“As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC 2229)
A Voucher for your Thoughts?
Who pays for our public schools? Everyone. Those with children, those without, those who are also paying private school tuition and those who are using the public school system. I understand the idea - if we expect only the parents of children in public schools to bear the burden of that cost, either the system would come to a screaming halt or thousands upon thousands of children would go unschooled. Or both.
I am not the first to think of this. In fact, I didn't come up with it at all. It's an old idea, so I'm sure that the wanderings of my thoughts on this subject are equally as mundane and unoriginal. Yet, I wonder. Wouldn't that kind of "voucher system" stimulate economic growth and healthy competition between private schools, lower tuition costs, and remove a lot of the burden on a heavily-loaded state school system?
And then there's the issue of philosophical and religious freedom. That isn't dead yet is it? What if I don't want my child to be taught evolution, or sex ed, or history the way that it is taught in public schools. What if the teachings of the state system go fundamentally against what I am working my butt off to teach my kids. Isn't that my freedom? Doesn't the burden of education fall on the parent, not the state? So yeah, pull 'em out. Keep 'em home. I have many friends who homeschool, many who send their kids to a wide array of private schools with a spectrum of philosophical strategies. But they are still paying for their kids (and every one else's) to go to school.
I believe that this system was born out of the best intention: to give every child the right to an education. But one size fits all is not a true fit for anyone.
Church and State: You gotta keep 'em separated?
There is a long-standing argument that the government cannot provide a stipend for parents to fund religiously-based education because it is a violation of the separation of church and state. But what about the children of my friends who attend The Circle School, a wonderful family cooperative school here in San Antonio? That school has no religious affiliation whatsoever, but it does teach a particular philosophy. Their mission statement reads, "The Circle School's mission is to foster and encourage each child's awareness and respect for her/his own unique self within a framework of shared community ethics and knowledge." That's not religion, but it certainly is a way of thinking. Is it a church? No. But technically, the objections that those arguing for a violation of separation of church and state would have the same guff with these guys. This leads me to a quote from the Catholic Advocate:
"...If the voucher system is limited only to public schools and non-sectarian private schools, the majority of private schools will be left out of the mix. Furthermore, most non-sectarian private schools are well beyond the financial reach of parents, even those who receive government subsidies. So, in essence, a voucher program that excludes parochial schools is really a public school program. For reasons already discussed, this is not much of a choice for those Catholic parents who are concerned with the direction of public education." SourceWhat's so bad about Public School?
I'm still not sure about all this, but I know that I don't like a lot of the things I was taught in my public school days. When I recall the information I was taught in biology, in civics, even in drivers ed, and compare it to what I know now as an adult, I'm pretty disappointed, and I went to one of the best public high schools in our nation (ranked #7 in the US the year after I graduated). Despite all the attempts to provide a broad-based, unbiased education, I was taught some things that were downright propoganda. Weren't you? Can't you think of something you learned that was blatantly untrue, or weren't allowed to do that was a violation of your rights?
Another flaw? Neighborhood and income level influences our education. As I said, I went to a wonderful high school. My husband's education was atrocious. The school, overwhelmed by discipline and attendance issues, was little more than a bad babysitting center. The difference? The neighborhoods we grew up in. My high school was populated with the children of the old-money part of a large southern city. His was full of the townies of a low-income area in a military town. That entire school system is so bad that his mother has chosen to send his younger brother to one of the only private schools in the area, a non-denominational Christian school. For his family, that is the only real choice.
I don't know much about what causes the blatant unbalance in situations like this, but I do know that my brother in law is lucky that his parents can afford to send him elsewhere. For my husband and his sister, they simply had to make do and, to put it bluntly, try not to get shot between classes.
I also have a big objection to what I see as a confusion between freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. If my daughter wants to pray over her food before she eats in the school cafeteria, and even visibly cross herself, that's her freedom. If you don't like it, don't look. She's not making you pray. I know that this is an ongoing battle, and I'm so thankful for those standing up for our liberties, but I fear our culture has gone too far toward freedom from religion in public schools, and that my young children will not have any rights to practice their faith in a public school system. I hope I'm wrong. In the meantime, I'll support a system where I can choose a different school for them, even if I'm not wealthy.
So far, I think a voucher system, to include parochial and philosophically-based schools, is genius. Maybe it would eventually eliminate the need for public school. Wouldn't that be a yoke worth throwing for our poor overburdened states? Either way, even though I know I need to think holistically, I must say that I love this idea for me. Our income makes it impossible to pay for even Catholic school, and I fear that I would be a poor teacher for my girls at home. How about you? Would you like to see something like this?