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### Enhancing Social Control: Inside the School for Good Mothers

Jessamine Chan’s novel published in 2022 by Simon & Schuster delves into a dystopian society where unfit parents, predominantly mothers but not exclusively, are mandated by family courts to attend a re-education facility managed by Child Protective Services.

The narrative’s most unsettling aspect is the ease with which one can envision a trajectory leading to such a reality. Following the successful television adaptation in 2017, Chan remarked, “There’s a precedent in real life for everything in the book. I decided not to include anything that hadn’t already been done somewhere.”

Similarly, in Chan’s School, strong opinions on parenting methods prevail, mirroring our own world. Surveillance technologies capable of monitoring every parent-child interaction, including scanners and AI tools that track minute emotional cues, no longer seem confined to speculative fiction but rather like features that could appear in a tech advertisement.

While the legal framework for removing children from inadequate caregivers exists for valid reasons, the challenges lie in distinguishing between harm and benefit when separating a child from their parent. Tragically, some children endure unnecessary removals or suffer neglect and abuse within the foster care system, highlighting the complexities faced by Family Courts and Child Protective Services in safeguarding children effectively.

The novel’s central character, an exhausted, recently divorced mother, loses custody of her 18-month-old child after briefly leaving her unattended. This incident, though not ideal, raises questions about the justification for traumatic separations in such circumstances. It echoes real-life cases where parents face severe consequences for minor lapses, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities due to economic disparities.

While the concept of forced re-education may not currently garner public support, historical instances in the United States, such as orphan trains, demonstrate a precedent for state intervention in parenting. The existence of in-home training programs suggests a potential inclination towards entrusting parenting evaluations to external “experts,” a trend critiqued in historical contexts for its discriminatory implications.

Chan’s narrative vividly portrays the dangers of treading down this path, showcasing how parents facing child removal may succumb to coercion and manipulation. The attempt to regiment human behavior based on scientific norms often leads to absurd outcomes, stripping relationships of their authenticity. Surrendering human discretion to bureaucratic authorities in the pursuit of perfection risks diminishing our inherent humanity.

Jayme Lemke, a Senior Research Fellow and Associate Director of Academic and Student Programs at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, also serves as a Senior Fellow in the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.