Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Case for Catholic Schools (Part Four): Making a Statement for Educational Choice

This is the fourth in a series of six. Here you may find Parts One and Two and Three. As before, I have turned on the comments.

By choosing Catholic schools, we make a statement for educational choice that, when amplified by other parents making the same choice, may both strengthen educational choice and bring about reforms in this society that respect parents choice. (And, yes, this message is sent in equally compelling fashion by those who choose home-schooling.)

It is one thing to support parental choice. Nearly every informed Catholic supports the existence of educational choice and some form of vouchers or tax credits to allow more parents to make that choice. But it is another thing to exercise parental choice. By “putting our money where our mouth is,” so to speak, we clearly communicate to other Catholics, neighbors, and others that we believe in and are willing to take a stand for Catholic education.

By choosing Catholic schools (or home schools), we communicate several things, some explicitly and some implicitly:

* We clearly say that we cherish the right of parental choice in education by making that choice for our own children. Our friends and neighbors will see that people of character and responsibility in our society are the type of people that choose Catholic education, thus defeating the stereotype of those who bypass public education as odd religious zealots or societal misfits.

* We encourage other Catholic families to consider Catholic education for themselves. When they see our example, those who are on the fence or have been worried about whether it is possible or wise to forgo public schools may have the confidence to make the choice for Catholic education for their families. In other words, we become not only advocates, but witnesses, for Catholic education.

* We hearten dedicated Catholic educators, who have made considerable sacrifices to apply their educational training and skills to faith-based education. By showing that we appreciate their efforts and calling upon them to work with us in educating our children, we validate their work and inspire them to greater efforts and successes.

* We also make clear, perhaps more implicitly, that we will stand behind parental choice and can be counted to oppose regulations or public policies that would limit the ability of parents to make the right choice for education of their children, including religious choices. In this respect, those of us who believe Catholic schools are the best option should have no illusion but that the fate of Catholic education also turns on protection of the right of parents to make the alternative choice of home-schooling. The most aggressive of those who advocate for strictly regulating or prohibiting home-schooling, if they were to be successful, undoubtedly would turn their attention next to Catholic schools and other threats to the public school monopoly. Indeed, some secularists already are looking for greater government controls on private religious schools.

For some people, choosing private alternatives to the public schools counts as well as a protest against public schools, even a campaign to close or diminish public schools. Although I understand and respect that message, and I agree there is good reason to criticize much that happens in public education, the message of essential opposition to public schools is not mine. By endorsing parental choice, concretely and emphatically, and by expressing a strong preference for Catholic education for Catholic parents, I do not thereby suggest dismantling public education or denying that choice to parents who find it preferable. I do intend to challenge the public school monopoly over education (and believe that competition would also serve to reform public education).  But my goal is to increase educational competition and not narrow the choices to only my preferred option.

In sum, the statement I suggest that we should and do make by choosing Catholic education for our children is a positive message for faith-based and other private school alternatives, at the choice of parents rather than government bureaucrats.

Greg Sisk


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I agree with your main point, and I agree that the threat against all educational choice is growing.

But our parish school does nothing to alert parents to this very real threat. To the contrary, most of the tenor of the faculty, administration, and parents are left-leaning to the point of minimizing any mention of abortion or other issues, lest it diminish support for voting left.

That's not to say that they should all become a GOP arm instead, but I wish they would encourage parents to engage on school choice issues, even if it means challenging "their own side." In fact, they have even MORE weight as Democratic voters to be counterweights to the opposing forces.

What I see is worse than mere silence. I frequently see affirmative statements that Catholic social teaching aligns with the GOP "only on abortion" and gay marriage, and that it aligns with the Democratic Party for "all else" or for "social welfare." But educational choice is a big one that gets shunt aside because it's inconvenient.

I apologize if this seems to close to partisan political, because I don't want it to be. I want our Catholic communities to be aware of these threats, and to do whatever it takes -- working within Democratic circles or with the GOP, as appropriate -- to defend our schools.

Posted by: sad observer | Jun 29, 2010 5:43:17 PM