Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science


Dr. Richard Vernon


In a liberal-democracy, the proper role of parents and of the state in forming children’s beliefs involves several separate but interrelated debates: These concern the conceptual space that children occupy within liberal theory, the basis of the ‘control rights’ adults are said to have over children, and the tension between the values of autonomy and diversity, which are foundational values for a liberal-democracy. To clarify these debates, competing paradigms are identified in political theories that address them: A dual-interest view and a child-centred view. The former ‘balances’ the interests that parents and children have in the child-rearing relationship, and the latter takes the interests of children as paramount when making decisions aimed at ordering children’s moral lives. Only child-centred views are consistent with the moral equality required by liberalism. Parental rights should be viewed not as ownership rights or expressive rights but as instrumental rights that they hold as their children’s primary caretakers. These rights necessarily include an interpretive role in relation to their children’s best interests, and hence an entitlement to transmit their beliefs to them. Objections based on children’s autonomy are largely groundless: They unhelpfully set autonomy and diversity at odds with one another, they risk undermining the possibility of meaningful lives, and they demand an “open future” that is impossible. Nevertheless, for democratic reasons the state properly exercises authority over the content of education for future citizens.