I Don’t Mourn When a Private School Closes

A host of Catholic schools in Philadelphia are closes. Big deal.

‘This is tantamount to a death’

By Martha Woodall, Inquirer Staff Writer

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s announcement Friday that it was closing 45 elementary schools and four high schools set off shock waves of anger and grief that are reverberating across the region.

“This is tantamount to a death,” said Michael Wetzel, a veteran English teacher at Monsignor Bonner/Archbishop Prendergast in Drexel Hill, which will close in June. “We’re taking it so hard because it was so unexpected and so unnecessary.”

Joan Weeney, who has taught at Our Lady of Mount Carmel elementary in South Philadelphia for 35 years, said teachers at her school had feared the worst.

“We kind of knew,” the fourth-grade teacher said. “We all dressed in black. It was a total day of mourning.”

via ‘This is tantamount to a death’ – Philly.com.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big proponent of public education.  Homeschooling is bad for society.  So are private schools.

Public education is in trouble, especially in a place like Philadelphia. I know that. But as long as people pull their kids out of public schools — and, let’s be honest, that’s usually the kids with the highest aptitude and the most resources — then our schools will continue to be in trouble.

When we, as a society, gird up our loins and give the public schools the resources they needs — and that means the finances and the children — then they will thrive.  And nothing will benefit our society more than strong public schools (except maybe campaign finance reform).

And, just to preempt my friend Patrick’s inevitable comment, while I don’t think that the teachers’ unions necessarily need to be broken up, I do favor a system of merit-based pay and the discontinuation of tenure.

  • http://ryanguard.net ryan guard

    Hey Tony,

    The hyperlink for “Homeschooling is bad” leads to a page with a bad link. I’m getting one of those 404 pages when I click it.

  • CJ

    Remind me why private schools/homeschooling are bad for society? I was public schooled (though my children are educated at home)…and I cannot see how my presence was a boon to the system or how my absence would have been a detriment. I was just there. I did very well academically and was adequately social. Perhaps I am naive and narrow on this, but I just don’t see the causal connection between alternatives to public schooling and societal health.

    • http://xjm716.wordpress.com/ John Mulholland

      Why, because Tony says they are, you fool. Are you dense?

  • http://www.christianhumanist.org Nate

    People who don’t like teachers’ unions live in places where there are teachers’ unions. Come teach in Georgia for a few years, and you’ll see why those without union representation wish they had it.

    • Carla

      amen to that Nate.

  • Patrick

    I don’t need to go after the bloated, selfish teacher’s unions to attack your premise on this one. Public schools are failing, not because of lack of resources: they receive more today (inflation adjusted) than they did when we were in school. Public schools are in trouble because there is little incentive to turn out better educated kids.

    If a kid fails in a public school, what happens? Nothing. If a school fails a community, what happens? Little. See North High for a perfect example of a horrible school being kept alive because the parents didn’t want to lose part of their community. Their kids were failing but the bricks of the school were more important.

    Those who want to make life better for everyone, but especially those with a low income (me, for instance), should strongly supporter private schools, charters, home schooling, vouchers, and anything else under the sun. Competition is the only thing that will make public schools better.

    And for those that want more resources, please answer this one question (that no one in education can answer): what is the right number? Not just “more” but what is the right amount of money we should give you that will guarantee a better product? I won’t hold my breath waiting for a response…

    • Carla

      Patrick,

      North High failed because of the school choice ruling in the early 90s–once families had the option of sending their kids somewhere else, any incentive to improve the school down the block went out the window. Now that the district has reversed that decision, schools like North and Washburn and Roosevelt have a far better chance of succeeding. Washburn is living proof that the resources I mentioned below–not just money but more parent involvement, more staff, and a highly committed administration–make a tremendous difference.

      As for what is the “right” amount of money, that’s a silly question and you know it. It’s not about the “right” amount, it’s about a sufficient amount. And as long as there are 30 students in a class and teachers have to pay for classroom materials out of their own pockets and staff is cut to a skeleton crew, there is not a sufficient amount.

      • Patrick

        You are wrong on North and I always thought no question is silly. Just about 1-2 years ago the school board tried to close North because nearly everyone had already left. The neighborhood didn’t want it to close, despite appalling scores. As for Washburn, thank you for clearly proving my point that is isn’t about money.

        I know what the right amount is to pay for a car, a jet fighter or a school bus. It is the price I want to pay based on the options and amount of money I have. None of that exists with schools. So I ask, before I purchase public education, what is the right or sufficient amount of money needed to ensure my kid gets a good eduction? Once I know that, then I can determine if I should send my kid to a public or private school. Transparency, competition, options. All sound pretty darn good to me.

        • Carla

          I’m not wrong on North. It was a strong school until the choice option came into play.

          • Patrick

            So it was a great school…until people finally had a choice. Then they fled in droves. Pretty clear to me how “strong” it was if almost everyone thought their child could get a better education elsewhere.

            • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

              Patrick, as a sidenote, you just posted comment #22,222 on this blog. Congrats!

              • Patrick

                I’d like to thank Tony and especially Carla, who made it all possible.

                • Carla

                  Happy to be of service Patrick!

  • Carla

    Thank you Tony. When public schools are strong, the whole community is strong. Good public schools raise home values, which draws business, which keeps people in the neighborhood, which keeps the school strong. We see it in our neighborhood where we are fortunate to have a very strong public elementary and middle school. Our neighborhood public high school has gone from being a struggling school just five years ago to having one of the strongest science and engineering programs in the state, a growing arts program, and yes, rapidly increasing test scores–all because the district decided to pour some resources into it, improve parent involvement, and push neighborhood kids from those solid elementary and middle schools into this high school.

  • http://xjm716.wordpress.com/ John Mulholland

    Curious…what about all of the jobs that are sure to be lost?

    “Big deal”?!!??

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Yes, sadly those jobs are lost. There’s a greater good at stake here.

      • Lock

        I glad you are there to tell me how to spend my own money, Tony.

        As if Philly’s schools are in bad shape because of private and homeschooling.

        • http://xjm716.wordpress.com/ John Mulholland

          I think a single viewing of the show “Parking Wars”…the ridiculous bureaucracy that takes place and the people that complain about it, despite likely electing the very individuals that foster the very environment…tells me all I need to know about any governmental breakdown in Philadelphia.

  • Dan Hauge

    Here’s an interesting bit from the Atlantic, talking about the Finnish school system. Evidently, a strong government commitment to giving all students a healthy learning environment, and a virtual elimination of private schools, has produced stellar results: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

  • Frank

    Based on what I see here I think I’ll pass in what you consider the “greater good.”

  • http://questorpastor.wordpress.com/ Dennis Sanders

    When I was a kid, my parents put me through private school all thirteen years. Some of that was in Catholic Schools and some in evangelical Christian schools. I really did enjoy my time at the local Catholic high school. It was a good, solid education.

    My parents weren’t well-to-do, they were autoworkers that sacrificed a lot to make sure I had a good education. Most of the African Americans who attended the Catholic high school were like me, not Catholic, but were there for some of the same reasons.

    I’m not against public schools, but I think my parents made a good choice. What it comes down to is the parents doing what’s best for their kid. That might mean the local public school. That might mean a private school. Or it might mean homeschooling. I’m personally not crazy about homeschooling, but that’s a choice a parent has to make.

    You seem to place public schools above all else for the “common good.” Too often, what has passed for the common good is anything related to government. Now before you say that I’m anti-government, I’m not; I do see a need for government, especially in education. But society is not just made up of the government. Churches, civic organizations and other groups also make up society and also have a role in the common good. In this case, the common good is not about supporting public schools, but making sure a child has access to quality education. We have different answers for that, but at the end of the day, that is what we should be worried about.

    • Patrick

      Very well stated.

  • Larry Barber

    Tony, are you suggesting parents should sacrifice their children for some hypothetical future public good? You might have the good fortune of living in an area that has decent public schools, but not all are so fortunate. I live in a city where the school district just lost its accreditation (which is not an easy thing to do), there is no way in hell that I would send my kids to one those breeding grounds of crime and general societal dysfunction. I know several people who have positive impact on this city but who would not live here if they had to send their kids to the public school. There are some things you just don’t ask people to do. Fix the schools and the students will return, but don’t expect parents to donate their children to some half baked crusade to fix schools.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Yes, Larry. Not sacrifice them, exactly, but make sacrifices for the common good. Same reason every child should get the MMR vaccine, even though the chances they’ll ever contract M, M, or R are slim.

      • Carla

        Not to mention that choosing to “sacrifice” or not is a privilege not every parent has–which is Tony’s point about private schools. What do you make of those parents who send their children to those dens of crime and dysfunction? Do they love their children less than the private school parents who are able to afford the tuition or whose children happen to be good enough athletes or students or artists to get scholarships to those schools?

        • Patrick

          No, they don’t love their children less, they just don’t have any other choice. But if they do have a choice, they leave — and you think that is terrible, as your point on North makes abundantly clear.

        • Larry Barber

          Of course they don’t, and the fact that their children are forced into such awful schools is a true tragedy. So fix the schools, fix the schools and the problem disappears. I see little good that will come from forcing even more children through these meat grinders.

          • Carla

            That’s just the issue–fixing the schools takes a deep commitment on the part of the community. It means they have to be willing to part with resources–financial and otherwise–and live with a certain level of discomfort to make that school better. It’s not simple and it’s not for the faint of heart, but I have seen firsthand how quickly a school can change when a community decides to fix it instead of run away from it. Our neighborhood high school was one of those schools and our friends and neighbors had to decide if the “sacrifice” of sending their kids there was worth it. For some it was, for others it wasn’t. Those who stuck with it have made that school a dramatically better place than it was five years ago.

      • Larry Barber

        You’re not making the sacrifice, your children are, and I don’t really think you have that right. If you send your children to the public schools around where I live, and you want them to get an education, you are going to be de facto home schooling them anyway. If you don’t do this you are going to condemn you child to an uneducated life.

  • Ty Hogue

    It’s a tough one Tony because of the viewpoint my father and now I have about Christian schools. My dad’s quote when I struggled with feeling stuck during my high school years at a Christian school was, “…son, why wouldn’t I use every resource, like your school, that God gives me to have every part of your life shaped and informed by Christ! We get to.” That get to wasn’t because of money, we didn’t have much ever, but because we get to be a part of God’s journey and world.

    It’s been hard to shake those words and that wonderful worldview my father shared with us throughout our life.

    Not a counterpoint, just a thought.

    Blessings,

    Ty

  • TJJ

    Public schools are a joke. A public school monopoly where there is no choice for parents is even worse. I totally believe in parental options for all parents, with vouchers and tuition credits available for all parents to enable them to choose where they want their chuldren to go. Public, private, chater, home schooling, let them all compete. The competition is good for all. Does that mean the public system will get less money, well, if they can’t compete, probably, but that is exactly as it should be.

    I don’t find the closing of Catholic private schools a good thing or a bad thing, per se. If there is no longer a demand for what those school were offering in those communities, then it is what it is. Where I live, Louisville KY, the private schools, including Catholic, are doing very well.

    The government wants total control of education, and that is and would be a very bad thing for all in the end. I can’t tell you how misguided I think you are on this one Tony.

  • Kim

    If nothing else, private schools provide another choice — and competition — which can actually be a good and healthy thing. Lack of competition — really not so great. Seems to me there is room for both. Despite the failure of the schools mentioned, many are here to stay. Maybe instead of blanket declarations that God-honoring schools are WRONG looking for a way that both can thrive might just be a better plan.

  • Patrick

    Maybe a good question is: which do you value more – good education for all children or maintaining the current system? I choose the former and don’t care how it is delivered.

    • Frank

      Or maybe even the better question: Would you rather some children have a great education while recognizing that some children will have a mediocre education or would you rather all children have a mediocre education equally?

      Yes the ideal is all children get an excellent education but until we figure out how to do that what should we settle for?

  • Larry Barber

    Tony, didn’t you just graduate from Princeton, a private school? Why not a state supported school?

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      State schools do not award PhDs in theology.

      • http://questorpastor.wordpress.com/ Dennis Sanders

        No, they don’t, but I think the analogy might still stand. Should people not go to private universities, since they take away from public ones? I have a friend who works for the University of California system. It regularly faces budget cuts and declining state resources. Shouldn’t Californians and everyone else forego attending a private university, say, Stanford, and go to Cal-Berkley to shore up the system?

        • Scot Miller

          I’m not sure the analogy between universities and K-12 holds. The state may subsidize public universities to some extent, but the students who attend aren’t required by law to attend, unlike students in K-12, who are required to attend. Moreover, the children in K-12 are offered an entirely subsidized education, whereas university-level students have to pay for their tuition. In addition, the purpose of a university education is to prepare students for some kind of professional life, whereas one of the purposes of a K-12 education is to prepare citizens to be able to participate in a democracy. I think the argument for public education is that everyone in a democracy needs basic functional literacy in order for the democracy to function well. It’s been a while since I’ve read John Dewey on this, but I think that’s part of the argument for the necessity of an adequate public education.

          • http://questorpastor.wordpress.com/ Dennis Sanders

            I’ll admit the analogy was a bad one, but just because education is required doesn’t mean that this should be some kind of monopoly.

            I also don’t think that if everyone supported public schools, then everything will be okay. Schools are hurting for funding and that can have an effect, but it isn’t the only one. That, and we aren’t Finland. Just because something works in one country doesn’t mean it will work wonderfully in another place. Funding might make a difference, but it may not as well. Culture, such as the importance of education or how we learn are also factors. If America is to have a thriving public education system, it has to be an American solution that focuses on providing the best education at a value. What that is, I don’t know. I just think Tony’s answer was too simplistic.

      • http://zaakistan.blogspot.com Zaak

        Public Schools don’t offer Bible classes.

        I mourn the job losses and the fractured communities of students that will result from these school closures.

        I attended public school for 6 years and private school for 6 years. I teach in a Private School and my wife and I are home schooling our kids. I guess I’m public enemy squared.

        The first public schools only came about because of religious private schools that were then funded and then administered by the government. Private schools continue to be innovative in the field of education and far more agile in adapting to new societal landscapes often setting trends for public schools.

        The entire system of education needs a serious overhaul and I see public school boards being the most reluctant to acknowledge the need for change (partly due to the powerful teacher unions in some provinces/states).

      • Larry Barber

        So if a private school, say a high school, offered a program that the public schools didn’t, then you would be OK with it?

        What if the program was called “getting a decent education”?

  • http://mpzrd.blogspot.com Marshall

    I’ve just read Resident Aliens which left me with the question of what should the church be doing as it worships Christ in all things? Seems to me that putting some energy into educating youth would be Kingdom work. As it is the popular view of religion in the schools is “against science/evolution” but my experience tutoring in the high school here is that what kids need is more one-on-one time with somebody who gets the ordinary curciculum. Supporting adequate buildings and supplies is good, but really what the schools need is time and energy from the community.

    Particularly since the mandate to push everybody along at a standard rate means that if you didn’t get last years big idea, nobody has time to catch you up because everybody is busy learning the tricks you need to look as if you got this year’s big idea. This kind of mechanical application isn’t education. Without the resources to address individual difficulties, throwing more money or unions or no unions can’t help. Community involvement, and that means volunteerism, people.

  • http://billybrame.blogspot.com Billy Brame

    We public school teachers thank you. Private school should be illegal. Separate is not equal.

  • http://mindthebear.blogspot.com BearToast Joe

    As a product of public schools, I always wanted to keep my kids and public schools, and did. Of course, I (and they) benefit from white privilege. And they were read to every night of their young lives, and sung to, as well. So, maybe it’s easy for me to say:

    I agree with you. We all need to work to strengthen public education, not to undermine it.

  • Keith Rowley

    I totally disagree on almost all points. Honestly I want all children to have a chance at a great future and that requires a great education but a lot of places there is just no way they will get that in the public school system. I was a school bus driver for one year when I could not find a better job and that experience alone was enough to make me decide not to ever send my kids to public school if I had not already. I owe my kids more than I society and they have to be my priority above the good of society.

    And have you ever looked into the list of side effects of the MMR? This is not something that is worth giving to a child long before they even reach sexual maturity, let alone become sexually active.

    • Scot Miller

      Keith– I think you might be confusing the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) with the HPV vaccine (Human Papilloma virus). MMR, a combination vaccine given to children at their 1 year and 4 year well-exam visits, is incredibly effective at preventing disease, mental retardation, and death. (On the measles vaccine alone: “The first 20 years of licensed measles vaccination in the U.S. prevented an estimated 52 million cases of the disease, 17,400 cases of mental retardation, and 5,200 deaths.”). HPV, on the other hand, is given to children as early as 11, because it is apparently more effective at preventing cervical cancer and genital warts if the vaccine is given before the recipient is sexually active. As far as the cost-benefit analysis goes, MMR is undoubtedly cost-effective; the HPV vaccine is very costly, but apparently it is quite effective in the long-term if given before the patient is sexually active.

      (I’m the office manager in my wife’s pediatric practice, so I’m fairly familiar with vaccines.)

  • Wes

    Hey Tony,

    I am trying to view this from a adolescent development standpoint. I am with you about the socialization and incarnational aspects that students participate when they go to public school, but in the long run, is having students grouped together for 6-8 hours a day with only peers really good for their overall adult development? I don’t like the stereotyped homeschool option either where we seem to end up with the anti-social or socially awkward students. Seems to me that alternative forms of education need to be explored. How are we giving these students onramps to being adults? Seems that none of the existing options are particularly good for that. Just interested in what you think from this perspective.

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  • Keith Rowley

    Billy Brame,
    I am always suspicious when people say something that threatens thier job should be illegal. You have to much of a personal stake to be unbiased about the relative merits or public vs private schools. Question: how does it hurt public schools to have less students in the system and thus be able to pay more attention to each of the students that are left?

  • Keith Rowley

    Tony,
    There is something about your attitude in this article that reminds me of the worst side of fundamentalists from both sides of the spectrum. Both liberal and conservative “fundamentalists” think the issues are black and white and they know what is best for everyone and have the right to dictate how other people live thief lives. Your attitude as epitomized by the comment “There’s a greater good involved here.” in relation to a question about jobs shows black and white extremist liberal thinking I don’t expect from someone of your obvious intelligence.

  • http://www.missionenablers.com Don Currie

    Perhaps a different starting point for the conversation will help us find consensus.

    While it is easy to point to a number of citizens who apparently escaped from school rather than graduate with a basic knowledge the real criticism of the failure of our schools seems to be something different. Currently, our primary method for judging the failure of the public schools seems to be the number of unemployed high school graduates. Is this a failing of the schools or is this our failure to demand the right output from their process?

    Originally, the public schools were expected to “create moral citizens”. The Methodists (Christian denomination) were the driving force behind this. Because they wanted to impose their definition of moral onto the system, others objected.

    I doubt that many of us would argue for only one definition of moral. However, it does seem like the thing that is missing from public education.

    There are jobs for people, however are there people for the jobs? When unemployment was 3.5% employers hired anyone willing to show up two days in a row. Today with unemployment near 9% employers can be picky. They can be selective and only hire people of good moral character (based upon the employer’s definition of moral).

    Without someone instilling moral character into the next generation of citizens, we can expect to have two problems. The first is continued high unemployment, because no employee is better than an employee who is late, dishonest, contentious, or unethical. The second is a highly educated criminal class. The unemployed with a high school education will have to have money to survive and without a moral compass …

    I would love to think that instilling moral character is the job of the parents. However, whether it is or not is moot. There is a percentage of our citizenry that is being left behind.

    Should we as a nation collective define the key elements of moral character and ask our schools (public and non-public) to instill that in the students?

    I want a better public school system just as you do. I also want a more moral character for our country as I hope you do. I applaud the non-public schools for doing a good job of instilling character in their students. Until the public schools take on the task of creating citizens with good character, I am going to continue to lament the loss of any non-public school (military academy, private school, faith-based – regardless of faith tradition, etc.).

    I want all schools, public and non-public, to compete in two areas – academic performance and character development. The competition will force both groups to step up their game. I want to live in a better educated and more moral country. Where do you want to live?

  • Keith Rowley

    Don,
    The problem with your argument is two fold.
    1. Unemployment is not really related to the moral characters of employees. If anything it is a moral failing of employers in putting profit above people.
    2. Who gets to define the moral values? Honesty is a great starting point but from there on you have problems. Do you emphasize being a hard worker above putting family first? Because in a lt of ways we have in America and it has not been a good thing.

    Morals are just very problematic to try to teach by anything but example and public schools are not staffed to teach one on one by example and can’t be at a reasonable cost level.

    • http://www.missionenablers.com Don Currie

      Keith, I think you can prove to yourself that character is a controlling factor for employment. Think back to before the economic downturn. Compare your experiences in restaurants, retail shops, auto service centers, etc. with your experiences today. The quality of service I receive, the appearance of the worker, and the attitude of the people serving me is significantly better than when anyone could have a job. Maybe I am looking at character the wrong way but I think quality, appearance, and attitude are outward indicators of an inward condition (character).

      Every employer must think about what is the greatest good for the greatest number. It is hard to balance profits and employment. Hostess is in bankruptcy because it didn’t protect profits well enough and all of the employees could lose their jobs. Other organizations have large profits and stable employment. We all want to work for profitable organizations and lament it went anyone loses their job.

      I feel strongly that any organization that has been in existence for more than 3 years has created a moral contract with its community. Over the three years, the community has become dependent on the organization for tax revenue, employment, and its contribution to the economic strength of the community. Closing, laying off people, losing money, leaving the community, etc. are all acts that break the contract. At the same time, the community is obligate to create a healthy environment for the organization, which includes but is not limited to keeping taxes competitive with other locals as well as maintaining roads, public safety, education, and economic vitality.

      Is it immoral for us to fail to applaud the good employers who honor their moral contract in our communities or is it enough for us to take them for granted or is it thanks enough that we only complain about those who misbehave?

      How do you decide if it is morals, skill, circumstances, luck, outside forces, or a perfect storm (good or bad winds) that drives profits and employment? What is the perfect balance? Who should decide or is deciding on the balance like deciding on morals? Should we look at one year of performance, the most resent few years, or the employer’s entire history?

  • Keith Rowley

    Don,
    Thinking about it more, this whole post and conversation is a prime example of the problem of deciding whose morals will be taught.
    Tony’s morals tell him that private schools are a bad thing because they can weaken the public school system and a strong public school system is good for society.
    My morals say doing what is best for society has to come second to doing what is best for my kids and I do not think public schools would be best for my kids.
    Whose morals are you going to teach? The morals that say the good of society has to come before the good of the individual or the morals that say your duty to your family has to come before your duty to society.
    Notice this does not even touch on religious moral convictions which is a whole lot bigger mess to try to untangle.

    • Scot Miller

      The question of moral education is problematic only if morality is reduced to “my moral values” verses “your moral values” (i.e., one set of “rules” or “principles” for moral conduct versus someone else’s). It would be hopeless to find moral agreement on moral principles, because reasonable people can reach conflicting if not contradictory moral conclusions. (Just ask a Kantian and a Utilitarian whether it’s ever right to tell a lie to save someone’s life.)

      But if we ask about praiseworthy moral character (like the virtue theorists propose), we can come to more of a consensus about the kinds of people who are praiseworthy and those who are not. You and Tony may disagree about whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or whether one’s moral duty to one’s family is obligatory in every case, but no one should harm one’s own family in order to help a non-family member), but you both can agree that honesty is good, that courage is good, as is hard work, self-discipline, kindness, etc. And moral education about character can take place in schools by telling stories and narratives of praiseworthy (and blameworthy) characters. So kids can read the Harry Potter stories and see the importance of friendship, loyalty, etc.

      By emphasizing character over conduct and promoting the character traits that lead to human flourishing in a civil society, one can acknowledge the reality of moral and cultural pluralism without collapsing into moral relativism and social fragmentation.

  • Keith Rowley

    Scot,
    You are correct I was getting the two confused. Oops.

  • Keith Rowley

    Scot, good answer. I suspect it would be harder to do in reality than it is in theory but what isn’t? ;-)
    One question: Character over conduct? Can the two really be separated? Isn’t our character really defined and revealed by our conduct?

    • Scot Miller

      Keith, I wholly agree that our character is defined and revealed by our conduct: we are what we do. But my comment is about how we should theoretically think about morality and moral education.

      Broadly speaking, theoretical ethics will focus on conduct (“What should I do?”) or character (“What kind of person should I be?). People who think morality is primarily about “what I should I do” are looking for some kind of rule that helps guide, justify, and evaluate human actions. (Here, people find their rules in duties [principles] or by looking to the consequences of one’s action.) Of course, the problem with trying to establish rules is that there may not be unifying principles, that moral conflicts may be genuine and irresolvable. Serious, reasonable moral people may reach different moral conclusions.

      So when I say that character may be more important than conduct, I’m promoting a “virtue ethics” which says the evaluation of persons may be more important than the evaluation of their actions. Virtue ethics can be taught in public schools because there is greater agreement on praiseworthy character traits that lead to human flourishing in a pluralistic society like ours.

      And in defense of Tony’s original post, one of the biggest problems with fragmenting K-12 education between public, private, and home-school, is that it potentially weakens the shared commitment to common social values. Private schools and home-schools are not required to deal with student with students who have cultures and beliefs that conflict with the core beliefs of the private school or parent. “What we teach is right and true, and people who believe anything else must be wrong and their beliefs false.” Public education can’t privilege one set of moral rules or beliefs over another in the way that private schools and home-schools can. Unless the young citizens in a democracy can figure out how to get along with each other and with different beliefs, we will only exacerbate the social and political conflicts that we experience today

      N.B. Let me say that the ideas in this last paragraph are half-baked, and probably won’t stand up to too much scrutiny, but they have the potential to be developed into a fine argument… someday….

  • Keith Rowley

    Scot,
    I am not sure I am that big of a fan of our current social values. Ie consumerism is the most common social value in America today and is not something most school boards would ever condone opposing.
    Also take a look at the political climate and tell me how well public schools are doing at creating people who can hold differing views and still get along? Since most Americans still attend public schools you can’t blame the other options for our political meanness.

    • Scot Miller

      Keith, of course you picked on my half-baked paragraph….

      Virtues are excellences of a character trait or disposition. I’m afraid that consumerism would not be a virtue but rather a vice. According to Aristotle, a virtue is the excellence between extremes, so consumerism would be an excess of indulgence, its opposite would be miserliness, and the virtue would be moderation or temperance. Aristotle says that reason is necessary to discover the mean between extremes. So I would reject the idea that consumerism is a virtue.

  • Keith Rowley

    Scot,
    You said “Public education can’t privilege one set of moral rules or beliefs over another in the way that private schools and home-schools can.”
    I agree that this is so but must same it is a prime argument FOR alternatives to public schools. We need to find a way to get along with people who hold differing views WITHOUT giving up on truly holding our own beliefs and believing they are best, at least for us. Public schools can’t allow this as it is complicated and the don’t have the resources to deal with complicated.

  • Keith Rowley

    Don,
    Most of the things you mention are social NOT moral. We in America may prefer a well dressed person to wait on us but this is a social rather than moral preference.
    In terms of employers my problem is with companies where the to execs are making 5 figure salaries and they are laying people off. Something is dead wrong with that picture.

  • Keith Rowley

    Scot,
    Nothing personal. I just don’t see how public education can teach virtues or morals and not get slammed for it my anti religious groups.


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