The cultural debate on education and its role in society depends on one question: Whose children are they?

Horace Mann, considered the father of America’s public education system, famously said students enrolled in the education system no longer belong to their parents but to the state. “We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education,” he said, “are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.”

In the decades since, the leftist activists and government bureaucrats in control of the education system have learned not to be so forthright with their intentions. It turns out parents don’t much like the idea of voluntarily giving up control over how their children are raised. Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe learned this the hard way in 2021 after declaring that parents shouldn’t be allowed to weigh in on curricular matters.

But sometimes, the mask slips.

Speaking at a White House event on Monday, President Joe Biden railed against conservative legislation restricting inappropriate and/or woke material in classrooms, accusing Republicans of “book banning.” He then admitted why such legislation frustrates him so much. “There’s no such thing as someone else’s child. No such thing as someone else’s child,” he said. “Our nation’s children are all our children.”

No, Joe, they’re not.

Now, it is true that the state has a responsibility to children to a certain extent. The government should do what it can, for example, to guarantee their safety and well-being — but if and only if the children’s family has demonstrably failed to do so.

The state should also do its best to invest in the next generation and prepare them to be dutiful, good citizens. Guaranteeing all children receive equal access to an education is the primary way in which the state does this.

But this does not make students “the nation’s children.” They are their family’s children, first and foremost. Parents and/or guardians are primarily responsible for the well-being and formation of their children. After parents comes the extended family, then neighbors, fellow community members, friends, charitable organizations, and, only after every single other possible option has been exhausted, the state.

Make no mistake: This wasn’t just a misstatement or misunderstanding on Biden’s part. The Left truly believes that it has both the right and the responsibility to impress its values upon all children, with or without parental consent, and it has distorted the education system into its means to do so. That’s why schools across the country actively withhold information about students’ gender confusion from parents, why school districts routinely stonewall parental requests for curricular transparency, and why the parents who dare to object to such treatment are smeared by the government as potential terror threats.

As Mann put it, your children are their hostages. And the Left will not let them go willingly.