Category: Educational Choice

Blog author: apienta
posted by on Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 24, 2007

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.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 6, 2007

They say that those who can’t do, teach. But what if you can’t teach?

From the AZ Republic: “Hundreds of students in Arizona are trying to learn English from teachers who don’t know the language, state officials say.”

I’ve never been too attracted to the whole “English-only movement,” but I would think the language should at least be the sine qua non of our educational system.

That is, we should be teaching English and other languages. Some of the examples from the piece are pretty egregious, as teachers are employed who are clearly unqualified to comply with “Arizona law [that] requires teachers to use only English in the classroom and bans all texts and materials in any language but English.” I’m assuming that law is in effect for classes other than foreign language classes.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

There are a number of problems with Paul Krugman’s NYT piece earlier this week, “A Socialist Plot.” Krugman compares the American educational system to its healthcare system, arguing that because Americans aren’t inclined to disparage the former as a socialist threat, we likewise shouldn’t consider universal healthcare as a “socialist plot.”

“The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills ‘welfare,’ with all the negative connotations that go with that term,” says Krugman.

Krugman assumes that a defense of private versus public education is indefensible. After hypothesizing about making a case for abolition of public education, he purrs to his NYT audience who have never considered any practical option besides the government administration of education, “O.K., in case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my mind.” Clearly to even consider getting rid of public education is insane.

First, let’s make a basic distinction between government mandates and government provision. The government mandates that I have car insurance before I take my car out for a spin, but I don’t sign up with the government for that car insurance. In the same way, drawing my own analogy, government could mandate K-12 education without being the primary provider of said education.

And as far as socialists plots go, government provided education should be ranked right up there. Even social observers who are largely sympathetic to socialism see the administration of public education primarily in terms of its utility as a means of social control rather than as a means of inculcating truth. Thus says Reinhold Niebuhr: “While education is potential power, because it enables the disinherited to protect their own interests by organised and effective methods, the dominant classes have suppressed their fears about education by the thought that education could be used as a means for inculcating submissiveness.” Whether the dominant class is the bourgeois or a politburo, public education as social control is a real concern.

Kristoff concludes, “We offer free education, and don’t worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don’t need, because that’s the only way to ensure that every child gets an education — and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.” Socialism, apparently, is the American way. And middle-class families that send their kids to private schools aren’t “getting benefits they don’t need,” they are paying via taxes, often dearly, for education they don’t want.

There is an analogy between health insurance, car insurance, and education. It may be that the government mandate that all Americans have health insurance (although I doubt such a policy’s prudence), and yet not become the primary provider of such health insurance. Where market forces fail, nonprofits, charities, community groups, and churches must fill the gap. BlueCross and BlueShield is a nonprofit health insurance association providing coverage for about 1/3 of the American population. If need be tax credits and other incentives could be extended to promote private financing of such initiatives.

For more on the push for socialized health care in the US, check out this week’s commentary, “What’s Wacko about Sicko.”

Hey everybody, Richard Dawkins is selling T-shirts! Get ‘em while they’re hot!

Scandalous! And available for men and women!

One of my favorite bloggers, Allahpundit (who just happens to be an athiest himself), calls this “…a new stage in the transformation of ‘new atheism’ from rational argument to aggrieved identity group,” and has this to say about the t-shirts themselves

Some of our commenters call this sort of thing evangelical atheism but a moron with a scarlet “A” on his chest really isn’t trying to convert you. He’s just trying to get in your face in his own passive way and remind you that nonbelievers exist in case you missed Hitchens’s last thousand appearances on cable news or somehow avoided his, Dawkins’s, and Sam Harris’s ubiquitous books. I hate to frag a guy on my own side but honestly, we can do without these pity parties.

I’ll drink to that. But honestly, the part of this that really caught my attention was the following statement on Dawkins’ homepage:

It is time to let our voices be heard regarding the intrusion of religion in our schools and politics. Atheists along with millions of others are tired of being bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments. We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies.

I wonder just how Dawkins and his out-and-proud atheist brethren would propose to accomplish that goal. (An aside – it would be just as fair to say that millions of Christians are tired of being bullied by the much smaller group of quite militant atheists who seem determined to wipe away any acknowledgment of God or the supernatural in all realms of our public life.) Is the argument from Dawkins that those of us who are religious should not allow the principles that form the core of our existence on Earth and inform all of the decisions that we make should be kept completely out of politics and the public square? Or should we be allowed in, but only if we strictly segregate our moral and religious beliefs in our decision making on any public issue? How would such a restriction be enforced? How is that compatible in any way with human freedom? I imagine the discussion going something like this:

Dawkins: I DEMAND THAT YOU NOT ALLOW YOUR BELIEFS TO INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION MAKING ON PUBLIC ISSUES!
Me: Uh… Sorry. No dice.

What is Dawkins’ next move at this point? How does he propose to stop me from ramming my religious agenda down his throat (or, as I like to call it, acting according to the dictates of my conscience within the legal bounds of our political system)?

One other point – One of my former pastors, a big booster of Christian education, often made the point that a non-religious education is impossible, in that all education must have at its root some sort of central organizing principle – some fundamental truth about who man is and how he relates to the world that he lives in. Christianity has a distinct view on that issue – that man is created in the image of God, and because of that has a unique and intrinsic value as a created person, and also has important rights and responsibilities within God’s creation. That worldview has distinct consequences for how a Christian approaches education, and the same could be said for any religious system, including humanism, which is, in reality, the core religious principle of a “non-religious” education.

I’ve always thought that this speaks to a basic truth about mankind – that we were created to be religious. We all have a need to orient our lives toward something, a set of beliefs that we hold to be true and supreme. We’re all religious. Even if you don’t believe in God, you believe in something. So why do the new atheists feel so comfortable accusing believers of trying to “force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments” when that’s exactly what they’re trying to do themselves?

Just a thought.

Here’s the text of a letter sent this morning to the editor at Woman’s Day magazine (don’t ask why I was reading Woman’s Day. I read whatever happens to be sitting in the rack next to our commode):

Paula Spencer’s commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance (“Pledging Allegiance,” September 1, 2007) sounds incredibly McCarthy-esque. Are we to now believe that having qualms about mandatory recitation of the Pledge constitutes an un-American activity?

Spencer dismisses the many reasons that one might object to the Pledge in the context of public schools. These schools are, after all, institutional arms of the government itself, and attendance is mandatory (unless one can afford private or parochial options). A cynic might suggest that when combined with an obligatory recitation of allegiance to the nation, such education runs the risk of becoming indoctrination for the purposes of social control. As to whether nationalism can be such “a bad thing,” consider Germany in the 1930s.

There are also religious reasons why a person might feel compelled to abstain from pledging to a physical object (the flag). For Christians, whose citizenship is finally in heaven and whose ultimate loyalty is due to God alone, concerns about idolatry might compel a person to conscientiously refrain from making such a pledge. Indeed, those two little words “under God” which have occasioned such controversy in recent days are perhaps the only elements of the Pledge that make it even permissible for Christians to profess allegiance to any particular nation.

Patriotism too often can morph into xenophobia and nationalism. Whatever your views of the Pledge, I would think that the educational potential contained in having a “conversation with your child about your family’s approach to the Pledge” would be the sort of engaged parenting that your publication ought to praise and endorse rather than disdain.

The free exercise of religion, not to mention the freedom of speech and independent thought, are thoroughly American. A coerced, perfunctory, and unreflective patriotism is no true patriotism at all.

Jordan J. Ballor
Associate Editor
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “The nation will always claim a portion of man’s loyalties. Since it usually claims too large a portion, it is necessary that other communities compete with it.”

By my way of thinking, for Christians the Church ought to be that community of primary loyalty (for Niebuhr, it’s the class: “There is no reason why a class which is fated by its condition of life to aspire after an equalitarian society should not have a high moral claim upon the loyalty of its members”).

It seems to me that American churches have a particularly hard time separating out what elements of their worship and piety are merely the trappings of civil religion and which are the indispensable elements of catholicity.

At the recreation center where my wife plays softball, and which is explicitly supported by the denomination, players, coaches, and umpires only pause to pray after the national anthem has been played. In itself its a small thing, perhaps even unimportant, but when combined with all the other similar elements (American flags near the pulpit, for example), it raises in my mind the perennial questions about ultimate loyalties and the proclivity for Christian denominations, particularly Protestants, to align themselves along national boundaries.

See also: “Which of These is More Offensive?”

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I like to think of J. Gresham Machen as the American Presbyterian Chesterton — though he is sometimes more explicit in his societal commentary than his British Catholic counterpart. In my Sunday reading, I keep coming across interesting lines from his selected shorter writings (edited by D.G. Hart) that call to mind current campaign rhetoric, especially from senators Obama and Clinton, about the need for expanded or universal preschool and state-subsidized education in general. Here are a few quotes from Machen’s 1933 address titled, “The Necessity of the Christian School”:

…The tyranny of the scientific expert is the most crushing tyranny of all. That tyranny is being exercised most effectively in the field of education. A monopolistic system of education controlled by the state is far more efficient in crushing our liberty than the cruder weapons of fire and sword. Against this monooply of education by the state the Christian school brings a salutary protest; it contends for the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and not in the manner prescribed by the state.

Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of federal aid to the schools of this country; for federal aid in the long run inevitably means federal control, and federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great.

Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest….The only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised.

A Christian boy or girl can learn mathematics, for example, from a teacher who is not a Christian; and truth is truth however learned. But…the bearing of truth, the meaning of truth, the purpose of truth, even in the sphere of mathematics, seem entirely different to the Christian from that which they seem to the non-Christian….True learning and true piety go hand in hand, and Christianity embraces the whole of life — those are great central convictions that underlie the Christian school.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Friday, July 20, 2007

Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama has gained support from some Evangelical Christians. I recall some students and faculty at the Wesleyan Evangelical seminary that I attended supported Obama. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, when on the lecture circuit, constantly compares Obama with famed British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce.

This week, Obama spoke to a Planned Parenthood gathering where he reinforced his support for sexual education for kindergarteners. To be fair, Obama said the education should be age appropriate and that he “does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten.”

However, let’s keep in mind the audience to whom Obama was speaking — Planned Parenthood. When I attended public school in the state of Hawaii, I was introduced to Planned Parenthood in my mandatory health class in 7th grade. Planned Parenthood tried to teach us how to use condoms with cucumbers and instructed the class about spermicidal jelly, dental dams, and other birth control devices and methods. I was 13 years old.

I remember taking a survey which Planned Parenthood brought to my class. The group wanted to gauge our sexual knowledge and experience. I remember wondering if I was abnormal because I had not experienced the depth of extensive sexual activity that Planned Parenthood was asking me about. I recall one of the questions was, “How many times are you laid in a week?”

This survey information was taken by Planned Parenthood workers and was never seen by students again. I also specifically recall one Planned Parenthood worker reminding the girls in the class that, if they became pregnant, they could tell or visit them before informing their parents.

The problem that arises from “age appropriate sexual education” is who decides what is appropriate? Is it parents, public school administrators, Senator Obama, or Planned Parenthood? When Planned Parenthood is involved, all of the concerns about social engineering and radical sexual agendas should be taken seriously.

[Ed. note: See also Acton's Jennifer Roback Morse, "Get the Government Out of Sex Ed."]

Blog author: blevitske
posted by on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I would say I met Jeremy Jerschina by chance on the campus of Calvin College, except that nothing ever happens by chance on the very Reformed sidewalks, hallways, and parking lots of Calvin College. So I’ll say I met him by Providence.

Jeremy was visiting from New Jersey as a prospective Calvin student, to study Philosophy or Theology or something in the humanities. He struck me as being extremely well-read, genuine, and sensitive to the call of God on his life. When I heard just a few weeks ago that he was graduating as valedictorian of his high school class, it didn’t surprise me in the least.

What did surprise me was the fact that officials at Jeremy’s high school rejected his speech because of its religious content. Jeremy wanted to pray at the end of his address to acknowledge God as the reason for his academic success, but the principal of Bayonne High School and its board of education told him he could only give the speech if he left out the prayer. So Jeremy chose not to speak at all.

Within the week, Fox News had heard about the incident and invited Jeremy on-air to read for a huge cable TV audience the prayer he could not deliver to the comparative handful of people at his graduation ceremony.

Hearing about Jeremy was a reminder to me that the increasing secularization of schools and other state-run organizations has real consequences for Christians. Most frightening is that religious expression is coming to be viewed as second-class speech. Think about it. Valedictorians across America this year were able to give self-exalting, arrogant speeches praising their own intelligence and hard work without anyone worrying they’d “offend” someone in the crowd. (We’ve all suffered through such speeches and know how distasteful they can be.) But to thank God and publicly attribute success to “a religious figure”? That was considered somehow lesser and therefore forbidden. Amazing.

It also made me think about how Christians react when Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, etc. want to exercise their freedom of expression — we are (often rightly) accused of taking offense too easily at non-Christian demonstrations of religious sentiment. Perhaps it’s time for the Christian community to develop a tougher skin in this area. The minute we view others’ religious speech as second class, we give philosophical ground to those who would relegate our religious speech to sub-societal realms. Unless we’re prepared to retreat into the catacombs, we need to affirm the 1st Amendment’s guarantee to Americans of every creed.

And for my part, I’d be more “offended” to hear a narcissistic valedictorian praising himself than to hear a Muslim valedictorian praising Allah any day of the week.

Children in a summer program in the Atlanta Public School System.

Jonathan Kozol misses the point again in his op-ed in today’s New York Times. Last month’s Supreme Court decision is not a dismantling of Brown vs. Board of Education but a continuation of it. It continues in the spirit of Martin Luther King that children will not be educated according to race.

One wonders if Kozol, and others, actually like racial minorities. What’s so wrong with predominantly minority schools that represent the real demographics of the neighborhood the school is actually located? Predominantly black and Latino schools are not the problem. Poor performing schools are, regardless of the racial make-up. This is the point that Kozol misses entirely.

Kozol says nothing about ways to improve failing schools. His well-intentioned concerned is only located in getting a small group of minorities away from other minorities. This is not what Brown vs. Board of Education corrected. Brown vs. the Board of Education prohibited districts from using race to prevent children from attending schools in their own district. Remember, Linda Brown was denied admittance to a school in her district because of race.

Kozol is correct that educational choice provisions should be enhanced to give parents more freedom to make decisions about where their kids go to school. Parents should be free to remove their kids from failing schools if they choose. However, we have a duty, as a nation, to do more than shift people away from bad schools but to improve low-performing schools so that parents do not have to make geographic decisions that introduce additional stress into already overburdened lives.

Sadly Kozol remarks, “In the inner-city schools I visit, minority children typically represent 95 percent to 99 percent of class enrollment.” Kozol sees all minority schools as a problem that needs to be solved by getting minority kids in the same building as white kids. What’s so special about white kids that minorities will suffer unless they are in the same building them? Kozol actually intimates an unbelievably weak correlation that minority kids at white, suburban schools perform better.

Mr. Kozol should visit the dozens of predominantly minority private and parochial schools to be introduced to a law of education: students perform well in challenging and affirming academic environments with involved parents regardless of race.

Kozol has confused race and class. Public schools in America are separated by class not by race. The black and Latino middle-class (and up) put their kids in good schools because they live in school districts with quality public education or pay for private education. As long as our neighborhoods are segregated by class (which may appear racial) we will have education disparities between school districts. Government cannot force mixed classes to share the same neighborhoods.

Common sense thinking about our public schools should focus on two areas: (1) improving the education culture at low-performing schools which includes teachers, administrators, parents, and students; and (2) giving parents greater and greater control over their education choices for their children.

I wrote about this nearly five years ago here. I write this as a former high school teacher and administrator.