"Is it a right or a duty in society to take care of their infant members in opposition to the will of the parent? How far does this right and duty extend? --to guard the life of the infant, his property, his instruction, his morals? The Roman father was supreme in all these: we draw a line, but where? --public sentiment does not seem to have traced it precisely... It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father... What is proposed... is to remove the objection of expense, by offering education gratis, and to strengthen parental excitement by the disfranchisement of his child while uneducated. Society has certainly a right to disavow him whom they offer, and are permitted to qualify for the duties of a citizen. If we do not force instruction, let us at least strengthen the motives to receive it when offered."
Thomas Jefferson
(1743-1826), US Founding Father, drafted the Declaration of Independence, 3rd US President
Note to Elementary School Act, 1817
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition 17:423 (Lipscomb and Bergh, editors), 1903-04
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Reader comments about this quote:
While I don't quite agree with the sentiment that we should allow children to go uneducated, it is interesting to note (and thus the high rating) that Jefferson has outlined nothing less than a right to choice here... that the parent (or by extention potential parent) has a right to choice over the handling of the child (or proto-child). To quote the Guiness brothers: Brilliant!
 -- Anonymous, Reston, VA US     
  • 1
    'force' is th optimum word here, the founders' constitution was to be the foundation of a non-compelled compliant soceity of individuals.
     -- Anonymous     
  • 2
    As the Puritan Divine,Thomas Manton, in his Westminster Epistle, expresses it:

    " A family is the seminary of Church and State."

    Ultimately, it is the signal, solemn, obligation of the parents of a child to sedulously cultivate his or her character and native faculties, in the midst of their maximizing his or her salutary educational opportunities.
     -- Patrick Henry, Red Hill     
    By the time Jefferson had written this, political thought and implementation had changed greatly from that which inspired a separation of political hegemony and creation of a new nation. The 40 or so years since the nobility of the individual sovereign at Hebraic natural law's common law was well with in the swings of influence of the Fabian and other socialists as well as individual centers of wealth buying power and sway. Jefferson’s use of language had also changed to meet the current political mentality. By way of example, the use of "society". Originally, "society" was a representation of single persons acting as individuals united – as is averse to an exclusive whole. The individual was the sole possessor of rights while the united body only had a duty to display such united rights. Anonymous above (not from Reston) said well concerning law's application. In all matters, even education of a child, it was the individual that maintained sovereign right, authority and duty. Such sentiment of a governmental hegemony continued to change as exposed and witnessed by multiple Western States - they were refused entrance into the United States until they accepted the compelled compliance of a federally mandated school system. (The difference between right and duty is an entire subject matter discussion that is incapable of adequately being had here in this limited format.)
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
     -- Ronw13, Oregon      
    Jefferson asks some profound questions -- still relevant today. I'm not sure what Jefferson means by "permitted to qualify for the duties of a citizen." I'd like Jefferson to expand on that. ;-)

    I've always thought that at graduation I should sign the Declaration of Independence, to make it MY declaration. To become a naturalized citizen of the UK, one swears allegiance to the Queen, to become a naturalized US citizen, one swears to uphold the Constitution, but native born citizens don't ever have to make those declarations.

    What good is democracy if the people are not committed to the principles of Liberty? What is to prevent the misguided masses into voting away the rights of everyone in their attempt to steal from the wealthy? Unfortunately, today, government 'public' school curriculum teaches dependence and subservience, preparing students for either white collar or blue collar careers -- superiors and inferiors, dominants and subservients, rulers and the ruled.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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