A Brief Review of “Taking Children’s Interests Seriously” by Fineman

It is intriguing to watch scholars – whether legal, educational, sociological, or psychological – make their appeals to reason when their arguments are built on a theoretical framework of little substance. It is then amazing when they have no empirical evidence to support certain peculiar claims. Fineman (2009) does both of these things in her article entitled, “Taking children’s interests seriously.”

She mentions that arguments about who should control the education of children have revolved around parental rights versus State interests in children’s education. Fineman then emphasizes that children’s rights must also be considered. Problematically, she never gives solid theoretical reason for why. She does not tell the reader whether God said so, 51% of Americans believe so, that simply she thinks psychologists imply so in order for children to become self-actualized or autonomous (two concepts she discusses), or that her privately-developed religion says so. Further, she points out that the interests of the parents, State, and children might be at odds with one another.

Fineman writer clearly implies that the State can be trusted, on average, more than parents to offer social and economic mobility to their children. She offers no data to support this claim. Fineman avers, “Allowing some [parents and/or children] to opt out the public system today is reconstituting a new reality of segregation and neglect in many urban areas.” She offers no empirical evidence to support this claim. Further, Fineman claims that in state-funded school voucher programs, “Children’s interests are pushed to the background …” but offers no data, no research, to support this claim.

The scholar’s angst is revealed by the following statement: “Indeed, the lessons of the past regarding private schools and segregation are seemingly ignored when children are removed from the public school system and the state’s purview.” Again, Fineman offers no data to support this implied ominous claim of harm to society and children being caused by schooling run privately rather than by the State. Finally, she connects a concern with some (implied) research and data when she writes the following: “For example, Dwyer (1998) has exposed the ways in which private Christian schools instill sexist beliefs into children and pressure young girls into traditional patriarchal roles rather than professional careers …” It is here that Fineman finally makes it real clear that her worldview is probably something that is antagonistic to a Christian one, at least a “conservative” or “primitive” one.

What is Fineman’s solution? It is, in essence, to give the State primary and final authority over the education of the child. In her mind, the State must have control. Private education – whether in conventional schools or home-based education – must be stomped out of existence. Fineman writes, without empirical evidence, without data, to support her claims, the following:

The total absence of regulation over what and how children are taught leaves the child vulnerable to gaining a sub-par or nonexistent education from which they may never recover. Moreover, the risk that parents or private schools unfairly impose hierarchical or oppressive beliefs on their children is magnified by the absence of state oversight or the application of any particular educational standards.

 

Fineman did not bother to mention the drop-out, illiteracy, or incarceration rates amongst graduates of State K-12 schools in America and whether these rates are any better than those for adults who attended private schools or homeschooling.

Although Fineman did not clearly lay out her theoretical framework – or her worldview – early in the article, she did in the end. She wants State education to reign supreme and to abolish private education, all education that is not controlled by the State. Here worldview of statism is abundantly clear here:

Perhaps the more appropriate suggestion for our current educational dilemma is that public education should be mandatory and universal. Parental expressive interest could supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic and fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals. Perhaps when parents could not buy their children’s way out of a public system, they would begin to buy into the idea that we should all be concerned with every child’s opportunities, not just with those of our own.

 

It is not a good day for scholarship when an author like Fineman uses neither empirical evidence nor a clearly presented theoretical framework to support her claims and recommendations. Such should not be tolerated when discussing State-run public schooling nor should it be tolerated when discussing private home-based education.

 

References

Fineman, Martha Albertson. (2009). Taking children’s interests seriously. In Martha Albertson Fineman and Karen Worthington (Eds.), What is right for children? The competing paradigms of religion and human rights, pp. 229-237. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

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Endnote

 

  1. The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review.

 

 

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