Friday, August 21, 2015

Balancing human freedom and the common good

"Education refers to the development of the person, of his or her character and loyalties, everything required to be a decent human being, family member, neighbor, and citizen," Boston University education professor Charles L. Glenn writes in the Journal of School Choice ("Balancing the Interests of State and Citizens").
Education also occurs in schools, but it starts in the family and is commonly sustained by participation in voluntary associations, both religious and cultural. ...

Education ... must ultimately rest upon convictions of the heart and disciplines of the spirit which government in a democracy is not entitled to prescribe. Here we see the contrast between democracy and a totalitarian regime like the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, which made limitless claims upon those subject to their control. No other enemy of human freedom and dignity is as dangerous as a government that treats the shaping of convictions, loyalties, and fundamental worldview as a high priority.

A democratic regime is of course deeply concerned about the character of its citizens, and about their loyalty to the common good, but it entrusts the formation of the hearts and habits of youth to their families and to the voluntary associations of civil society, intervening only when there is clear evidence that a family or a school or a religious institution is acting in a way that abuses the interests of a child or nurtures antisocial attitudes and behaviors. A democratic regime even accepts that the best citizens may at times oppose the decisions of their own government on the basis of a higher principle than routine loyalty, indeed as an expression of a higher loyalty.

It is for this reason that American national and state governments, and the corresponding authorities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and in the European Union, focus on holding schools accountable for measurable academic outcomes, the results of instruction, while leaving very considerable freedom to how children and youth are educated.

This includes, in almost every case, providing public funding to schools with a religious character if parents select them as alternatives to schools with a secular or distinctive pedagogical character. ...

Real education cannot be mandated or managed bureaucratically; it depends upon the commitment and creativity of those closest to the children and youth who are its beneficiaries. Wise policy makes this possible.

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