The ‘immense and tutelary power’ seeking to mould even the youngest children

I had a very interesting debate about childcare on RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke yesterday. I was debating ex-Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, formerly of the Children’s Rights Alliance. I argued in favour of parental choice when it comes to child-minding. Jillian argued in favour of State-sponsored, State-funded, State-regulated ‘early education’. It was a clash of two very distinct worldviews.

Children’s Minister, Katherine Zappone, is proposing that the Government heavily subsidise ‘early education’, and initially target resources at lower income groups. My argument was that the State shouldn’t back one child care option at the expense of another, that it should be neutral between day care (or ‘early education’), at-home parents, and parents who leave their children in the care of another family member during the working day.

I argued that parents should be trusted to make the decisions that are best for them and their children. Jillian didn’t deny this as such but pressed away anyway with her argument that State resources should be ploughed into ‘early education’ because this will supposedly benefit children enormously in the years ahead and make Ireland a more ‘inclusive’ place into the bargain.

Parents listening to her will have been led to believe that if they don’t put their toddlers into ‘early education’ they will somehow be failing them because the toddlers that are placed in early education will get a head start in life that the toddlers who are kept at home won’t be able to catch up with.

At one point towards the end of the debate, Jillian said something that I thought was very telling. She said, ‘We the State are offering quality, early childhood education’. I took her up on that expression, ‘We the State’.

In that statement, ‘We the State’ can be found a whole philosophy that basically believes the State knows best, and among other things it knows better than parents what is good for their children.

Jillian’s vision, and it is shared by some very influential people making decisions for countless people from an altitude of about 100 miles above us, is that all children not much past the age of one will be placed for hours each week in State-funded, State-regulated, State-sponsored ‘early education’ centres where they will be moulded into the kind of citizens that the State deems best for society.

After the debate, I thought of Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous quote from Democracy in America where he says:

“Above this race of men [those of us who live in democratic societies] stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild.”

The trouble with this state of affairs, as Tocqueville explains, is that a State like this in the end takes away our confidence in our own judgements and makes us ever more dependent upon it for things we used to do for ourselves. That is, we become much less self-governing.

A State which has undermined the confidence of parents to form their young children better than the State itself can, and persuades them to hand over their small children for hours a day to these State-regulated centres instead, has gone a very long way towards fulfilling Tocqueville’s prophesy. Only those who believe in the all-wisdom of the State, could be happy with such a scenario.

(The debate (it’s only 15 minutes long) can be found here)