A six-year-old boy has been expelled from school and the nursery place of his younger brother has been withdrawn after he turned up with some crack cocaine in his lunchbox. No wait! It wasn’t crack cocaine, it was a packet of mini-cheddars.
The story will surprise few parents, who are well aware of the ludicrous petty tyrannies visited upon their children over the contents of their lunchboxes, which are often inspected by school staff, or in the case of a school I know, the “Green Team”, an environmentally-minded version of the Hitler Jugend, who are empowered to prey upon their fellow pupils and snitch to the teacher. This poor younger generation! They must have been deprived of the lessons I received from the Bash Street Kids and various other comic characters of my childhood on the correct attitude to authority and those who snitch.
Ostensibly this is about ensuring the children get a balanced, healthy diet, but it is clear from many anecdotes that the staff often have little knowledge of nutrition, and are really enforcing a control agenda which, when examined, rests on a vile, monstrous premise: that the state is primarily responsible for bringing up the children and the parents are only their custodians insofar as they are prepared to toe the line.
In order to justify this interfering abuse of power, those of a totalitarian mind-set will no doubt conjure up images of feckless parents stuffing their children full of nothing but sweets and fizzy drinks. Such parents exist, of course, but the underlying and usually unspoken assumption is that this is what most parents would routinely do, if it were not for the gauleiters of the school canteen. As elsewhere, the intention is to make the exception appear to be the rule, and once regulations have proliferated over every nook and cranny of school life, a common sense, ad hoc approach to dealing with whatever exceptions occur is precluded and an arbitrary and often stupid, or stupidly-applied, set of rules substituted.
For the totalitarian, it is not the case that one is innocent (the rule) until proven guilty (the exception), but rather that one is always and ever suspect. In the first case, no prior restraint is necessary or wanted, for why should an innocent person be restrained? In the second, restraint and surveillance are imperative. With regard to parenting, it is not enough to say that the parent is no longer to be presumed loving and responsible, even worse, the loving, responsible parent has been replaced by a loving, responsible Uncle Joe state as primary carer, with the parent relegated to an auxiliary role.
A bit overblown? Possibly, but a dispute with the school can easily escalate. All someone at the school needs to do is pick up the phone to social services, and now you have the child snatcher at your door. You’ll be fine, as long as you kiss the boot and appear to like it. Just don’t act like a normal, well-adjusted mammal.
Now, a libertarian defence of the school’s action may run thus: a voluntary contract exists between the parents and the school, and if the school wishes to impose strict rules on lunchboxes, this is their prerogative. This is true, but only up to a point, because the contract between the school and the parents is not wholly voluntary. The state imposes the violence of taxation on the parents in order to fund the school. Therefore the school is not providing a service to voluntary, paying customers, and it is working for the (piper-paying, tune-calling) state first and foremost, serving its interests above the interests of any of the children in its care.
Children should be brought up to respect themselves and other people, not to kowtow to authority like snivelling cowards. Nor should parents cede control of their children’s eating habits to the state. History warns us what kind of societies emerge when the state manages to insert itself between parent and child.