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By Deacon Keith Fournier

2/1/2011 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

'Parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental' (Catholic Catechism)

The unwillingness of those currently in charge of the Federal Educational Bureaucracy to consider school choice when everyone knows the educational system is broken exposes the difference between rhetoric and reality, real concern for real reform and sophistry. School Choice affirms that Parents should make the choice and State and Federal Government should support the first government in the home.


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

2/1/2011 (4 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: School Choice, Parental Choice, DC Choice, President Obama, Speaker Boehner, education, social justice, social doctrine, charter schools, parochial schools, vouchers, tax credits, Deacon Keith Fournier

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Among the topics President Obama covered in his State of the Union Address was the need for education reform in the United States. The President told both houses of Congress and the millions who watched, "In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.   And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential."

It is interesting that the State of the Union address occurred during National School Choice Week. One of the most successful examples of school choice was in Washington, DC, until President Obama ended the program by not funding the Opportunity Scholarship program last year. Objective statistics demonstrated its phenomenal success according to every criteria of evaluation, including cost savings. However, the leadership of the teachers union opposed it.

On Wednesday, January 26, 2010 Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a Press conference to announce his co-sponsorship, along with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) of legislation to restore the program. Speaker Boehner said, "There's only one program in America where the federal government allows parents from lower-income families to choose the schools that are best for their children, and it's right here in D.C. "The D.C. program provides a model that I believe can work well in other communities around the nation.It should be expanded, not ended."

The Speaker is absolutely correct. Support for parental choice in education is one of the few issues in contemporary politics which enjoys growing support across the political spectrum. I prefer "Parental Choice" to "School choice", since parents are the ones who should make the educational decision, no matter what their economic situation. To support "Choice in Education" is to affirm that Parents should be able to make the choice of how to best extend their teaching mission because the proper role of State and Federal Government is to support the first government in the home.

The unwillingness of those currently in charge of the Federal Educational Bureaucracy to even consider this approach at a time when everyone knows the educational system is broken exposes the difference between rhetoric and reality, real concern for real reform and sophistry.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the right of parents to choose a school for their children, "As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which 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)

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the primacy of parents in the educational mission is refreshingly forthright and helpful. It can provide insights for real educational reform which actually promotes the common good and does not just mouth the phrase and continue failed policies.

The primacy of marriage - and the family founded upon it - as the first cell of society, the first church, first government, first school, first hospital, first economy, and the first mediating institution of the broader society is at the heart of Catholic Social Thought. It should also lay the foundation for building a truly just educational and public policy in our Nation.

A just and efficient philosophy of government should be grounded in the recognition that the family is the first government and that all other government must first be at its service. In his marvelous apostolic exhortation on the family entitled "The Role of the Christian family in the Modern World" (Familiaris Consortio) the Venerable Pope John Paul II affirmed the social and political role of the family and called for the development of a "family politics". It is time to develop just such a "family politics". We need it. 

It is also time to help people understand that what is really behind the issue of supporting Parental Choice in education - the recognition of the family as the first school and first vital cell of human society. Parents are the first teachers of their children and all education begins in the home. It is the right of parents to choose where their children go to school. That choice should include the full array of options, public, private, parochial, charter and home schools, no matter what the economic status of those parents. It is better for the children, better for society and more economically efficient.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parent's primary educational mission. Children are not, in the words of the US Supreme Courts' Wisconsin v Yoder decision "....mere creatures of the State". The family is the first government. We have forgotten that objective truth as a Nation and we are reaping the consequences. We need real educational reform in this Nation.

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the primacy of parents in the education of their children is fundamental. In an Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II entitled "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" he wrote, "The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others..."

In his "Letter to Families", Pope John Paul wrote: "Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the Principle of Subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit.

"For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children; especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization."

Parental Choice in education is a matter of authentic social justice, not what is masquerading as social justice these days. Oh, I know the term has been coopted by some, but it is time to take it back. The opposition by those who too often control the teachers unions to such an obviously just approach to educational policy and fundamental fairness shows just how far some of these mediating associations have strayed from their correct social role. Parental choice in education is right for our children, right for our parents and right for our Nation. The National School Choice week has ended, but our struggle has just begun.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

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Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
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