing or reforming bad laws. If, for example, the sight of unsupervised children in public is regarded as prima facie evidence of parental neglect, how is a policeman to weigh in some cases whether this is going on, or the kids are merely being allowed to walk to school? A note -- as if the government should be making kids carry papers wherever they go? His own discretion -- as if cops aren't already called upon to make such calls? A whole new bureaucratic procedure to "expedite" resolutions of cases of children being detained for being away from an adult? Before all the stupid laws, kids ... just ... walked ... to ... school.

More government meddling isn't what we need, even if it manages to look like less. As for the cultural dimension of this problem, the government can't think for us or obviate the need to do so. It is up to individuals to combat cultural problems by speaking up for better ideas and ways of thinking.

-- CAV


Today: Replaced "fixing and" with "repealing or" in a sentence. 

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