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Pope Francis and School Choice

teens school catholicschool uniforms learn edu study blue classroomIn his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis addressed issues related to marriage and the family. The document has received a great deal of media coverage and it will shape the way that the Church discusses these issues moving forward.

One important section of the exhortation focused on reaffirming the Church’s traditional teaching on the primary role of parents in the area of education.

In Paragraph 84, Pope Francis strongly sets forth that education is the “primary right” of parents. This is not simply a task for the parents to accomplish, but rather an “essential and inalienable right.” The government’s role is to support the parents in the exercise of this right, not to replace them. While the government offers educational opportunities, “parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education –- accessible and of good quality –- which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions.”

Pope Francis’ statements on education reflect the moral dimension of the issue of school choice. This is not simply a matter of policy. Instead, we have to ask ourselves whether the current educational environment in our country supports parents as the primary educators of their children. Further, does the current environment allow for all parents, not just the affluent, to exercise the fundamental right to “choose a school for their children which corresponds to their own personal convictions” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2229).

It is not enough for policymakers to simply say that parents have the “right” to choose their children’s school without providing concrete conditions necessary for exercise of this right (CCC, #2229). In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (#72), the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote that “Government, through such means as tax credits and publicly funded scholarships, should help provide resources for parents, especially those of modest means, to exercise this basic right without discrimination.”

A majority of states in our country have taken significant steps towards affording educational options to all families. Yet, many states, including Kentucky, still lag behind by not providing any public support for parents in the exercise of this right. In these states, students are generally sent to a school based on their ZIP Code, which is in turn is often decided by their income. Of course, this is not the case for many students, whose parents’ wealth allows them to choose the public school district that they live within or affords them the opportunity to choose a nonpublic school.

Such disparities cannot persist without causing further damage to our society. Policymakers should heed Pope Francis’ words and create an education system which serves all families.


Andrew J. Vandiver is a lifelong Kentuckian and a convert to Catholicism. Andrew blogs at http://oldmanmillennial.blogspot.com/ and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Pax

    Should / do parents have the right to decide what topics their children are taught?
    Should / do parents have the right to decide what context those topics are taught in?
    What if parents decide education is not needed for their children? What then? When does the states interests in having an educated populous outweigh the parents rights to be the primary educator? Who decides what education even means?
    I personally don’t believer there is such a thing as a ‘secular’ education because knowledge passed down without reference to the philosophical context it is attached too is not knowledge but only information.

    • ChrysD

      Knowledge can be passed down that way on paper. But in practice, knowledge is passed on by people and in contextual situations. What we say and how we say it comes across as whether we, or the system, or the author, believes or disbelievers it. If we want to solve a problem, we should try to help as many as we can. Currently, the problems are coming out of inner city schools, like the one I went to from K-4, not from parents. These children aren’t being educated. The parents want them educated, but the state is not doing it and refusing to let parents place their own children in schools where children are learning. We already have compulsory education laws on the books. But these schools have failed and become dangerous places. What if you were forced to work in a equally dangerous workplace? When does the right of these children to get an education outweigh the right of the state to control their education?

      • Pax

        I think we are much in agreement. My question was more in the tone of does the state have a right to dictate even so much as subject material? also to the point. If someone has a right to an education, do not they equally have the right to not be educated especially when they consider the method of educations to be wrong or counterproductive to true education?

        • ChrysD

          Well, I can think of two groups who educate on the fringe, the Amish and homeschoolers. Even they have standards. The Amish run their own schools up to 8th grade. After which, teens education continues with learning a vocation. Some Amish folks attend local community colleges to be certified in something. Even with only completing up to 8th grade, their graduates would beat high school graduates of our low income schools.

          Each state regulates homeschooling differently, but certain things must be taught. Objectively, states want all children to learn the four academic subjects of language arts, math, social studies and science. On top of that is usually includes physical development/ education, the arts and vo-tech options in secondary school. The content, the ideology, much of the subjective aspects are left to the educators.

          So, yeah, all American children should have these broad subjects required, but under the principle of subsidiarity, it is parents, who should decide content.