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Parents Take Control! Robert Small, Common Core and School Choice

By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A parent named Robert Small lawfully attended an open school meeting last Thursday, September 19, 2013. He sought to ask a very legitimate question and was forcibly thrown out after being manhandled by an abusive security guard. He was subsequently arrested. What was Mr. Small's infraction? What behavior did he engage in to precipitate this kind of treatment? He dared, as a parent with two children in the public school system, to question the efficacy and quality of the common core curriculum. The abusive handing of Robert Small may become one of the flash points which history records as it recounts the educational revolution which is underway in the United States of America, the movement toward parental or school choice. 

TOWSON, MD (Catholic Online) - A parent named Robert Small lawfully attended an open school meeting last Thursday, September 19, 2013. He sought to ask a very legitimate question and was forcibly thrown out after being manhandled by an abusive security guard. He was subsequently arrested.

What was Mr. Small's infraction? What behavior did he engage in to precipitate this kind of treatment? He dared, as a parent with two children in the public school system, to question the efficacy and quality of the common core curriculum. This curriculum is being implemented, over growing parental and professional objection, in 45 States and the District of Columbia.

Robert Small faced the possibility of ten years in prison. However, late news out of Maryland indicates the authorities have decided they will not press charges. The You Tube Video of the altercation has now gone viral. I hope that by placing that video at the beginning of this article I contribute to the growing popularity. As this father was being led forcibly out of the public meeting he can be heard saying "Parents, take control."

The abusive handing of Robert Small may become one of the flash points which history records as it recounts the educational revolution which is underway in the United States of America, the movement toward parental or school choice. 

This past weekend the Richmond Times Dispatch carried a front page story concerning the abysmal state of public schools in my home state of Virginia. I live in Chesapeake, in Southeastern Virginia, and our local paper had a similar story several weeks ago. This major [political and policy issue has become one of the most hotly contested issues in the race for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  

There is a movement for educational reform gaining steam all over the Nation. It is changing the educational landscape. It reaches across political parties and all socio-economic divisions. More and more parents and more and more States are choosing school or parental choice in education. It is the path to true and lasting educational reform. The movement is gaining so much support it is becoming an educational revolution. 

The current overly federalized approach to the provision of education in the United States is failing miserably and our children are suffering the most. Statistics and experience confirm the obvious. It is time for a change and parental (school) choice is that change. 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 this educational revolution. We cannot continue to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic - an apt description of the current approach to fixing the public schools by adding more money and more bureaucracy. I prefer to use the term parental choice in education when advocating for this reform for a good reason. The term 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 approach to educational reform would make available for all parents good public, private, parochial, virtual, classical, charter and home schools, on an equal footing. It can be done through several constitutionally sound approaches. It recognizes the obvious truth that 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. Some who oppose this educational reform resort to scare tactics and incendiary propaganda. 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 or parental 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. Parental choice in education will give every parent, no matter where they live or how much they earn, the choice of where to send their children to school. And, it will do so while saving money and improving educational quality across the board!

Some opponents of parental choice in education 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. At first, public schools were local community schools.

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. Teachers understood they were the extension of the parents in the education of children entrusted to their care and respected their primacy in the education of their own children. Did the reaction to that father's reasonable question at the public meeting in Towson, Maryland demonstrate the kind of respect parents deserve?

The origins of what has now become the public school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools. Now, this kind of genuinely public approach has been replaced with a top down one size fits all federalized system, a federally dominated government school system which has substituted the decisions of bureaucrats for parents.

Parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational decisional process. In fact, the growing intolerance of their efforts to even question the government educational agents was on full display in Towson, Maryland last week. Parental or School choice educational reform will return the leadership of our National educational endeavor to parents and the local community.

Some opponents of this approach allege that supporters want to privatize education. In fact, it is really an effort to Parentize education, by once 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 recover our true history if we hope to chart an effective path to educational reform and educational freedom in the future. Parental or 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.

This principle says that good 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 reaffirms the family as the first government and first school.

Some of the most strident opponents of educational choice have a vested interest in opposing this educational reform; they are entrenched in the current federalized educational bureaucracy and the culture which fuels it. However, people of every walk of life increasingly admit the obvious, our educational system is broken. 

A growing number of teachers and educational professionals now support the school choice or parental choice movement. The opposition of some who now control the teachers unions shows how these mediating associations can stray from their primary role.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parental role as the first educators of their own children. Those who provide it should recognize and defer to the parents' primary role in the educational mission of their own children. The children being educated in our public schools, to borrow a phrase from the US Supreme Courts' decision in Pierce v Society of Sisters decision  "are NOT "mere creatures of the State".

The family is the first government and the first school house. We have forgotten that objective truth as a Nation and we are reaping the bad consequences. Those who try to paint supporters of school or parental choice as backward and anti-Government are using sophistry and simply trying to deflect a much needed discussion about the need for educational reform in the United States.

The facts are that this approach to educational reform is forward looking. Many of the opponents of the reform are doggedly clinging to an outdated, bloated federalized bureaucratic approach. It is not only backward, but it is failing miserably. Some opponents also fail to respect the fact that the first mediating institution of civil society is the family. Parental or School Choice is a matter of true social justice, not what is masquerading as social justice in some circles these days.

The September edition of Education Week offered an encouraging look at the momentum which the movement for school choice has gained in the US. The article written by Andrew Ujifusa is entitled School-Choice Legislation Wins Big in States This Year. The Pew Charitable Trust offered another encouraging analysis in an August  report by Elaine S Povich entitled Tax Dollars for Private School Tuition Gain in States  It focused on the Alabama experience, but offered some excellent updates on this rapidly growing educational revolution in the United States.

Parental choice in education is right for our children, right for our parents and right for the future. It is the path to a true national reform of our educational system. This educational revolution in the United States is gaining steam as School or Parental Choice programs have made major strides in many States in 2013. The abusive treatment of that father named Robert Small in Maryland  confirms the importance of the movement.

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