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Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 1999 /7 Kislev, 5760

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'Animal Farm' lessons relevant as ever -- AFTER SUNDOWN on Saturday nights, the end of the Jewish Sabbath, my family has a ritual. We eat dinner watching some movie. The rest of the week we eat at the dinner table, engaged in round-robin chatter about our day and our thoughts. (We love philosophical discussions.)

This last Saturday night we watched Orwell's "Animal Farm." In this classic tale, the animals revolt against their human owner, who exploits, mistreats and ultimately kills them for food. The revolution is a glorious and exhilarating experience of winning freedom. The pigs appear in the leadership position quite early and set up egalitarian rules, including prohibitions against acting like humans (drinking alcohol, wearing clothes and sleeping in beds).

But the pigs begin exploiting, mistreating and ultimately killing for financial gain: They become the "humans."

After watching the entire program, my son asked my husband and me which was the most disturbing part. My husband and son had the same profound reaction to the scenes in which the newly liberated and more severely oppressed animals, out of fear, behaved like sheep. (Actually, some of them WERE sheep.)

It will be no surprise to those of you who know my work that my concern centered around family and children. The most horrifying scene for me was when the female dog gave birth to a litter of adorable puppies. At first the "collective" was thrilled at the growth of their community -- the new litter signified strength. Shortly after the puppies were weaned, however, they disappeared. The mother dog went to her leaders, the pigs, and reported them missing. No, they weren't missing. The "government" had taken them for education. The mother dog said, "They need their mother." The pigs said that they needed the proper education and challenged her true caring for her puppies by asking her if she really wanted to keep them from their ultimate opportunities. Well, of course, the good mother said, "No."

The next time she saw her puppies they had turned into "protection" dogs who threatened even their own mother when she began to seek out the truth.

Justina, a mother from Tampa, Fla., wrote me of a situation that seems so reminiscent of "Animal Farm" and the notion that institutional "education" of children is more beneficial than maternal care.

"Should I be worried about this proposal? It is our job as parents to teach and guide our daughter. I know she will need to start school eventually, but that is not until kindergarten. I thought if I ever chose to put her in a preschool that it would be my choice. Now it seems that may not be true."

She is referring to a story in the Tampa Tribune concerning a proposal from Hillsborough County school administrators about a compulsory pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds. "We've known for a long time that if you take a child at age 3 with poor language development and give that child the experiences he needs to learn, it makes a difference for a lifetime," said Hillsborough's director of administration.

The Tribune reported that only about 20 percent of those who entered kindergarten are not ready. That means that about 80 percent are ready. What sense does it make to force parents to relinquish their children to government education when the overwhelming majority does not need the "head start"? Considering the long-term studies on the relative failure of such programs, and the overall poor standing in the developed world of the American public education system, the only obvious benefit would be the employment of more teachers, administrators, aides, staffers, "educational materials" providers and so forth.

Furthermore, I am increasingly concerned about what most progressive public school educators call education. In addition to math, science, reading and history, there appears to be a growing emphasis on what I call "social retraining." That takes the form of curriculum materials that explore alternatives to traditional marriage and family, heterosexuality and religious values. Also included in this category is explicit sex education for younger and younger children, which gives them too much information too early in their development. "Social retraining" is my term for what its proponents shield under the dubious umbrella of "diversity training" or "children's right to know."

Any time a government entity tells parents that it knows more about the welfare of all children than the caring, involved, nurturing and attentive mother and father, be afraid. Be VERY afraid. Yes, Justina, I think you should be worried about this proposal. And perhaps you ought to consider what I have already done to escape the intrusive and destructive influence of many public schools -- put your child in a private, traditionally religious school.

Not only do these types of schools not plot to put wedges between parents and children, but they encourage the ongoing, serious involvement of parents in everything from curriculum to discipline.

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©1999, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.