In the wake of the November elections, with politicians promising less partisan bickering, a perfect opportunity presents itself for real cooperation: educational choice. Kevin Schmiesing looks at the state initiatives that have already empowered “poor and middle class parents to send their children to schools that they believe will best serve their educational goals.”
Along the same lines as my earlier post, The Weekly Standard argues that putting the needs of parents first, can form a more stable foundation for an alliance between fiscal and social conservatives.
Both fiscal and social conservatives should put themselves in the shoes of the parenting class and focus on advancing competition and choice while also encouraging the growth and strength of the two-parent family. In health care, for instance, conservatives have consistently failed to approach things from that point of view….Conservatives should also look beyond the horizon and see that long-term care for the aged is about to become the next major concern of the parenting class…. In education, it is well past time to have another serious go at school choice, which can appeal to the parenting class both as a solution in their own children’s lives and as a call to conscience.
A Free and Virtuous Society needs to respect autonomy and importance of the social sphere, especially the family. Kudos to Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for writing this article, and to the Weekly Standard for publishing it.
A week ago, The CBS Evening News with newly installed host Katie Couric featured the father of one of the victims of the Columbine school shootings in their so-called ‘freeSpeech’ segment. In this ninety-second spot, Brian Rohrbough said,
This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.
We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.
Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.
As Gina Dalfonzo at The Point writes of the reaction to the segment, “CBS received bushels of mail from people who acted as if Rohrbough had gone on the air to advocate the drowning of kittens.” Dalfonzo links to a WaPo story that summarizes some of the complaints, including this gem, which referred to Rohrbough’s remarks as “the biggest load of hogwash I have ever witnessed. How could you use an unspeakable tragedy to give a rightwing flat earth nut job a podium?”
So much for the absolute moral authority conferred on the family members of the victims of tragedies. Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion notes, “Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said.”
Count me among those in agreement. Moral education matters. Here’s what Herman Bavinck has to say about the importance of the dignity of the human person created in the image of God:
The acceptance or rejection of this point of departure is decisive for education and upbringing. Whoever maintains the divine origin, divine relationship and divine destination of man arrives naturally to another theory and practice of upbringing than he who rejects all that and knows only the dumb power of nature. If anyone says what he thinks of man’s origin and being, it is easily shown which pedagogy, at least in principle, must be his.
One specific way in which we can see which pedagogical principle is in play is by measuring a person’s view of the value of human beings relative to that of other creatures.
In this way, Bavinck writes that in light of the unique dignity of the human person,
there is no other conclusive reason thinkable why the killing of an animal is permitted and that of a man is unlawful, than that which lies in the background that man, separated essentially form the animal and related to God, is God’s offspring. He who, with the theory of evolution, obliterates the boundary between man and animal, making both the same kind, must also, as a matter of principle, think lightly concerning the killing of a man. Or, out of fear of this consequence, he must seek support with Buddhism, and respect as inviolate all life also in the animal, and as much as possible in the plant. It is noteworthy that both these trends find innumerable spokesmen in our day. On the one hand it is cynically taught by some that in our day men spend too much care upon the weak and ill, and ought rather to cooperate with the strong to improve our generation; while on the other hand, a sentimental sympathy is preached which has more pity for animals and plants than for man.
What better identifiers of the “moral vacuum” and godless secularism to which Rohrbough refers than these?
Just one week after the public release of the Catholic High School Honor Roll, positive reactions are streaming in. Many schools have let us know that they have observed a noticeable change because they were named to the Honor Roll. Other schools have used already used this occasion to jump start their advancement engines.
Rev. Ronald Schwenzer, President of St. Thomas High School in Houston, TX, observed the usefulness of the Honor Roll. “Last year we had an inquiry from a family in Ohio that was moving to Houston,” he said. “They contacted us because they saw we were one of the top 50 Catholic high schools on the Honor Roll.” The Honor Roll provides a powerful resource to parents and educators because they want to know which schools best offer a true Catholic education.
Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln also got word of the news. “It was a joy to receive the information…that Pius X High School in the City of Lincoln, has been commended for its educational excellence and has been named to the 2006 Catholic High School Honor Roll,” he said. “Being recognized nationally is a well-deserved honor for our school.”
Kyle Groos, Principal of O’Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, SD, has noticed change. “The positive impact has created opportunities in the way of increased enrollment over each of the last three years, increased academic success and community service, and most importantly the lasting impact on the future of our younger students,” he said. “We are truly blessed to have the opportunity of being named a Top 50 Catholic high school.”
To see a list of the top 50 schools, along with lists of the top 25 schools in each category, please go to www.chshonor.org.
In case you missed it, there is a great discussion brewing on Amy Welborn’s blog about the Honor Roll. Specifically there is reference to the examination of civic education as a criterion, specifically regarding a school’s teaching of economics, business, and Catholic social teaching. Go to her blog to follow the discussion.
On yet another day in a long season of bad news for Catholic schools in major urban areas, Chicago’s historic high school seminary is slated to close.
Michael J. Petrilli addresses the broader context of the problem in this analysis on NRO. The first part of the article lays out the by now familiar reasons for the epidemic of Catholic school closures in cities such as Detroit and Boston.
More interesting is the second part, in which Petrilli reveals that one of the main features of No Child Left Behind is failing because of “the loophole”—a provision that permits districts to maintain poor schools without implementing the radical reform that the federal act envisioned.
Petrilli’s analysis is right but he neglects to point out that such loopholes are inevitable in any such national legislation. Without political and institutional will at the local level, failing schools will not be improved or closed. This is why the longterm solution to educational mediocrity—and perhaps a simultaneous revitalization of inner-city Catholic schools—will not be found in congressional lawmaking but in a reassertion of federalism and a return of decision-making power to parents. The vouchers that Petrilli advocates are a good step, but only a step, in that direction.
Rick Ritchie has a thought-provoking post over at Old Solar, deconstructing a rather shrill WorldNetDaily article. In a piece titled, “What!? Caesar’s Money Has Strings Attached?,” Ritchie soberly observes, “When you do accept state funding, the state does have an interest in how its money is used.”
The WND piece and Ritchie’s post refer to this bit of California legislation, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which requires any educational institution that receives government support in any form, including through student financial aid, not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things.
According to the WND article, the Capitol Resource Institute’s “analysis of the legislation concluded it will prevent parochial schools such as private, Christian and other religious institutions from getting financial assistance for students if they maintain a code of conduct that does not endorse such behavior.”
As Ritchie rightly observes, the legislation doesn’t seem to say anything about condoning, promoting, or endorsing particular behavior, but simply about not discriminating on such a basis.
Ritchie writes, “This issue, when you tease it out, really has to do with the nature of the state’s involvement in education in a broader sense. That these groups are suddenly bothered now as if a really new element had entered into the equation strikes me as disingenuous. Either that, or these people are really stupid.”
The reality of the strings attached to government money have led some schools, like Hillsdale College, for instance, to refuse to accept any federal funding. This legislation comes on the heels of recent cases in California where students have been expelled from a Christian school for so-called “lesbian behavior,” in addition to a school which expelled a student “because her mother is gay.”
One of the flashpoints in school choice debates is the performance of public schools as compared to private. A while back a Department of Education study drew attention by claiming that, when certain socio-economic factors were controlled, there wasn’t much of a difference between achievement by public and private school students. Those findings are now under fire from Harvard researchers Paul Petersen and Elena Llaudet, who use the same data but a different method—and claim that the Department of Education’s method was flawed.
HT: John Hood at Phi Beta Cons.
Hunter Baker, blogging at his new home on the American Spectator Blog (recently added to our blogroll), responds to a post by James G. Poulos, which emphasizes President Bush’s “proposed emphasis on math and science education, to the patent detriment of the humanities.”
Says Baker, “Although I am a faithful disciple of the humanities, I often take comfort in the fact that the majority of students won’t have much exposure to the offerings on hand. Better they remain busy with their business and engineering degrees than that they should hear too much of the soul-killing discourses that reign in the older buildings on campus.”
I have pointed out the funding disparities between the humanities and the sciences before in a paper given earlier this year (for a visual example of the disparity, click here). And Baker may well be right: what passes for the “humanities” in the acadmey today isn’t worth funding.
But in response to Poulos, the humanities, as they ought to be pursued, should receive more attention and funding commensurate with their value as the classical basis for Western civilization. But I also don’t think it’s in keeping with the humanist spirit to make their pursuit dependent on government funding, which is why I also point out, “public sources of funding, or the lack thereof, are not the end of the tale. Most freely available digital history initiatives are underwritten in whole or in part by private charitable foundations.”
In today’s OpinionJournal Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice, gives an overview of the state-by-state successes of school choice advocates. One of Bolick’s important observations is that the move for increased choice and competition in education is increasingly becoming bi-partisan.
Politicians who have been attached to the education establishment are beginning to realize that school choice is one of the most hopeful options available for those who are the neediest and the poorest. Those who are wealthy have always had a measure of choice, because they can generally afford the extra cost of private school tuition. It is those who cannot afford this extra cost that really have little in the way of choices.
Shouldn’t the poor also be able to have their child receive a quality and even religious education if they so choose?