School Choice: The Moral Debate

School Choice: The Moral Debate

School Choice: The Moral Debate

School Choice: The Moral Debate

Synopsis

School choice has lately risen to the top of the list of potential solutions to America's educational problems, particularly for the poor and the most disadvantaged members of society. Indeed, in the last few years several states have held referendums on the use of vouchers in private and parochial schools, and more recently, the Supreme Court reviewed the constitutionality of a scholarship program that uses vouchers issued to parents. While there has been much debate over the empirical and methodological aspects of school choice policies, discussions related to the effects such policies may have on the nation's moral economy and civil society have been few and far between. School Choice, a collection of essays by leading philosophers, historians, legal scholars, and theologians, redresses this situation by addressing the moral and normative side of school choice. The twelve essays, commissioned for a conference on school choice that took place at Boston College in 2001, are organized into four sections that consider the relationship of school choice to equality, moral pluralism, institutional ecology, and constitutionality. Each section consists of three essays followed by a critical response. The contributors are Patrick McKinley Brennan, Charles L. Glenn, Amy Gutmann, David Hollenbach, S. J., Meira Levinson, Sanford Levinson, Stephen Macedo, John T. McGreevy, Martha Minow, Richard J. Mouw, Joseph O'Keefe, S. J., Michael J. Perry, Nancy L. Rosenblum, Rosemary C. Salomone, Joseph P. Viteritti, Paul J. Weithman, and Alan Wolfe.

Excerpt

After a long period during which the minds of most Americans turned to other matters, questions of education are now very much a central concern to them, both as parents and as citizens. Many of the issues that have begun to dominate the news and the speeches of political candidates have a long history behind them, such as school discipline, testing, character education, and issues of income and racial inequality. Accompanying them, however, has been a concern with school choice that suggests a departure from previous debates. Whether hailed as a needed kick in the pants or condemned as a radical attack on public schooling, school choice is a new terrain involving new ideas, new figures, new alignments, and new solutions.

Because it is so controversial an idea, school choice has generated an impassioned debate. A good deal of that debate involves questions of effectiveness. Scholars on different sides of the issue challenge one another's methodologies, findings, and, alas, motives. That is, except perhaps for motives, as it should be. Eventually the dust will settle, the statistical evidence will point one way or another, or perhaps both, and minds will (or will not) be made up. But it is also important to remember that questions of effectiveness are not the only questions raised by a greater emphasis on parental choice. Ideas about choice, like ideas about education throughout all of American history, touch on fundamental questions of our public philosophy: the kind of people we want to be, the requirements for economic and racial equality, the nature of the institutions we wish to see flourish, and our ideas about private and public character.

The essays assembled in this volume explore those aspects of the school choice controversy that touch on these essential moral, normative, philosophical, and religious concerns. This book seeks to broaden public attention and to further the public debate by addressing questions such as School choice for what? and School choice for whom? Both advocates and opponents of school choice at times get so involved in their criticisms of each other that they tend to neglect the fact that school choice, like all kinds of schooling, is intimately connected to . . .

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