Category: Educational Choice

In this week’s Acton commentary, Chris Banescu looks at a ruling by the Second District Court of Appeals for the state of California which declared that “parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children.” The ruling effectively bans families from homeschooling their children and threatens parents with criminal penalties for daring to do so.

Chris Banescu was reminded of another sort of government control:

The totalitarian impulses of the court were further evidenced by the arguments it used to justify its decision: “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.” As someone who has lived and suffered under a communist regime (I grew up in Romania), the “good citizenship,” “patriotism,” and “loyalty to the state” justifications have struck a little too close to home. These were precisely the kinds of arguments the communist party used to broaden the power of the state, increase the leadership’s iron grip on the people, and justify just about every conceivable violation of human rights, restrictions on individual liberties, and abuses perpetrated by government officials.

Read the entire commentary here.

As many PowerBlog readers will be aware, homeschooling is an educational choice that increasing numbers of parents are making. Once a fringe activity operating under the radar of the law, over the course of the last thirty years it has practically gone mainstream, being legalized de jure in most states and de facto in the others. No one has precise numbers (the government can’t track them!), but everyone agrees that the number of homeschooled children in the US has long passed the one million mark.

The practice has confronted severe legal challenges internationally—most notably in Germany—but the legal climate in the US seemed calm. Until now. Proof that liberty requires constant vigilance, this particular form of educational choice is under assault in California, where a judge has ruled that all teachers, including parents, must be “credentialed.”

Granted that the legal status of homeschooling in California was especially vulnerable to such an attack, this move adds fuel to a campaign by the main homeschooling legal action organization, HSLDA, to enact a federal constitutional amendment in defense of home education. I’m ambivalent. Leaving aside the question of tactics and political viability, I tend to oppose such campaigns on the belief that defenders of freedom concede important ground by rushing to alter the Constitution every time a threat is perceived. The right of parents to educate their children as they see fit (within certain limits, of course) exists and should be recognized. But that doesn’t mean it must be spelled out in the Constitution. We need to abandon the concept that every right must be explicitly enumerated constitutionally. Instead, we need to shift the burden of proof back to the government expansionists: If the Constitution doesn’t say that the state has the power to do it, then what’s your justification?

But as I say, the California ruling stokes the fires of those who think we do need such freedoms made explicit.

I came across a troubling essay in this month’s issue of Grand Rapids Family Magazine. In her “Taking Notes” column, Associate Publisher/Editor Carole Valade takes up the question of “family values” in the context of the primary campaign season.

She writes,

The most important “traditional values” and “family values” amount to one thing: a great education for our children. Education is called “the great equalizer”: It is imperative for our children to be able to compete on a “global scale” for the jobs that fund their future and provide hopes and dreams for their generation.

So far, so good. But from the somewhat uncontroversial assertions in that paragraph, Valade moves on to make some incredibly unfounded conclusions. (I say “somewhat” uncontroversial because it’s not clear in what sense education is an “equalizer.” Do we all get the same grades? Do we all perform as well as everyone else?)

Valade simply assumes that an emphasis on “education” as a “family value” means that we ought to push for greater government involvement in education, in the form of funding and oversight. “Education funding should be the most discussed topic of the campaign; it should be the focus of budget discussions,” she writes.

Let’s be clear that the immediate context for these comments are the national primary elections. It’s thus fair to conclude that Valade is talking primarily about the role of the federal government. This is underscored by her claims that “Head Start and pre-school programs are not a ‘luxury’ in state of federal budgets; they are an absolute necessity.”

The problem with Valade’s perspective is that it equates concern for education with concern for political lobbying: “Who will ask for such priorities if not parents? Who will speak on behalf of our children’s well-being if not parents?”

It is the case that the great concern that so many parents have for their children’s education have led them to move them into private schools and even (gasp!) to home school them. There is no facile and simple connection between valuing education and valuing government involvement in education. Given the performance of public schools in general compared to charter schools and private schools, there is an argument to be made that greater government involvement in education weakens rather than strengthens our children’s education.

Placing a high priority on a child’s education leads some parents to want their kids to be instructed in the truths about God and his relation to his creation, and this is instruction that by definition is excluded from a government-run public education. So there’s at least as strong a case to be made that valuing education means that we should lobby for less government involvement rather than more, or at least not think of education as primarily a political issue but rather a familial and ecclesiastical responsibility.

“There are many things the government can’t do – many good purposes it must renounce,” said Lord Acton. “It must leave them to the enterprise of others.” One of those “good purposes” is an education centered on Christian moral formation.

See also: “Too Cool for School: Al Mohler says it’s time for Christians to abandon public schools.”

And: H-Net Review, Religion in Schools: Controversies around the World (Westport: Praeger, 2006).

Does a good education demand an appreciation for history? It would seem so. What arguments are there to support such a contention?

Neil Postman writes,

There is no escaping ourselves. The human dilemma is as it always has been, and it is a delusion to believe that the future will render irrelevant what we know and have long known about ourselves but find it convenient to forget.

In quoting this passage from Postman’s Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century, Ronald Arnett says that history is “the metasubject needed in a good education.”

This contention is a correlate of C.S. Lewis’ opinion that old books are critically necessary to learning. In his introduction to an old book (Athanasius’ De Incarnatione), Lewis writes, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Where Postman praises the study of history for what is constant in human nature, Lewis praises historical study for providing us a perspective from which to judge what is transient and contextual about our own times. Lord Acton, himself a greatly learned and distinguished historian once wrote, “History is a great innovator and breaker of idols.”

Lewis also makes an important methodological point about the preeminence of primary sources, as compared to secondary sources. That is, when we have a question about Plato or Platonism, the reader should first consult a book by Plato or a Platonist rather than “some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.”

Christians know too that “the human dilemma” is to be understood within the narrative of redemption history (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation).

Those paying close attention to the developments in Christian higher education will take note of the increasing popularity of “great books” programs (see St. John’s College and The College at Southwestern). These are in some sense an extension of the impulse toward a classical academy model of elementary and secondary education.

For more on “what makes a great book,” visit this Scriptorium Daily podcast, which includes the insights of faculty of the Torrey Honors Institute, a great books program at Biola University.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16 NIV)

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NIV)

Let’s not leave it to the worldly culture to teach our children the fear of the Lord.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

‘Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!’” (Matthew 18:1-7 NIV)

I’m not typically a big fan of litigation. But that option needs to be there for some cases that can’t be solved in other ways. It’s a big stick that should only be used when absolutely necessary and only when appropriate.

I’m glad that option was there for Stephanie Hoffmeier of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Virginia. When Stephanie applied to register a student club at the school, the administration denied her request, “on the grounds that it was not tied to the school curriculum.”

What was the club proposal? “The Pro-Life Club,” thought to be the region’s “only anti-abortion club in a public high school.” After filing suit in federal court, the educrats at Colonial Forge had to rethink and reexamine their position: “Even some advocates of strict separation of church and state say religious speech is protected under the Constitution and federal law.”

One of the basic rights that is consistently tread over by the public education bureaucracy in the United States is the right to integrate religious faith and intellectual learning, fides quarens intellectum. And even in a case like this, in which faith is brought into an extra-curricular activity, the first and most basic instinct is to squash it.

Thankfully, “School officials, conceding they were wrong, officially recognized the club on Oct. 24, and Hoffmeier dropped the suit.”

Since the 2007 Catholic High School Honor Roll

Honor Roll Cake – Time to celebrate

was released, reactions have been buzzing. We’ve been consistently floored by the Honor Roll’s impact. Here’s some highlights:

Huge Roar: “When we announced the award to our students yesterday, a huge roar of spontaneous cheering filled the building. What a glorious day!”
Margaret Miller, Holy Cross Academy – Oneida, NY. 4-time honoree.

Notre Dame Regional High School Principal Migliorino addresses students, the press, and parents.

Enrollment Impact: “The Honor Roll is really making an impact for us. This year we have had already over 240 shadows for 120 spots for next year’s freshman class[and] many mention the Honor Roll.” – Sister Elizabeth Anne, Principal, Mt. De Sales Academy, Catonsville, MD. 4-time honoree.
Ignite Enthusiasm: “…the Catholic High School Honor Roll will ignite enthusiasm in this Diocese.” “When it comes to recognition, this honor is priceless.” Bishop William L. Higi, Bishop of Lafayette-in-Indiana.
Archbishop Chaput: “This recognition is well-deserved and I applaud the

St. Theodore Guerin High School – Noblesville, IN. Bishop William L. Higi showed up for a surprise assembly and press conference.

administrators, teachers, parents and students for their dedication and devotion.” – Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput. O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Denver.
“We’re just so happy you exist!” Liz Molter -Parent preparing to move, enquiring about where good Catholic schools can be found.
Best thing Going: “What you do is still far and away one of the best things going for Catholic Education in the United States.” Ed Wassell, Executive Director, Holy Rosary Academy, Anchorage, AK. 4-time honoree.
“Thanks to the Acton Institute, Holy Angels Academy is no longer ‘the best kept secret’ in Louisville. More families and prospective teachers both in and out of state are hearing about our excellent program.” Mrs. Marilyn G. Malone, Principal, Holy Angels Academy, Louisville, KY

To see a list of the top 50 schools and learn more about the Honor Roll, please go to www.chshonor.org.

Besides my two years of living abroad in Egypt, I spent my entire elementary and upper school existence in the public schools. My experience with the public schools in Hawaii and Mississippi were rather atrocious. To read one experience I encountered in the public schools in Hawaii, check out this Acton blog post.

Mississippi has a wonderful and generous culture, and the people have strong values. In fact, I love Mississippi. The state’s public schools, however, could often be described as nothing short of disappointing. It should also be noted that I went to one of the public schools that was considered to be the best in the state. The problem in my view was not that Mississippi was a poorer state. The teachers for the most part were intelligent and just as there are everywhere, there were good and bad teachers. I had an exceptional teacher in high school who helped foster a love for American history, and American military history.

But one of the fundamental problems with these schools was that most people did not want to learn. In fact, classes were daily interrupted by kids “pantsing” each other, or oddly enough, sometimes pantsing themselves. If you walk into many high schools in America, it becomes evident it’s more of a fashion show and popularity contest than an actual serious center of learning. While socialization is an important part of education, it’s hard to argue public schools are the best models for socialization.

I had an English class in 11th grade where the teacher was mooned by students on several occasions. The kids of course would be suspended. They would be back only days later to disrupt class and offer a rerun of their crimes. When I first moved to Mississippi, I was shocked to learn that corporal punishment was allowed to be administered by administrators in the school. Within weeks, I felt it was not administered enough.

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has a piece today titled, “Big Brother at school.” The fact that government schools are so steeped into our life and culture makes it hard for traction to be gained for reform, and for differing views to emerge about education. It may be why so many conservative leaders talk about government never voluntarily giving up power, or government never voluntarily reducing itself in size.

Jacoby delved into a host of ideological conflicts between parents and government run public schools. Here is his main point against government domination of education:

A more fundamental truth is this: In a society founded on political and economic liberty, government schools have no place. Free men and women do not entrust to the state the molding of their children’s minds and character. As we wouldn’t trust the state to feed our kids, or to clothe them, or to get them to bed on time, neither should we trust the state to teach them.

The point is all the more valid when we hear politicians talking about their federal and state programs for daycare and preschool. Many generations of infants, children, pre-teens, teens and beyond will be raised, taught, shaped, and cared for by the state. Do we really think that’s a good idea?

Today the Acton Institute announced it fourth annual selection of theCatholic High School Honor Roll, the best 50 Catholic secondary schools in the United States. The purpose of the Honor Roll is to recognize and encourage excellence in Catholic secondary education. It is a critical resource for parents and educators that honors those schools that excel in three categories: academic excellence, Catholic Identity, and civic education.

To see a list of the top 50 schools, as well as lists of the top 25 schools in each category, visit www.chshonor.org.

This year’s list includes 11 new honorees as well as 11 schools that have earned recognition each of

St. Theodore Guerin High School

the past four years. Honorees range from newcomer schools such as the Heights School in Potomac, Maryland, to repeat honorees such as All Hallows High School in the Bronx and Brother Rice High School in Chicago. The state of Texas again led with 6 schools selected, followed by California, Florida, and Michigan with 4 schools each. 9 different religious orders sponsor honorees, including the Christian Brothers, Marists, Dominicans, Legionaries of Christ, Jesuits, and Norbertines.

Quigley Catholic High School – A visit by newly appointed Bishop Zubik

The Honor Roll is produced in consultation with a national advisory board comprised of Catholic college presidents and noted Catholic scholars. Advisory board member Rev. John Schlegel, President of Creighton University, said the Honor Roll is significant for Catholic education. “Catholic High schools that excel at forming students in the faith and at teaching them to think critically and act virtuously are a great asset to the Church,” he said. “Not only do these schools deserve to be recognized, but they should also be imitated by all Catholic schools.”

All of America’s nearly 1,300 Catholic high schools were invited to apply to the Honor Roll by completing three detailed surveys, indicating that inclusion in the Honor Roll requires exceptional merit in each of the areas measured. This balanced approach assesses a school’s adherence to the Church’s educational calling, where the best schools offer more than the strong academic preparation Catholic education is known for. Rather, the best schools also have vibrant Catholic identities and offer sound civic training that help prepare students to live their faith in the world.

The Honor Roll is of particular importance because Catholic schools have shown an increasing trend

Mt. De Sales Academy

toward secularization in recent decades. Having long set the benchmark for moral and academic formation as well as education in the classical liberal tradition, many schools now see a loss of traditional Catholic identity, a weakening of academic standards, and the support of views contrary to Church teaching. It is no surprise that the majority of Catholic secondary students are taught to be suspicious of business and the free market.

To generate some positive momentum, Acton saw an obvious need for an ongoing, independent, and rigorous assessment of Catholic high schools in the U.S. – and the institute is well positioned to serve this need. Its staff of serious Catholic scholars with backgrounds of business, law, theology, philosophy, economics, ethics, history, and education is more than equipped to evaluate schools based on the Church’s teaching.

By using the power of incentives and competition, the best schools are highlighted to inspire imitation and encouragement among all schools. The Honor Roll calls on all Catholic schools to scrutinize themselves in relation to the Church’s educational calling – and to other schools.

Pinecrest Academy

In turn, schools earning this recognition use the Honor Roll to tell the country that they excel at defying the trend. Since the program began in 2004, over 200 media stories – in major newspapers, magazines and on TV and the radio – have highlighted the fact that these schools have earned this distinction and are remaining faithful to their calling. Even more, schools use the Honor Roll to promote and strengthen themselves, all because the bar has been held high and they’re proud to have risen to the occasion.

By recognizing Catholic high schools excelling in their purpose and mission, the Acton Institute is planting a seed for broader work in secondary education – work that will encourage sound moral preparation for America’s youth and promote virtuous vocations in business, politics, and theology for years to come.

I’ve heard it said from a number of leaders in the Reformed community that there is a great opportunity for Reformed churches to be a positive influence on the growth of Christianity abroad, particularly in places like Africa where Pentecostalism has made such large inroads.

The thesis is that as time passes and institutions need to be built, the traditionally other-worldly Pentecostal faith will by necessity need to embrace a more fully comprehensive world-and-life view. Reformed institutions ought to be prepared to step into the breach and provide that worldview education.

On that note, I pass along two items of interest. The first is a newly released book from Fortress Press, Christian Education as Evangelism, an edited collection of essays that argues that if congregations “are to be active in their evangelical outreach, solid teaching is necessary. Likewise learning ministries that are well grounded and alive will spring forth into vital sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian education leads to evangelism and evangelism leads to Christian education.”

And as a counter-point to the potential for arrogance that might accompany a Reformed educational mission to the Pentecostal world, see this item, “Dutch Protestant leader apologises to Pentecostals,”

Utrecht (ENI). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has apologised to Pentecostals for negative attitudes held in the past by Reformed and Lutheran Christians towards members of Pentecostal churches. “Even now, one still can often sense an attitude of negativity and condescension,” the church’s general secretary Bas Plaisier said at celebrations in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium to mark the centenary of the Dutch Pentecostal movement. Such attitudes were also widely held among Protestants in the past, Plaisier said. “I hope that with this centenary celebration we can put an end to this [negative] way of speaking and thinking about one another,” he said. [355 words, ENI-07-0726]

Given the rather distinct lack of commitment to distinctively and confessionally Reformed education among the Christian Reformed Church at the moment (check out this synodical report), I wonder if this sort of educational impetus is something that Westerners find are good for other people, but not themselves.