Shaping Our Future
For all of us, the future is a source of both hope and anxiety. Our concern about the unknown future, its risks and possibilities, actually shapes who we are. As Christians, we believe that we are not passive before the forces around us; in fact, we have the power and responsibility to shape the future—for ourselves, our own children, and generations to come.
Every decision we make has some influence for determining the future—our own and others. Some worry about basic needs like health care, food, and shelter. Those more fortunate worry about their investments in retirement funds; all of us worry about the well-being of our national Social Security program. Many of us have even made generous contributions to organizations and causes dear to our hearts to endow their charitable or educational purposes well into the future. Over and above these commitments, we invest in the education of our children and grandchildren.
Beyond self-interests, however, we are called to consider the investment needed to broaden educational opportunity for all our young people, especially those from economically limited circumstances. The ballot referendum on educational choice would most assist this latter group.
Those who are privileged to be parents know the wonder of being co-creators with God in bringing life into this world. Parents also know that the birth of a child brings with it tremendous anxieties and responsibilities. A parent-child relationship requires a lifetime of mentoring and shaping of values and interests.
For over a century, popes and bishops have articulated the principle that parents are the primary educators of their children. The faith community and wider society provide further support in that process.
In our current discussion on educational choice, consider these insightful, challenging, and even prophetic words of the Council Fathers of Vatican II in their document on Christian education written in 1965: “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.
Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.” (No. 20)
Earlier, in 1925, the United States Supreme Court also affirmed this same right of parents in the case of Pierce vs. Society of Sisters: “The child is not the mere creature of the state: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional responsibilities.” In their 1948 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” the United Nations General Assembly also concurred, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Clearly, the principle of parental choice in education has been inscribed and taught in Church teaching, United States Constitutional Law, and even the worldwide Declaration on Human Rights.
Some parents or guardians choose home schooling, a tradition which dates back to the custom of private tutors. Most parents, however, want the support of a formal school system—be it public or private. As parents choose the type of school for their child, they seek a healthy and safe environment and a quality curriculum with the best of classical and contemporary learning from language arts to science and math, from computer technology to the fine arts.
Most parents and guardians are also concerned about the values and discipline which are such integral components of a learning environment.
Many parents also seek an educational program that teaches religious beliefs and moral values.
Everyone in the Christian community has a vocation and a responsibility to share with others the faith we have received. We do so in many formal and informal ways: we teach the next generation to pray and share with them the sacramental life of the Church and through programs of religious education and catechesis in parishes, Catholic schools, and institutions of higher learning. But in all these instances, there is no substitute for teaching faith values in the home.
We teach the faith as we witness to Christian values in our words and deeds—in the marketplace, in our time with family and friends, in what we choose to watch on television, in where we go and how we spend our leisure time. Above all, we form the next generation in the ways of faith by the way that we deal with the inevitable joys and sorrows of life.
We believe in the rights and responsibilities of all parents—whatever faith tradition, ethnic heritage, or background—to choose that form of education which they deem most suitable for their children. Unfortunately, in our society choices are limited by economic possibilities. Our democratic tradition informs us that there should be a certain equality and consistency so that all parents and guardians have a legitimate educational choice from a wide spectrum of possibilities.
Broadening school choice is ultimately about parents, rather than government, having the authority to choose a school for their children. Such a sharing of responsibility and authority flows from our deep confidence in the dignity of the human person, the rights of parents and children, and the sanctity of family living.
Parents or guardians should indeed enjoy primary responsibility in making educational choices for their children since their authority in these matters flows from a relationship motivated and sustained by love, a love that cannot be matched by the government. Motivated by such love, most parents and guardians of children in economically disadvantaged areas have a fervent desire to shape a positive future for the children God has confided to them. The ballot initiative before us in the November election especially seeks to address the painful situation of such economically disadvantaged families who have no real choice and who are forced to attend schools in districts with consistent patterns of substandard academic performance.
Voting for expanding school choice, regular teacher testing, and establishing minimum funding levels for our schools does not represent a judgment against any public school system or its teachers; in fact, most parents would likely choose to send their children to the many excellent public schools of our state.
Voting for a voucher system would open the door to greater immediate and real parental involvement in choosing the best possible school for their children.
As Christians, we are compelled to open the door to this exciting possibility for parents and their children—especially parents and children in school districts with graduation rates less than sixty-six percent. State-funded subsidies would be for these very families, thus enhancing their right to choose. Ultimately, broadening parental choice will ensure the best possible education for everyone. The ballot proposal for this coming November will give all schools a reason for reform and renewal: Catholic schools and other private and charter schools, as well as government-run schools, will all have to revise and strengthen their curricula and teaching environment.
Expanding educational choice is not an option, but a fundamental tenet of Catholic social teaching. The choice is ours: Do we want to help shape the future in the most positive way for all? Parental choice in education is a right and a duty, a gift and a responsibility. Let us invest in a future full of hope for all!
Dear Brothers and Sisters in The Lord
This coming November 7, voters in our state of Michigan will be making a decision about changing our state Constitution to allow for broadening educational choice, implementing regular teacher testing, and guaranteeing a minimum level of funding for our local neighborhood schools. We wrote you in early July about educational justice for all. Now, as part of our continuing reflection, we, the Bishops of the seven Roman Catholic Dioceses of Michigan, offer this second Pastoral message. This message focuses on the rights and responsibilities of parents in the education of their children.
The challenges of parenting have changed greatly in recent decades but, nonetheless, a basic principle of Church teaching remains clear: parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children. To exercise that responsibility, parents need true freedom to choose the schools where they would like to send their children.
We will send a third message in a few months. It will focus on education as a basic civil right. For now, let us pray for the well-being of all families and for the wise discernment of the voters of our state.
- His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida
Archbishop of Detroit
- Most Rev. Patrick R. Cooney
Bishop of Gaylord
- Most Rev. Robert J. Rose
Bishop of Grand Rapids
- Most Rev. James A. Murray
Bishop of Kalamazoo
- Most Rev. Carl F. Mengeling
Bishop of Lansing
- Most Rev. James H. Garland
Bishop of Marquette
- Most Rev. Kenneth E. Untener
Bishop of Saginaw