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Reading, Writing, and Ownership:

Many years ago, during a previous recession, I was lucky enough to land a job right out of college. I discovered that this first gig would utilize my BA degree-refined communication skills and even a few of those mandatory 101-level psych courses one ends up taking. The job? Department store Santa Claus. Actually I was the Santa for an entire outdoor mall, what Granddad used to call “a shopping center.”

I’ve drawn from this particular life experience several times over the course of this column, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about the cat with the Santa hat. As a rule, I don’t think pets enjoy being made to wear ridiculous seasonal costumes, although I’d love to see any research that’s been done on this. Maybe a dog dressed as a cat for Halloween would take some pleasure in sneaking up on real cats, assuming the real cats are so preoccupied they don’t notice the German Shepherd-like dimensions of the newest cat in the neighborhood. But that’s not giving cats much credit.

During my Santa tenure a woman entered the enchanted plywood “cookie house” where I was ensconced and placed a white cat wearing a Santa hat on my lap. It was funny picture time, but my heart went out to that cat. The woman would get her adorable Christmas card photo, and I’d get my three bucks an hour… but the cat was getting humiliated with little if any understanding of the gag. Besides issues of taste, was there anything wrong in making the cat wear a seasonal beanie just to satisfy the owner’s needs? After all, the woman did own the cat. The cat was her property.

For some reason, I felt the weight of that cat in my lap again last week when I read that a California state appellate court ruling found that parents who “home school” their children must have teaching credentials. (I’ll try and connect this to the cat in a moment.)

Those who back home schooling say that if the ruling survives appeal, California will have the most regressive law in the nation, and one spokesman for that group said the ruling will result in “witch hunts” against those who teach at home. The LA Times points out that, in general, California has done little to enforce existing requirements for home teaching and that up to now both sides have lived and let live with this arrangement.

The appellate court decision stems from allegations processed by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services regarding a Lynwood couple that educated their eight children in their home. Claims of physical abuse resulted in a lawyer being appointed to represent two of the children. The lawyer sought adult monitoring of the two children, by a public or private school, and his appeals resulted in the recent ruling.

I’m not going to identify the parents, because they too easily fit the template for home school advocates: They’re Christian, and the father doesn’t believe in evolution and says things like, “I have to go with what my conscience requires me.” Did his conscience play any role in the allegations that caused Children and Family Services to step in? Another Sacramento father quoted in the Times coverage claimed that Christian beliefs are contradicted in a public school setting and that he and his wife home schooled so that his son wouldn’t be exposed to teachings about evolution, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and sex education. You know, the basic tenets of public school education.

That same Sacramento father then hits the bull’s-eye with this: “I want to have control over what goes in my son’s head, not what’s put there by people who might be on the far left who have their own ideas about indoctrinating kids.” You know, the basic tenets of public school teachers.

Dear Sacramento Dad: I’ll bet you also have some photos of your cat wearing a Santa hat. Because, just like the indication that you own your son and his head, you own that cat, don’t you?

Do parents own their children? We insist and expect that government and justice will step in on any issue regarding children’s safety. I would argue that public education relates to one or more forms of social safety. Doesn’t “education” imply getting a shot at a future of your own choosing, not one determined by a controlling Dad and his Jesus? Have we yielded previously on home schooling because, deep down, we all believe that to some extent children are property and that their owners have owner’s rights? I can’t answer that for you. But if a cat in a humiliating cap could talk, he might have some thoughts on this.

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