Children of the State?

A band of civil rights groups raised legal eyebrows recently, announcing plans to sue California for failing to provide the "bare essentials" of a public education. Space shortages, poor materials, and unqualified teachers led some, including the ACLU, to say, "Enough is enough." Their lawsuit was filed on behalf of seventy students from two dozen public schools, hoping to make the state pay for its failures. By pricking political consciences, the activists expect a payoff in the form of more tax dollars for public education. Well, when it comes to identifying government's failed policies, for once the ACLU is on the right side. Policymakers on both sides of the issue are finally admitting the need for education reform. But the issue here isn't just propping up the public schools but making sure that all our kids have a chance for a quality education. What the public school lobby would really like to do is keep parents out of it altogether. The teachers unions don't want parents looking over their shoulders, and they seem to feel that winning court battles like this one will give them the money to fix the system -- a system that in many cases is broken beyond repair. You see, the only fix that makes sense for the long-term is to give parents options, like school choice and vouchers, so they can make their own decisions -- an option, not surprisingly, that terrifies the teachers unions. You may remember my commentary a few weeks ago in which I told you about the mother who got onto the local school board's curriculum committee after objecting to the evolutionist curriculum her daughter was being forced to learn. Well, soon after she joined the curriculum committee, she discovered that most teachers aren't giving homework anymore. When pressed for reasons, one teacher said, in so many words, "Homework gets parents involved in the process and we think education ought to be left to the professionals." In other words, educators don't want parents looking over their shoulders. Outrageous. The Department of Education's own literature says that "three decades of research have shown that parental participation in schooling improves student learning." All the research shows that when moms and dads take an active role in their kids' education -- helping with homework, attending special events and extracurricular activities -- performance improves dramatically. But teachers also know that parents don't approve of today's trendy curricula, so to keep them out of it, they don't give homework, or anything that involves parents. Well, this is one more reason why vouchers are so important. The solution to the problem is empowering parents to make their own decisions, through vouchers, through working with the schools, and through more active involvement in curriculum decisions. We'll hear a lot more about these issues very soon, as the election campaign heats up. Voucher opponents will be demanding more money for failing public schools, while parents will be looking for solutions that really work. But this is an issue that concerns all of us. Seventy-five years ago, the Supreme Court said "the child is not the mere creature of the State," and that's a lesson the opponents of school choice need to learn. Our kids deserve the best all of us, including parents, can give them, and not merely what's convenient for teachers.


Chuck Colson


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