School Choice is Needed

School Choice is complicated but appealing.  It seems that every parent would want to choose the best school for their child, yet many people do not think it is in the public’s best interest for parents to make this choice.  It is difficult to support a position without knowing the arguments of others.  In this link, I open a discussion regarding the primary supporting and opposing arguments regarding religious school choice.  I end with SACE’s new supporting argument.

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SACE is in a position to get rocks thrown at it from public, private, and home school education camps.  If it only promoted stronger Christian school curricula, teacher training, and school philosophy, it would be ignored by the public sector and perhaps supported by the Christian school community.  However, by supporting school choice, public schoolers fear the depletion of education tax dollars, the lowering of educational standards, and (from the unions) the loss of control.  Many of the public school academic elite angrily throw their stones believing that religious schools not only breed dangerous social factions, but oppress children by depriving them of moral and intellectual autonomy. 

Christian schools also fear school choice because of the government regulations that would surely come with the public money.  Perhaps home schoolers wouldn’t throw rocks because they don’t think school choice effects them… however, once they realize my plans for school choice include them, they too may throw rocks at SACE to decry government regulations.

Do I like rocks or am I just crazy?  Hopefully neither.  I offer a vision for school choice that has the potential to de-escalate the tensions of many.  School choice has been supported as a parental right, a religious right, as an opportunity to improve education through competition, and as a social justice issue among those too poor to ”have a choice.”  Each of these arguments has its merits and its drawbacks.  However, I believe choice is limited because the presented drawbacks tend to outweigh the presented merits.

Current Arguments for School Choice

  • Though the research of William Jeynes and others supports the academic strength of religious schools, the margin of superiority is so narrow that “other public concerns” have overridden these academic findings. 
  • Arguments for choice based on human/parental/religious rights have been summarily dismissed by the courts due to the undenied right of parents to provide a private education for their children.
  • Other studies support the acceptability of religious schooling in terms of its diversity, the civic strength of students, etc., but these studies do not compel a move to school choice choice because it is assumed that with effort, public schools can become stronger.


SACE’s Rationale for Choice

I believe my argument for choice compels the state to action.  The mission of public schools is not just to impart job skills, but to produce good American citizens.  There is a growing body of research evidence (the above included) that argues that much of citizenship is religious in nature.  In other words, secular schools, which avoid discussions of primary truth and value and are prohibited from advocating a religious perspective, are inherently ill-equipped to nurture many of the qualities of good citizenship. 

I do not argue that secular schools are unconcerned with helping children become good citizens, but rather that religious schools by their very nature have a greater potential to form strong citizens.  While secular schools are distanced from a child’s religious beliefs, religious schools  have more open access to the realm of beliefs, values, and character.  For example, whereas a secular school can argue for compassion based upon the desire for returned compassion, a religious school can add to this by presenting compassion as a primary concern of their God who loves them and created all people in His image. 

The civic rational for school choice is strong because the First Amendment’s religion clauses starkly limit public schools in the highly motivational and rational areas of basic human beliefs and values.  It is not hard to maintain a debate regarding the best setting for academic development, but moral formation has always been linked to arenas of religion. 

However, I do not stop at morality.  I also believe that the complex problems of democratic society require rational rigor that finds grounded support in primary beliefs and values.  Discussions of social justice, environmental protection, and end of life health care remain superficial unless citizens have already wrestled with and formed convictions regarding ”first truths.”

Thus, I support school choice for many reasons, but I believe the one that people of all faiths and the public can acknowledge is that religious schooling provides the greatest potential to do more than teach job skills.  It can build good citizens.

Society for the Advancement of Christian Education

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