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By Deacon Keith Fournier

6/26/2013 (9 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Parental Choice is the path to true reform

It is time to move beyond the stale rhetoric and ineffective top down federal educational programs and enact real educational Reform in the United States. We need an educational revolution and not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic which has masqueraded as educational reform in the past. The growth and achievements of the Classical Schools simply prove again the need for such a bold approach. 

Article Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

6/26/2013 (9 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: school choice, parental choice, charter schools, classical schools, vouchers, teachers unions, education reform, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - This past week Julia Duin wrote an outstanding article entitled, Classical schools put Plato over iPad, It provides an overview of one of the most exciting and promising movements happening in education. It offers a much needed bit of good news in an otherwise devastated schoolyard of bad news concerning our failing and failed public schools.

Ms Duin mentioned a conference held in Atlanta from June 20-22d under the sponsorship of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools.This is only one of a growing number of similar associations which are flourishing. Parents are taking back the leadership of our educational endeavor as a Nation. They want to do what they do best, choose how to best extend their educational mission outside of the home. .

The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education just announced it will hold its first national conference July 11- 14, 2013. For readers who would like to read about one of a rapidly growing number of Catholic schools in this association, St. Theresa in Sugarland, Texas, is an example. You can visit this school online here.

It is time to move beyond the stale rhetoric and ineffective top down federal educational programs and enact real educational Reform in the United States. We need an educational revolution and not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic which has masqueraded as educational reform in the past. The growth and achievements of the Classical Schools simply prove again the need for such a bold approach. 

I use the term parental choice in education when advocating for this reform, and for good reason. It recognizes that parents are the first teachers. Therefore, they should be the ones who make the choice where to expand their teaching mission for their own children. This choice should make available for all parents good public, private, parochial, virtual, classical, charter and home schools.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parent's primary educational mission. The family is the first school and the first government. We have forgotten that objective truth as a Nation and we are reaping the consequences. Good government is always bottom up, not top down, deferring first to the smallest governing unit; not usurping but empowering and helping families.

Those who oppose this educational reform often resort to scare tactics. They argue that it will detrimentally affect the public school system. They claim that supporters of school choice are against public schools. This is simply not true.  I support school choice.

I grew up in the inner city of Dorchester, Massachusetts in a blue collar home. My parents struggled to give me the first four primary educational years in a parochial school. The remainder of my education was in a public school. My parents moved, at great sacrifice and hardship, to make sure I attended a good public school. School choice will give parents greater say in their local schools and make such disruptive moves less necessary.

Opponents often try to rewrite American history. They claim the currently overly federalized bloated bureaucracy called the Public School system is how education in the United States has always been. Nothing could be further from factual history. In loco parentis - a Latin phrase meaning in the place of, or on behalf of the parents - was the polestar of educational law for years. Now, it is all but replaced with a top down one size fits all federalized system which has substituted bureaucrats for parents.

The origins of what became the public school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  Now, parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational decisional process. Public schools were first local, community schools. Parental or School choice educational reform will return the leadership of our National educational endeavor to parents and the local community.

School Choice is not a threat to good governance. Rather, it recognizes that government begins in the home and then applies the social ordering principle of subsidiarity. The term is derived from the Latin word "subsidium" which means help or assistance. The principle of subisdiarity is a social ordering principle which says that governance should begin at the smallest level first.

All other government should provide assistance or help to that first government - and not usurp its primary role. Thus, it is a principle which favors a bottom up approach to governing and affirms the family as the first government and first school.

Some opponents of educational choice have a vested interest; they are entrenched in the current federalized educational bureaucracy and the culture which fuels it. However, people of every walk of life now admit the obvious, our educational system is broken.  A growing number support the school choice movement.

Some opponents allege that supporters of parental or school choice want to privatize education. In fact, it is really an effort to Parentize education, by again affirming that that the family is the first school and first government and parents are the first teachers. Parents and not federal bureaucrats should make the choices concerning the education of their children outside of the first school of the home.

We need to reconsider our history and chart an effective path to true educational reform and educational freedom in the future. The origins of what became the public school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  Now, parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational process.

The current federalized approach to education in the United States is failing. Statistics and experience confirm the obvious. It is time for a change and parental (school) choice is the change needed. It means affirming that Parents are the ones who should make the choice of how to best extend their own teaching mission outside of the home.

Catholics need to know what the Catholic Church says about the educational role of parents. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the right of parents to choose a school for their children: "As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise." (CCC#2229)

In an Apostolic Exhortation entitled "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" he wrote: "The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others."

In his "Letter to Families", he wrote: "Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the Principle of Subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit."

"For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children; especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization."

School Choice is a matter of real social justice - not what is masquerading as social justice these days. The opposition by some in the leadership of the teachers unions to educational reform shows how far these mediating associations have strayed from their proper social role.Some leaders of teachers unions seem to be are less concerned about poor children getting a good education that they are about maintaining control over a system which is failing.  

Will parental or school choice in the United States also improve the current state of our Catholic School system in the United States? Yes, it will. And the Nation would benefit greatly. It will open up our schools as one of the many options for all parents to choose from for their own children. We should welcome that both as Catholics and as good citizens. It will also increase attendance at classical schools such as St Therese. Frankly, in my opinion, that can only help the Nation as well. 

Educational choice calls for enabling legislation which makes it possible for all parents, no matter what their socio-economic situation, to choose where to send their children to school. As a constitutional lawyer I know this can be done in a constitutionally sound way by empowering parents to make this vital choice through properly drafted voucher legislation, tax credits, or opportunity scholarships. 

The growth in Classical Schools proves the need for a real education revolution in the United States of America. Parental or School choice is the path to follow. 

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