Catholic Schools provide excellence in the fullest sense by cultivating within students a desire for virtue, a love for truth, and a commitment to service and participation. The objective statistics are clear on every front, Catholic schools work! They should be made available to any parent who would choose them for their children.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - It is funny how time and calendaring often reveal connections we might otherwise fail to make. That is if we look at such "circumstances" as being more than accidental. I believe that is the case with the confluence of three events in the United States of America, the State of the Union Address, National School Choice Week and National Catholic Schools Week. I address this article primarily to Catholics in the United States. However, the principles mentioned have applicability wherever we live.
Last week I wrote an article entitled "Time for School Choice: National School Choice Week Ends, Struggle Begins". In it I noted that President Obama's State of the Union address occurred during National School Choice Week in the United States. One of the most successful examples of school choice occurred 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 saving efficiencies.
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)
Those who support school choice in the United States call for a public policy and enabling legislation which makes it possible for ALL parents, no matter what their socio-economic situation, to choose where to send their children to school. This choice should be available from among a full array of options including public, private, parochial, charter and home schools. The policy is better understood as "parental choice" in education. It recognizes that parents are the first teachers and should be the ones who make the choice where to expand their teaching mission for their own children.
As a constitutional lawyer I know this can be accomplished in a constitutionally sound way by empowering parents to make this vital choice through properly drafted voucher legislation, tax credits, or opportunity scholarships. Those who oppose school choice often resort to scare tactics and rely on ignorance to fan the flames of their opposition. School Choice is not a threat to good governance but rather recognizes that all government begins in the home and then applies the social ordering principle of subsidiarity.
It is opportune that, following upon National School Choice Week, the Catholic Church in the United States of America - through a joint effort of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Catholic Educational Association - has launched the annual "Catholic Schools Week". The observance began on Sunday January 30 and continuing through Saturday February 5, 2011. The theme chosen for this year's observance is "Catholic Schools: A+ for America".
The sponsors explain,"The theme for Catholic Schools Week 2011 celebrates the fact that Catholic schools are an added value ("a plus") for the nation. Because of their traditionally high academic standards and high graduation rates, all supported by strong moral values, Catholic schools and their graduates make a positive contribution to American society. Catholic schools give a high level of service (the A+ level) to local communities because of the many service projects students undertake. "Giving back to the community" and "helping others" are values instilled in every Catholic school student. Catholic schools give a high level of service to the nation (the A+ level) by serving students from all economic backgrounds and giving them a strong academic and moral foundation, allowing them to succeed in life, serving in the government, industry, business, non-profit and educational fields."
In an age characterized by what Pope Benedict XVI called a "Dictatorship of Relativism", Catholic Schools offer a true education; one which recognizes that there are truths and values which can be known by all men and women which should inform our life together in society. Catholic Schools provide excellence in the fullest sense by cultivating within students a desire for virtue, a love for truth, and a commitment to service and participation. The objective statistics are clear on every front, Catholic schools work! They should be made available to any parent who would choose them for their children. Thus, the tie in between "National School Choice Week" and "National Catholic Schools Week" is clear.
The teaching of the Catholic Church on the primacy of parents in the educational mission, as well as their right to choose where to send their children to school, promotes the common good. In 1997, the Congregation for Catholic Education summarized the Catholic educational mission in "The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium". This document begins with this astute observation: "On the threshold of the third millennium education faces new challenges which are the result of a new socio-political and cultural context. First and foremost, we have a crisis of values which, in highly developed societies in particular, assumes the form, often exalted by the media, of subjectivism, moral relativism and nihilism." In this cultural context, the mission of the Catholic School becomes all the more urgent."
The document calls for a "correct relationship between state and school" contending that choosing a school, "not only a Catholic school, is based not so much on institutional relations as on the right of each person to receive a suitable education of their free choice. This right is acknowledged according to the principle of subsidiarity. For "The public authority, therefore, whose duty it is to protect and defend the liberty of the citizens, is bound according to the principle of distributive justice to ensure that public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to select schools for their children in accordance with their conscience".
It continues, "In the framework not only of the formal proclamation, but also in the effective exercise of this fundamental human right, in some countries there exists the crucial problem of the juridical and financial recognition of non-state schools. We share John Paul II's earnest hope, expressed yet again recently, that in all democratic countries "concrete steps finally be taken to implement true equality for non-state schools and that it be at the same time respectful of their educational project".
The document also addressed the ecclesial identity of the Catholic School noting, "It is from its Catholic identity that the School derives its original characteristics and its "structure" as a genuine instrument of the Church, a place of real and specific pastoral ministry. The Catholic School participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church and is the privileged environment in which Christian education is carried out. In this way "Catholic Schools are at once places of evangelization, of complete formation, of inculturation, of apprenticeship in a lively dialogue between young people of different religions and social backgrounds..
"The ecclesial nature of the Catholic School, therefore, is written in the very heart of its identity as a teaching institution. It is a true and proper ecclesial entity by reason of its educational activity, "in which faith, culture and life are brought into harmony". Thus it must be strongly emphasized that this ecclesial dimension is not a mere adjunct, but is a proper and specific attribute, a distinctive characteristic which penetrates and informs every moment of its educational activity, a fundamental part of its very identity and the focus of its mission. The fostering of this dimension should be the aim of all those who make up the educating community."
The Catholic educational mission is to inform and educate the whole student in the teaching, or what can be called "the mind" of the Catholic Church, thus preparing men and women with a profoundly Catholic anthropology (view of the human person) which reveals the very meaning of human life. In the words of the Congregation for Catholic education, "The Catholic School is committed thus to the development of the whole man, since in Christ, the Perfect Man, all human values find their fulfillment and unity. Herein lies the specifically Catholic character of the School. Its duty to cultivate human values in their own legitimate right in accordance with its particular mission to serve all men has its origin in the figure of Christ. He is the One Who ennobles man, gives meaning to human life, and is the Model which the Catholic School offers to its pupils."
We invite our readers to pray for all who are involved in the Catholic educational mission during this National Catholic Schools week. We especially invite our readers in the United States to Prayer, Catholic Action and Faithful Citizenship. Defend the essential contribution of Catholic Schools and the importance of parental rights. The future of Catholic schools requires our support on every front.The renewal of civil society depends upon the education of the next generation. Catholic schools are an asset for every Nation. They should be supported and promoted through good Public Policy and made available to all parents who choose such an education for their children.
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