There are many reasons for enacting school choice. Improving educational achievement and saving money are two of the big ones. But Richard John Neuhaus points us to another one that doesn’t get as much play as it should: Enacting choice is the moral thing to do.
He points to an earlier essay by John Coons, who writes:
Shifting educational authority from government to parents is a policy that rests upon basic beliefs about the dignity of the person, the rights of children, and the sanctity of the family ….
Coons argues that school choice is often touted in largely economic terms: School choice will produce better-educated children who will in turn serve us well in a competitive world economy. The danger, he sees, is that we could in theory produce spectacular academic results by retaining the government-control model.
Now, Coons is writing in 1992, before school choice programs got off the ground (at least much off the ground), so his ignorance of the proven benefits of choice can be forgiven, even if it is a bit jarring.
Still, he’s onto something. Even if, by some odd twist of fate, a civil servant somewhere came up with a magic cure for public schools that still squashed parental choice, it would be lacking. “Choice,” he says, “needs to be loved for its own sake, or at least for a reason more noble than its capacity to make life better for the producers.”
Among the reasons for the moral superiority of choice:
The current property-based system is filled with economic and racial injustices and religious strife. Meanwhile, it limits the ability of parents to exercise their free speech rights: “Children are the books written by the poor.”
Lack of school choice, further, robs the poor of dignity by reducing them to a passive status in their children’s education: Shut up, the school professionals say, because we will determine where which school your child attends, and what happens there.
Neuhaus, by the way, introduces the topic by pointing to the concerns of middle-class parents:
The reality is that most parents in America are, wisely or not, more or less satisfied with the government schools that their children attend. They may have a twinge of conscience about their selfishness, but the teachers-union propaganda about vouchers taking money away from their own schools is powerfully effective. And, they understandably ask, whether caring about your own first is really selfishness or the exercise of parental responsibility. The brutal fact is that twinges of conscience can be easily stifled when they come up against self-interest.
What to say in response? One fact is that those schools are not nearly as good as those parents believe. Another sad fact for school reformers is that there’s a great misunderstanding and ignorance of how markets can improve education.
(Thanks to Chad at FratersLibertas for the pointer to Neuhaus).