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The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice

By Deacon Keith Fournier
9/16/2012 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It is time to move beyond rhetoric and ineffective top down federal programs and enact true educational Reform. It is time for school choice.

350,000 students are still out of school in Chicago. The Teachers Union called what the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel referred to as a "strike of choice". The Mayor did not stop there, he added "And it's the wrong choice for children." The Mayor is correct. However, the right choice is school choice.   

Striking Chicago teachers

Striking Chicago teachers

P>CHICAGO, ILL (Catholic Online) - 350,000 students are still out of school in Chicago. The Teachers Union called what the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel referred to as a "strike of choice". The Mayor did not stop there, he added "And it's the wrong choice for children." The Mayor is correct. I would add it's not the right choice for the parents and it's not the right choice if we really care about good education and the common good.

The right choice is school choice.  

Some reports on the strike have criticized the salaries Chicago public schools teachers receive and point out that teachers work 200 days out of a year. In the year 2011 the median salary was $67,974. Some take issue with the labor union leadership which called for the strike, questioning whether it truly represents the best interest of the teachers, the parents and the children.

Others have focused on the poor performance statistics in the Chicago school system - only 60% of students end up graduating. Reports more sympathetic to the strike argue that the demand for evaluation of teachers is unfair and fails to recognize the full qualities and contributions of an educator because it focuses exclusively on test scores. Polls indicate that the strike is not faring well with the public, especially with parents.

The Chicago Teachers strike points to a much bigger social and public policy concern in the United States of America. This concern should become a main topic in the upcoming Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. It is time to move beyond rhetoric and ineffective top down federal programs and enact true educational Reform. It is time for school choice.

Those who oppose such a fundamental reform have taken to calling parental or school choice an effort to "privatize" education. In fact, it is 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. They should make the choices concerning the education of their children outside of the first school of the home.

Those who support school choice 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. In her inspiring speech at the Republican Convention, Condoleezza Rice addressed our educational crisis and commended this approach:

"Your greatest ally in controlling your response to your circumstances has been a quality education. But today, today when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going? The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are."

"My mom was a teacher. I respect the profession. We need great teachers, not poor ones and not mediocre ones. We have to have high standards for our kids because self-esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise. And we need to give parents greater choice, particularly, particularly poor parents, whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools".

"This is the civil rights issue of our day. If we do anything less, we condemn generations to joblessness and hopelessness and life on the government dole. If we do anything less, we will endanger our global imperatives for competitiveness. And if we do anything less, we will tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement the turn toward entitlement and grievance."

She is correct; we need to give parents greater choice. This choice should be available for parents from among a full array of options including public, private, parochial, virtual, charter and home schools. This is why I prefer to use the term "parental choice" in education when advocating for this reform. 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 too often resort to scare tactics. They argue that it will detrimentally affect the public school system. Sadly, they rely on ignorance to fan the flames of their opposition to a truly just educational policy.

They claim that supporters of school choice are against public schools. That is not true. For example, this supporter of school choice 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. They moved, at great sacrifice and hardship, to make sure it was a good public school.

Opponents act as though 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 true history. Public schools were first local, community schools. School choice will return the leadership of our National educational endeavor to parents and the local community. It will also improve the public school system by ensuring that parents can choose the schools they want for their children. Competition in the delivery of goods and services has amazing results.

School Choice is not a threat to good governance. Rather, it recognizes that all 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.

The first government is the family. 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.

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 provides insights for real educational reform which promotes the common good. The primacy of marriage - and the family founded upon it - is the first cell of society, the first church, first government, first school, first hospital, first economy, and the first mediating institution of  society. It should also be the polestar as we seek to build a truly just educational and public policy in the United States.

A just and efficient philosophy of government must be grounded in the recognition that the family is the first government. Further, that all other government must first be at its service. In "The Role of the Christian family in the Modern World" Blessed John Paul II called for the development of a "family politics". It is time to build such a "family politics" and that is a part of the New Catholic Action. 

The primary foundation for school choice is the recognition of the family as the first school and first vital cell of human society. Parents are the first teachers of their children. All education begins in the home. It is the right of parents to choose where their children go to school.

That choice for the parents of all children should include the full array of options, public, private, parochial, charter and home schools, no matter what their economic status. 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. 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. We need real educational reform in this Nation, not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic which has masqueraded as educational reform in the past.

In an Apostolic Exhortation of Blessed 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", he 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."

School Choice is a matter of real social justice - not what is masquerading as social justice these days. The opposition by some in the leadership of the teachers unions to educational reform shows how far some of these mediating associations have strayed from their proper social role.

School choice is right for our children, right for our parents and right for our Nation. Will school choice in the United States also improve the current state of our Catholic School system in the United States? Yes, it will. It will open up our schools as one of the many options for parents to choose from for their own children. We should welcome that both as Catholics and as good citizens.

The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For Educational Reform Through School Choice.

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