Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 1998
What Follows in these pages is an ecumenical initiative of Crisis magazine and the Morley Institute to address what can be called nothing less than the “Crisis in education.” The opinions collected here demonstrate, in the spirit of John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint, that people of good will from differing religious backgrounds, or no religious background at all, can agree and work together toward overcoming a problem impairing our common good. Atop the list is the clear awareness that this nation’s approach to education needs revolutionary rethinking and a radical overhaul.
These writers, many of them seasoned educational activists, are calling for much more than a mere readjustment of school systems that lie entirely beyond accountability to the parents or students. They argue that we must begin rethinking education by reaffirming the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children. The form and content of education, then, should no longer be determined solely by the long-standing alliance of the education bureaucrats, labor unions, and compliant school systems.
It is naive to think that the widely lamented loss of quality of education can be addressed by mere tinkering with the present system. The explosion in private schooling and homeschooling, the establishment of charter schools and voucher programs, the demand for school choice, and the fight against national education standards sends a clear message: The education monopoly has to be destroyed; we have to attack it at the ground floor by asking, Who’s in charge, and why?
Take the case of Catholic schools: It is generally acknowledged that Catholic schools around the nation have done a better job for less money per student than their public counterparts. Why? One answer is that the control of Catholic education has remained comparatively closer to the local constituency it serves than the public schools. Catholic schools are not without their own serious problems, but by lagging behind the bureaucratization of public schools they have served their students demonstratively better.
The biggest problem facing Catholic schools today—the need to reestablish their Catholic identity—is directly analogous to the crisis in schools everywhere, especially at the postsecondary level. It is relatively easy to argue about the efficacy of different teaching methods, but much harder to agree on matters of content: What are we going to teach our students about morality, politics, religion, history, and the United States?
With the politicization of education, the issue of content has become explosive. So-called values education has ostensibly been promoted to shore up a lagging sense of morality but only resulted in furthering the cause of moral relativity. Multiculturalism, promoted in the name of diversity, has much the same effect. Case in point, the meaning of marriage, once considered sacrosanct, is now being reconstructed by elementary school teachers who stage same-sex “friendship ceremonies.”
In my opinion, the content of education needs not only to be freed from the influence of the educrats but requires a new infusion of the natural law perspective. I realize that the natural law is only one “conservative” viewpoint among others, albeit the best one, and cannot be taken for granted. But it is the natural law position, with its view of the family, morality, and the state, that is gradually being eradicated from school curriculums. Yes, we are more likely to find natural law resuming to education by returning the control of education to the family, but the assumption underlying returning to the family is itself only defensible through natural law reasoning.
We must face the fact that many family wells have been poisoned at the source. After all, there are still families out there who applaud the years of social engineering that have destroyed their children’s education.
The strength of Western education is precisely its development of a realistic, objective understanding of human life, based upon a grasp of human nature as a guide to morality and politics. Education should pass on what is tried and true. Although its methods may be innovative, its content should be fundamentally conservative. Like sound Catholic teaching, there are good reasons why what is taught in some disciplines remains the same from generation to generation—because wisdom doesn’t change!
How many times have we endured those false prophets who predict a brave new world based upon mere technological advances? Yes, the Internet will change some of our daily habits, but the moral challenges it presents are just another version of the parental duty to protect their children’s moral imagination. The human person, who remains the subject of all education, has not changed his nature since creation.