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Beyond Matt Damon: Real Educational Revolution Gains Steam as School Choice Wins Big

By Deacon Keith A Fournier
August 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

There are numerous stories circulating about the actor Matt Damon. An ardent advocate for public schools and teachers unions, he chose to send his own children to private schools in Los Angeles. The purpose of some reports was to criticize him and focus on his political views. I wish the reports had focused on the choice he made, for his children and as a parent. Every parent should be able to make that same kind of choice for their own children, not just those who are wealthy. This is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is an issue of what is right, for our children, for our parents, and for our Nation.

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - There are numerous stories circulating about the actor Matt Damon. An ardent advocate for public schools and teachers unions, he chose to send his own children to private schools in Los Angeles. The purpose of some reports was to criticize him and focus on his political views.

I wish the reports had focused on the choice he made, for his children and as a parent. Every parent should be able to make that same kind of choice for their own children, not just those who are wealthy. This is not a liberal or conservative issue, it is an issue of what is right, for our children, for our parents, and for our Nation.

Education Week offered an encouraging look at the momentum which the movement for school choice has gained in the US in their recent edition. The article written by Andrew Ujifusa is entitled School-Choice Legislation Wins Big in States This Year. The Pew Charitable Trust offered another encouraging analysis in a report by Elaine S Povich entitled Tax Dollars for Private School Tuition Gain in States It focuses on the Alabama experience, but offers some excellent updates on this rapidly growing educational revolution in the United States.

More and more parents and more and more States are choosing school or parental choice. Clearly, there is a growing movement for educational reform underway and it is changing the educational landscape. The current overly federalized approach to the provision of education in the United States is failing miserably and our children are suffering.

Statistics and experience confirm the obvious. It is time for a change and parental (school) choice is that change. It is time to move beyond the stale rhetoric and ineffective top down federal educational programs and enact real educational Reform in the United States. We need an educational revolution and not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic of the current approach to public schools.

I prefer to use the term parental choice in education when advocating for this reform for a good reason. The term recognizes that parents are the first teachers. Therefore, they should be the ones who make the choice where to expand their teaching mission for their own children. This choice should make available for all parents good public, private, parochial, virtual, classical, charter and home schools.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parent's primary educational mission. The family is the first school and the first government. We have forgotten that objective truth as a Nation and we are reaping the consequences. Good government is always bottom up, not top down, deferring first to the smallest governing unit; not usurping but empowering and helping families.

Some who oppose this educational reform often resort to scare tactics. They argue that it will detrimentally affect the public school system. They claim that supporters of school choice are against public schools. This is simply not true.  I support school choice. I grew up in the inner city of Dorchester, Massachusetts in a blue collar home. My parents struggled to give me the first four primary educational years in a parochial school. The remainder of my education was in a public school.

My parents moved, at great sacrifice and hardship, to make sure I attended a good public school. School choice will give parents greater say in their local schools and make such disruptive moves less necessary. Parental choice in education will give every parent, no matter where they live or how much they earn, the choice of where to send their children to school. And, it will do so while saving money and improving educational quality across the board!

Opponents of parental choice in education often try to rewrite American history. They claim the currently overly federalized bloated bureaucracy called the Public School system is how education in the United States has always been. Nothing could be further from factual history. In loco parentis - a Latin phrase meaning in the place of, or on behalf of the parents - was the polestar of educational law for years. Now, it is all but replaced with a top down one size fits all federalized system which has substituted bureaucrats for parents.

The origins of what became the public school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  Now, parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational decisional process. Public schools were first local, community schools. Parental or School choice educational reform will return the leadership of our National educational endeavor to parents and the local community.

Some opponents also allege that supporters of parental or school choice want to privatize education. In fact, it is really an effort to Parentize education, by once again affirming that that the family is the first school and first government and parents are the first teachers. Parents and not federal bureaucrats should make the choices concerning the education of their children outside of the first school of the home.

We need to reconsider our history and chart an effective path to true educational reform and educational freedom in the future. The origins of what became the public school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  Now, parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational process.

School Choice is not a threat to good governance. Rather, it recognizes that government begins in the home and then applies the social ordering principle of subsidiarity. The term is derived from the Latin word "subsidium" which means help or assistance.

The principle of subisdiarity is a social ordering principle which says that governance should begin at the smallest level first. All other government should provide assistance or help to that first government - and not usurp its primary role. Thus, it is a principle which favors a bottom up approach to governing and affirms the family as the first government and first school.

Some opponents of educational choice have a vested interest; they are entrenched in the current federalized educational bureaucracy and the culture which fuels it. However, people of every walk of life now admit the obvious, our educational system is broken.  A growing number now support the school choice or parental choice movement.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parental role. Those who provide it should recognize and defer to the parents' primary role in the educational mission of their own children. The children being educated 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 and the first school house. We have forgotten that objective truth as a Nation and we are reaping the bad consequences. Those who try to paint supporters of school choice as backward and anti-Government are using sophistry. The fact is that educational reform like this is forward looking. Their doggedly clinging to a bloated federal bureaucratic approach is what is backward. They fail to defer to the first mediating institution of the family.

Parental (School) Choice is an idea whose time has come. It is a matter of true social justice, not what is masquerading as social justice in some circles these days. The opposition of some in control of the teachers unions to such a just approach to educational policy and fundamental fairness shows how far some of these mediating associations have strayed from their primary role.

Parental choice in education is right for our children, right for our parents and right for the future of our Nation. Parental Choice in education is the path to a true national reform of our educational system. The real educational revolution in the United States is gaining steam as School Choice wins big in States in 2013.

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