Bishop Joseph Strickland: Morally Coherent Catholic Citizenship (Part 5): Vote for Candidates who Support Parental Choice in Education

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By Bishop Joseph Strickland, Diocese of Tyler, Texas, Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland was named the fourth bishop of Tyler in September of 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Prior to being named bishop, he served a number of roles in the diocese, including vicar general, judicial vicar, and pastor of the Cathedral parish. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1985.


Vote for Candidates who Support Parental Choice in Education

One of the experiences which accompanied the COVID 19 Shelter at Home Orders was that all parents became “home school” parents. But, in a sense, all parents already WERE “home school parents”. Some simply choose to share that educational mission with others outside of the home as their children mature. I say that because parents are the “first teachers” of their children. That very phrase is a part of the Baptismal Rite.

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the primacy of parents in the educational mission is clear After all, the primacy of marriage – and the family founded upon it – as the first cell of society, the first church, first government, first school, first hospital, first economy, and the first mediating institution of the broader society – is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family entitled “The Role of the Christian family in the Modern World” (Familiaris Consortio) Pope St. John Paul II affirmed the social and political role of the family and called for the development of a “family politics”. Catholics should embrace such a “family politics”. A just and efficient philosophy of civil government should recognize the family is the first government and that all other government must first be at its service.

Parents are the first teachers of their children and all education begins in the home. We need to acknowledge in our positive or civil law the right of parents to choose for their own children where they go to school. That choice should include the full array of options, public, private, parochial, charter and home schools, no matter what their economic status. This can be done in constitutionally sound ways. And, the last obstacle, the so-called “Blaine Amendments” are being struck down throughout the country as unconstitutional. And, rightly so.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parental role and government should recognize and defer to the parent’s primary role in the educational mission. These children are not, in the words of the US Supreme Courts’ Wisconsin v Yoder decision “…. mere creatures of the State.” The family is the first government and the first schoolhouse. We have forgotten that objective truth as a nation and we are reaping the consequences.

It was the polestar of educational law for many years that teachers act in loco parentis – a Latin phrase meaning in the place of, or on behalf of the parents. Sadly, we have lost our way. In addition, the very origins of what became the “public” school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools. What happened? We need to reconsider our history in order to chart our future.

Some who oppose “school choice” or, more properly “parental choice”, are entrenched in the current federalized educational bureaucracy and the culture which fuels it. However, increasingly people of every walk of life will admit the obvious, our current educational system is broken.

The current overly federalized approach to education in the United States is failing. Statistics and experience confirm the obvious. It is time for a change and parental (school) choice is the change that is needed. It means affirming again, as a matter of public policy and legislation, that Parents are the ones who should be able to make the choice of how to best extend their own teaching mission outside of the home. They should be able to choose where to send their children to school from among the full array of options.

The proper role of Federal, State or Local Government is to support, NOT USURP, the first government in the home. Rather than focus on the word “School” – which is then used to arouse a “public” school vs. “private” school debate – we should use the phrase “Parental Choice”. After all, it is Parents who are the first teachers of their children and the family is the first school. This is where the policy debate should focus.

Those of us who support this approach must watch our language. We are not against government. We simply maintain that government begins in the family. Good governance recognizes the first government of the family and follows the social ordering and good governance principle of subsidiarity by deferring to the smallest governing unit; not usurping but empowering and helping families. The current overly federalized approach to education in the United States is failing.

Here is an insight taken from the Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio“:

“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” the late Pope 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.”

Parental (School) Choice is a matter of genuine social justice, not what is masquerading as social justice in some circles these days. Parental choice in education is right for our children, right for our parents and right for our Nation. As we approach the exercise of our vote in the upcoming elections, we should choose those candidates who support parental (school) choice in education.