Big Government and the Control of Children

Often the first area of conflict between the family and gargantuan government has been over the control of children.  In the United States we have seen the tendency to let government assume more responsibility for, and power over, children, even while parental rights and authority have eroded.  If this trend continues, I am convinced it will be our greatest mistake as a nation!

Adolph Hitler understood instinctively how important it would be for the "Thousand Year Reich" to control the children.  He said, "When an opponent declares, `I will not come over to your side,' I calmly say, `Your child belongs to us already...what are you?  You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp.  In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.'"

It is against such abuse of power that our founding fathers set up our democratic system of government with its checks and balances.  They believed strongly that each individual has natural God given rights, and that no government can take them away.  A moral people with strong faith, and a nation living in strong families, were seen as the natural protection against unchecked government and the growth of tyranny.

Even in "free countries," there has been a tendency in this century for governmental power to expand and grow at the expense of the family. Well-intentioned welfare programs have made government a substitute husband and father to millions of inner city women and children.  While these programs may have been designed for compassionate reasons, it is doubtful we will ever see human renewal in our urban inner cities without the retreat of government and the reestablishment of Black men in positions of responsibility within their own families and communities.

The erosion of family autonomy and authority has occurred in "slow motion" in the United States, but the trend is clear.  From year to year, less turf is left to the family and more power is taken by, or given to, government.  One looks at government's ever growing tentacles and is reminded of the story told by Lincoln about an aggressive farmer. "I'm not greedy about land," said the farmer, "I only want what joins mine."

The subjugation of public education to governmental control is a prime example of parental retreat.  Until about the mid-nineteenth century, education was a function of the family.  Some of its tasks might be delegated to a schoolmaster, or even to a communal school, but control continued to reside in the hands of the family.  Today, too many parents instinctively think of education as a matter entirely for the government-run schools.  Those who reserve the authority over their children's education for themselves are thought by many to be "strange." Parents who home-school their kids get funny looks from their friends. Perhaps, a century from now, the same funny looks will go to parents who feed, clothe, and house their children at home instead of consigning them to government child-factories.

This trend toward delegation of family functioning must be reversed, and there is no time to lose.  Politicians need to hear from their constituents in language that is crystal clear.

Few of the advocates of government control openly describe their proposals as anti-family.  In fact, many of them propose their new legislation and regulations while mouthing pro-family rhetoric.  We are even willing to concede that many of them actually believe they are helping the family.

All too often, however, their proposals have hastened the destruction of the family unit and the transfer of authority from parents to government.  As citizens we must make sure that our elected officials are not only mouthing the right words but also are singing them to the right tune.

Most importantly, government policy on the family should follow the Hippocratic oath:  "First of all, do no harm."  The family cannot withstand many more blows from "unintended consequences."  If government officials cannot clearly demonstrate how their proposals will help the family and return authority, rights, and resources to it, then their ignorance should be reason enough to take no action on the plans they propose.

We do believe there are a number of things that government can and must do to help the family.  We outline these in our closing agenda.  But our proposals do not require more government nor more bureaucracy.  They require instead that Uncle Sam give back to the family the resources and authority it needs.

For those who haven't gotten the message already, let me be completely clear.  Washington needs a major house cleaning!  From the Congress, to the bureaucracy, we need to bring in a new crop of dedicated public servants who understand the importance of the family to the future of our society.  We need men and women who are willing not only to talk pro-family but to vote that way too.  We need public officials with courage and conviction.

Book: Children at Risk

By Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer

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