Scholars are accustomed to thinking about family privacy in terms of geometry. The allocation of public and private power in domestic life is classically diagramed as a triangle, representing the separate interests of parent, child, and the state. Parental prerogative in raising children, on one leg of the triangle, is offset by another leg representing the state’s parens patriae power to ensure the basic welfare of children and their development into productive citizens.
In Between Home and School, Laura Rosenbury intriguingly contends that this geometry obscures a broader and important geography of family privacy. Family law, she argues, tends to relate questions of authority over childrearing to the locations in which it occurs. At home, parents rule the roost; their authority within the sanctity of the home is protected by a robust constitutional doctrine of parental rights that gives way to state control only in cases of abuse or neglect. At school, by contrast, state officials call the shots and parents have no real grounds to object. A fundamental shortcoming of this binary doctrine, she contends, is that it makes no provision for a great deal of childrearing that takes place in locations other than home and school—in summer camps, church groups, social organizations, day care centers, and so on. Professor Rosenbury points out that the socialization of children that occurs in these “between” locations is significant, both for children and for society, and she calls for a clearer articulation of the legal principles respecting childrearing authority in these spaces.