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.”
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?
This year’s Catholic High School Honor Roll has been released. Go to Acton’s redesigned Honor Roll webpage to view both the top-50 and the category leader lists. The webpage also features a virtual newsroom that tracks news stories about Honor Roll schools.
The Honor Roll recognizes quality Catholic secondary schools across the nation. With it, Acton offers a unique evaluation system that assesses their overall quality based on the criteria of academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. The annual top 50 list has gained national recognition and serves as a significant improvement motivator for Catholic high schools nationwide.
Competition to be listed on the Honor Roll intensified for the schools this year due to the increased number of applications received. “The Honor Roll has certainly developed a greater awareness among Catholics that excellence in Catholic education means more than just excelling in academics,” explained Honor Roll program officer Anthony Pienta. “The best schools also have a vibrant Catholic identity and offer a sound civic education program. Schools are reminded of the need for this balance each year the Honor Roll gets published.”
Acton thanks the numerous administrators, teachers, and other staff who completed surveys for this year’s Honor Roll. Your commitment to Catholic education makes a tremendous difference.
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.”
A key quote:
The elite schools no longer command the reverence and deference of red-state America. The parents and students of “flyover country” are starting to put their money where their morals are or where they believe truth is.
There’s a discussion of Moore’s article at Touchstone‘s reader discussion site, Treaders.
HT: Mere Comments
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.”
BRYN MAWR, July 13, 2006 – Over the course of the week I have offered my reflections that have arisen within the context of the Advanced Studies in Freedom seminar offered by the Institute for Humane Studies (previous editons: Weekend, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday). The presentations by the faculty have been in great part engaging, intellectually rigorous, and valuable.
I’ll conclude with an observation about the necessity for any intellectual endeavor to pursue scholarship in a rigorous and serious way. This is applicable to any scholar who is or is not part of the liberal education establishment, but it is even more relevant, I think, for those of us who do not share many of the same fundamental convictions as the intellectual elite.
The point is this: the only way that scholars who come from positions outside the mainstream can expect to garner any measure of respect and/or success in the education establishment is by deeply committing themselves to the standards of scholarship. So, for example, in my own case, I face what might be called a heavy ideological burden: I am socially, theologically, and morally conservative with significant affinities to classical liberal political and economic theory. These values are simply out of step with the broader academic world, and even to some extent within the circles of my own field of interest, historical theology.
I propose that the only way to overcome these obsacles is to do scholarly work that even those who have radically different ideological commitments but who nevertheless believe in the seriousness of scholarship will have no other choice than to respect. This includes a commitment to the commonly accepted standards of scholarly work, such as a consistent application of research methodology, responsible engagement and treatment of primary and secondary sources, a striving for objectivity, and treatment of the subject matter according to the scholastic method. It excludes ideological diatribes and polemic passed off in the form of scholarship.
There is no guarantee of course that in any particular instance my work will be respected on its own merits rather than being passed over due to intellectual bias. But these elements are really the only ones that I can control, and I must leave it to God’s providence to determine where and how my calling is to be effected in the future.
Beyond being a strategic means of attaining acceptence in the academic world, the duties of the scholar are such that they are necessary for the broader and ultimately more important matter of fidelity to my calling and the responsible exercise of my scholarly vocation.
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?
Says Fosella: “Here’s how it would work: Families would be permitted to take a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their tax liability for non-public-school-tuition expenses. For example, a taxpayer with a liability of $10,000 and a tax credit of $4,500 would be required to pay only $5,500 in taxes. Simply, it allows families to keep more of their money to spend on their children’s education.”