Last month, the New York State Education Department made a crucial decision: Commissioner MaryEllen Elia handed authority to local school boards to veto the right for private schools to operate. Those school boards must now determine whether private schools provide an education “substantially equivalent to that received in district public schools.” According to Jewish educators Elya Brudny and Yisroel Reisman, “The state government now requires private schools to offer a specific set of classes more comprehensive than what students in public schools must learn.” This isn’t a problem for Jewish schools alone — Catholic schools in New York have bucked the legislation, with James Cultrara, executive secretary of the New York Council of Catholic School Superintendents, explaining, “We simply cannot accept a competing school having authority over whether our schools can operate.”
Now there’s a case to be made that the state has an interest in children learning basic secular studies, and to that end, Cultrara has called for an objective standard for evaluating whether or not schools are properly educating their students. That case is far stronger in a welfare state, in which insufficient education often ends with the public bearing the brunt of such failures.
But there’s also a case to be made that parents are the best sources for judging which educational standards their children should obtain — and that attempting to force-feed education to unwilling students and parents at threat of legal peril is a massive imposition on freedom. It’s also unlikely that a broadly applied standard of education will succeed in raising standards across the board. The public school system hasn’t been able to achieve that even absent religious conflicts.
More fascinating than this debate, however, is the generalized attitude toward parenting expressed by the social left. If you choose to send your child to a non-approved yeshiva, you must be policed and your child threatened with truancy. If, however, you are a parent who decides to expose your 11-year-old son to risk of sexual perversion, then you’re open-minded and noble.
What else are we to take from the story of Desmond Napoles? Napoles is an 11-year-old boy who dresses in drag for national press, and who was squired — presumably by his parents — to a gay bar in Brooklyn, New York, called 3 Dollar Bill, where grown men proceeded to hand dollar bills to him. As writer Matt Walsh has pointed out, were Desmond a girl being paraded by her parents before the leering stares of grown men, child protective services would be called. But since Desmond is a celebrity who has been exploited by his parents, this is all worth celebrating.
Which is, perhaps, one of the reasons so many religious parents don’t want the state of New York determining what they should and should not be allowed to teach their children. Religious parents may look at the world created by the social left and say that they want to inculcate in their children an alternative set of values. There may be costs to that. Perhaps there are ways to mitigate those costs. But overall, only one set of parents is being punished for making “educational” decisions by the state of New York — and it’s not the set of parents cross-dressing their pre-pubescent children for fun and cash.