Grounds for boarding: shifting responsibilities in the education and care of children living on farms

Dieltiens, Veerle Maria
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The establishment of boarding schools for the children of farmworkers is a logistical solution to the difficulties of delivering education to children living in sparsely inhabited spaces. But boarding schools also appear to solve at once problems related to the welfare and personal development of children growing up in remote rural areas. The state, therefore, justifies moving children living on farms into boarding schools (also called hostels or koshuise) on the basis that it is protecting the rights of children: to education, to welfare and to personal development. The main aim of this thesis is to assess the validity of the state’s justification. Is the state correct in prioritising the rights of children over the rights and responsibilities of their parents and the community more generally to determine the norms and values children are raised with? Since boarding schools separate children from their families for lengthy periods of time from the age of 6 years, the arguments against a liberal education take on a particular intensity. The state takes the role of loco parentis and so there is little pause from the state’s socialising and modernising influence. Three possible objections are therefore raised in this thesis against the boarding schools. The first is that as institutions (and especially as total-life-encompassing institutions), boarding schools are unable to protect two central conditions relating to children’s right to future autonomy: their need for privacy, and for their participation in decisions that affect them. The second objection is that boarding schools violate parental rights (or responsibilities) to direct their children’s upbringing by physically separating parents from their children and by making parents beholden to the state for the patronage of educating and caring for children. Thirdly, communitarian theorists might also object to state boarding schools for failing to respect or adhere to the cultural norms in raising children. I will argue that although each of these objections can be collectively answered (perhaps the communitarian objection is most difficult to counter), they seriously challenge the state’s justification for boarding schools. A children’s rights reasoning is not sufficient as a justification. It fails to take into account that children cannot be isolated as subjects from their links to parents and communities. In conclusion, I will argue that a better justification for boarding schools is one drawn from feminist literature which links theories of care with theories of justice. In this way, the boarding school can explain what it does in practice – care for children – while also recognising the wider impact the upbringing of children can have in terms of justice within families and for communities.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Humanities of the University of the Witwatersrand for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Johannesburg March 2015