The Freedom Of Everyone Else

Following on from the previous post, this is a translation of a piece by novelist and columnist Rafael Reig in In his columns, Reig replies to mails sent by the site’s readers. Today’s column is on the matter of the cheque escolar (school cheque); a Milton Friedman-style payment to parents to spend on education as they see fit.

It’s worth reading in the light of not only the recent minor ructions in Ireland over State funding of fee-paying schools, but also the upcoming Children’s Rights Referendum, which, as the Fine Gael Minister for Children & Youth Affairs has stressed, ‘does not propose any change to Article 41 and the current constitutional recognition of the Family as the natural and fundamental unit of Society’, or as ‘the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State’.

Nor for that matter does the proposed amendment in the Children’s Rights Referendum alter the provisions in Article 42 that state that: ‘the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family’; that ‘parents shall be free to provide education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State’; and that ‘the State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State’.

The Children’s Rights Referendum, then, does nothing to alter the bourgeois-authoritarian conception of The Family at the heart of the Constitution. It preserves the ‘binding link of boredom and money’ (Marx) at the heart of this conception, and preserves its ‘holy concept’ in ‘official phraseology and universal hypocrisy.’

The director of the Fine Gael campaign on the Children’s Rights Referendum is Leo Varadkar, who yesterday defended State funding of fee-paying schools on the account of the ‘sacrifices‘ made by the parents in sending them to such schools.

Not only does such language bear the mark of religious authoritarianism, but, to quote a Facebook friend, it suggests that ‘my parents’ gave up ‘foreign holidays and fancy cars for my education, whereas the feckless working class indulge themselves at the expense of their kids’ futures – the fact that many, many people in this country face a choice between paying for school books and uniforms or feeding and heating themselves each September escapes the notice of these noble sacrificers.’

As Reig shows, the preservation of the freedom of parents to provide education in private schools -to say nothing of the explicit State subvention of that freedom- has nothing to do with freedom for children and everything to do with the freedom of parents to reinforce the link between boredom and money and to impose upon their children the vision of who they want them to be.

The Freedom of Everyone Else.

Today’s mail goes as follows:

‘The school cheque allows each family to select the educational institution (from a varied and distinct range) that it considers the best for its children. We should not be afraid of freedom. Troy McClure.

And the reply is:

Freedom for what? And in this case, for whom? Perhaps you believe that parents should be allowed the freedom to impose upon their children whatever education they feel like? That they pay for it with their own money is not the question. My point of view is that schools are there for precisely the opposite: to guarantee the freedom of children against their parents. Who has to be protected? The parent who does not want his children to get blood transfusions or study the theory of evolution, or rather should we protect those children from their own parents? For me, without a doubt, it should be option B. And the only thing that guarantees this is obligatory and exclusively public schools, with a prohibition on private education.

Children are not gods, we do not have the right to make them in our own image. As Marx said, it is men who create gods – the opposite has never happened: a god creating men (or women or a screw or a table or anything in reality). The school is the only reasonable counterweight to the (suffocating) power of the family, the only thing that protects you. If your parents are in Opus Dei, or Muslim fanatics*, Scientologists, unashamed Partido Popular militants or characters like me, the only space of freedom you have available for you to decide who you are is in school. Obligatory public schooling is the guarantor not only of equality of real opportunities (that is to say, material, since you go to the same school as the richest neighbour in your area), but also of equality of life opportunities, of being able to choose who you want to be, despite your family.

Saying someone has the right to indoctrinate his children and send them to a college of his choice, simply because he can pay for it, strikes me as outrageous. Education is too serious to leave it in the hands of the parents. The true freedom, for the children and for everyone, is equality: why do you have so much fear of freedom under conditions of equality? Does it frighten you so much that you seriously claim that each person only has the freedom she can pay for? For me the freedom of equality does not frighten me and I think that health, as well as education, should be solely public (and universal, of course). There was only public health care and public education, you’d soon see how the quality of schools and hospitals would improve. There is no freedom if it is not enjoyed by everyone else, without equality. We should not be afraid of freedom. Or as you say yourself “we should not be afraid of [the] freedom“…of everyone else. Even our own children.

*While I agree with the point being made, I don’t approve of the reference to ‘Muslim fanatics’.

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