Would the licensing of parents be morally right and theoretically possible? According to Hugh LaFollette in his essay “Licensing Parents,” it is and would be both right and possible to do so. I will attempt to argue LaFollette’s point by using the different scenarios and analogies presented in his essay. I will also be looking at the different objections to LaFollette’s proposal and his rebuttal to each one. I will then show why I am in agreement with LaFollette and his belief that there is a need for some type of licensing program when it comes to raising children.
In LaFollette’s essay “Licensing Parents,” he argues that all people should be required to go through some sort of licensing program before they are able to have children and then raise them. The goal of his essay is to show that it makes perfect sense to instate such a program and that it would actually be possible to put this program into use.
The first thing LaFollette does to show that it is logical for a program of this nature to be used is he compares parental licensing to other forms of licensing in use today. “We require automobile operators to have licenses. We forbid people from practicing medicine, law, pharmacy, or psychiatry unless they have satisfied certain licensing requirements”(LaFollette 522). There is a reason that America requires its citizens to acquire licenses for driving, medicine, and law. This reason is to protect innocent people from being harmed by incompetent people who are not skilled in these areas. “Imagine a world in which everyone could legally drive a car, in which everyone could legally perform surgery, prescribe medications, dispense drugs, or offer legal advice. Such a world would hardly be desirable”(LaFollette 522).
So why, asks LaFollette, should the parenting of a child be any different? If two incompetent people decide to have a baby, doesn’t that baby stand a risk of being harmed by the parents’ incompetence? Parenting, according to LaFollette, falls under the same licensing category as driving and the practicing of medicine. Just like a bad driver who shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle has a greater chance of harming or killing an innocent person, an incompetent parent runs a greater risk of abusing or damaging their child. A good example of the injury that can be done to a child is explained by LaFollette while he is discussing the general licensing criteria used to license most things under regulation. He states the fact that parenting can be harmful to children if it is done improperly. He then goes on to state, “Each year more than half a million children are physically abuse or neglected by their parents. Many millions more are psychologically abused or neglected – not given love, respect, or a sense of self-worth. The results of this maltreatment are obvious. Abused children bear the physical and psychological scars of maltreatment throughout their lives. Far too often they turn to crime. They are far more likely to abuse their own children. Even if the maltreated children never harm anyone, they will probably never be well-adjusted, happy adults”(LaFollette 523).
If we as a society know these facts, and can see the cycle that is created, why then do we not attempt to correct the problem before it starts? It is much more difficult to fix a problem after it has started and set in than it is to fix it before it even gets started. That is exactly what the licensing program would do; stop the problem before it even starts.
In his argument for the licensing of parents, LaFollette puts forth the criteria that is used in the licensing of any of the above mentioned activities. “Any activity that is potentially harmful to the others and requires certain demonstrated competence for its safe performance is subject to regulation”(LaFollette 522). Since parenting can be potentially harmful to others it meets the criteria for licensing according to LaFollette. Therefore, any person who rejects the claim that licensing parents is legitimate also rejects the idea that any other activity, such as driving, should be regulated by some sort of licensing procedure (LaFollette).
To some people the idea of licensing parents seems either preposterous or just plain impossible. Because of these general feelings many objections to LaFollette’s essay arise. There are both theoretical objections and practical objections to such parental licensing given to LaFollette. Instead of merely dismissing the objections and continuing to give only his side of the matter, LaFollette takes each objection, looks at it, and gives his rebuttal.
First, the main theoretical objection to the licensing of parents that LaFollette deals with is peoples’ freedom in such a matter. Some people who do not buy LaFollette’s licensing program say, “licensing is unacceptable…since people have a right to have children, just as they have rights to free speech and free religious expression. They do not need a license to speak freely or worship as they wish. Why? Because they have a right to engage in these activities. Similarly, since people have a right to have children, any attempt to license parents would be unjust”(LaFollette 524).
In response to this argument LaFollette uses the example of slander and human sacrifice. Slander is a form of speech and human sacrifice is a form of worship in some religions. But this does not mean that they are protected under the first amendment. The law holds these exceptions so that innocent people can be protected from anything harmful. Parenting should follow the same principal. It is a persons right, some say, to have children. But if two people are obviously not fit to be parents there should be some sort of law to stop them from reproducing before an innocent person, the child, is harmed. Another point LaFollette makes in response to the rights argument is that people do not actually “have the right” to have children. They are able to produce children, but it is more of a responsibility then it is a right of those people. Just as people do not have a right to drive a car or practice medicine until they have proven that they have the competence to do so, so should people have to prove their competence before raising a child (LaFollette)?
A second theoretical objection to licensing of parents comes from the amount of intrusion into the lives of potential parents that such a program would cause. Many people believe that if such a program were to be instated the government would be able to get way to far into many people’s lives.
While LaFollette believes that this is a plausible concern, he argues that the process an adoptive family goes through is far more then he is proposing and nobody seems to have a problem with their criteria. When a family wishes to adopt, they are subjected to house studies, tests, interviews, and must wait a certain amount of time before the adoption goes through. While LaFollette’s program would only call for some type of competence test to rule out only the very bad potential parents (LaFollette).
The next thing LaFollette takes into account is the practical objections to licensing. In this portion of the essay LaFollette considers five different objections. “Each objection focuses on the problems or difficulties of implementing this proposal (the licensing of parents)”(LaFollette 525). I will only be writing about the three objections that do not deal with the misuse of tests after implemented. The first objection discussed in the essay is that if such a program were to be implemented there would be no way to determine what qualities or traits one should look for in a bad parent. To this objection LaFollette acknowledges its logic. But argues his program would only try to weed out the very worst of the potential parents, not find the best possible parents (LaFollette).
“The second practical objection to licensing is that there is no reliable way to predict who will maltreat their children”(LaFollette 526). To this objection LaFollette has a couple of rebuttals. The first being that society does not require that all licensing tests be 100 percent correct in order to achieve a license. Society also recognizes that the tests we use are sometimes flawed in one way or another, yet they are continuing to be used without objection. Testing for licensing of parents also would not require a 100 percent passing score.Another way that LaFollette believes the testing could be done is through “existing tests that claim to isolate relevant predictive characteristics – whether a person is violence-prone, easily frustrated, or unduly self-centered”(LaFollette 526). With these different possible tests LaFollette believes that society could make a set a standard that could, with near accuracy, determine who would and would not be a good parent (LaFollette).
The Fifth and last objection that is brought to LaFollette’s attention is; “we could never adequately, reasonably, and fairly enforce such a program. That is, even if we could establish a reasonable and fair way of determining which people would be inadequate parents, it would be difficult, if not impossible to enforce the program”(LaFollete 527). To this argument LaFollette really doesn’t have too much to say. He talks briefly about what would happen to people who disobey the law, which there surely would be some of. The only option that LaFollette can think of in this situation is to put the babies up for adoption. He closes his argument by saying, “If it is important enough to protect children from being maltreated by parents, then surely a reasonable enforcement procedure can be secured”(LaFollette 527).
Overall I agree greatly with everything that LaFollette wrote in his essay. I too believe that some sort of licensing system is exactly what America needs right now. Way too often babies are being born into this world to mothers in their teens. In many of these cases the father is nowhere to be found and young girls are left to raise a child. Maybe a couple hundred years ago it was common practice for girls to be married early and having babies before they turned twenty. But that was then, in a time when ones average life span was near 40 years. In today’s society it is almost mandatory to have a high school diploma, if not a college diploma. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think to many fifteen year old girls with a baby are going to be able to complete high school, much less college, without any help. Unfortunately that help isn’t always there for many girls in this situation. Another example where a licensing program would be desirable is in the instance of the “crack whore”. In many cities around the country there are women hooked on hard drugs, going no place in life but down. In many cases these women have been known to have more babies in order to receive a larger amount of welfare. This welfare money is then taken and sold on the streets for “crack” or other drugs. When this happens, the children are often left neglected because the mother is on heavy drugs and unable to care for her children and malnourished because the food money went to buy drugs (A;E). This is definitely a very sad situation, but it could be avoided if there were laws to either keep the woman from having more unloved, neglected babies, or at least take the babies out of the mothers care. It is cases like these, and I believe LaFollette would agree, that are exactly the reason why a parental licensing system is greatly needed in America. It would help reduce crime, which is often the result of improper upbringing, and reduce number of children that are abused each year. The only argument of LaFollette’s that I thought was a little weak was his rebuttal to the fifth practical objection that the program could never be enforced. To this objection LaFollette really can’t think of anything to say. His answer is much shorter than the rest of his rebuttals, and really carries no weight. I think he could have come up with a much better answer.
In conclusion, LaFollette argues for the implication of some form of parental licensing to reduce the amount of abuse cases and crimes in America. In doing so he touches upon different aspects of his licensing system and fields both theoretical and practical objections to such a system. I also discussed my opinions on the subject of parental licensing and why I believe it would be a good idea to do.