Thursday, April 10, 2003

The NYT has itself worked up into a lather over Education Sec'y. Paige's recent comments about Christian education. Paige was quoted in a Baptist newspaper as saying, "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith. In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values."
While I do not share the Times' outrage over such a comment, I do agree that they are somewhat troubling and not appropriate for an Education Sec'y. But to be honest, there is something to be said for religious schools, especially Catholic ones. Now, I am not a Christian, so hopefully I won't be regarded as biased. There is ample research showing the efficacy of parochial schools at educating children from diverse backgrounds. They have been particularly adept at educating poor African American children as compared to the abysmal failure that marks most inner city public schools.
Critics of parochial schools, many of whom reside in teacher union offices, question their success and point to their homogeneity as the reason for their results. Yet, the demographics of a typical inner city Catholic school is no different than the local public school, including its numbers of special education students. Yet, Catholic schools spend far less per pupil. Of course, some of this success can be traced to the motivation of the parents, but voucher studies have shown that the difference in student performance is not solely attributable to parental factors.
What I find troubling in Paige's remarks are his singling out of Christian schools, implying that other religious schools are not as valuable. Or that schools where the values are not specific to a religion are somehow inferior. I disagree that the public schools do not have certain values. I taught in a public school that had a very specific value system that was reinforced throughout the school year. It was based on universal principles, not any one religion, and it worked incredibly well. Too many critics of public education fall back on the charge that schools are valueless swamps where anything goes. Instead public schools take universal values of respect, learning and community and teach them to children from many different religious backgrounds.


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