Friday, October 12, 2012

Parents Know Best—But Does That Mean Their Curriculum Conscience or Their School Choice is Better?

 Over the past year (1/14/12, 2/11/12, and 9/9/12), I’ve offered several posts about the role of parents, their rights, and their desire for school choice. Even though these topics were not something that interested me in the past, my developing interest should come as no surprise given the dramatic increases we’ve seen in discussions of school choice and parental rights, especially in the context of the election and in light of a slew of school choice related bills being introduced in states throughout the country.

In one of my earlier posts, I discussed a bill recently passed in NH (HB 542) that allows parents to remove their child from any teaching or curriculum they find objectionable to their conscience and to demand an alternative course of study. Related bills or practices are in place in other states like Missouri and Kentucky. I want to share with you here an intriguing analysis that stems from the work of law professor Robert Vischer that shows how calls to protect parents’ rights of conscience—while seemingly aligned with the rise in calls for wider school choice—may actually pose an interesting predicament for the two parental desires.

Many parents may support wider and publicly-financed forms of school choice in hopes that it will allow them to enact their conscience by selecting a school whose views are already more aligned with that of the parent. Interestingly, professor of law Robert Vischer remarks on the implications of parental conscience in relation to school choice: “As school choice bolsters the ability of a school to create its own identity, the ability to maintain and defend that identity presupposes a reduced authority for the individual consciences of the school’s prospective constituents” because “to the extent that the implementation of a school’s mission creates tension with a dissenting student’s conscience, the student’s exit option gives the school a stronger claim to maintain its mission” (2010, p 207). In other words, while school choice may enable parents to more thoroughly enact their conscience by selecting a school more closely aligned with their views, those parents lose the ability to flex their conscience by demanding curricular changes within the chosen school because parents have the ability to remove their child from that school at any point. In a setting of substantial school choice, the child is not a captive audience to a curriculum to which the parent objects and the parent has less grounds on which to dictate it.

I’ll be curious to see how parents reconcile their claims for school choice with the right to parental conscience in control over what is taught to their children.

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1 comment:

David said...

I agree, indeed this can create a dilemma, let as hope that parents can find a school that is acceptable to their aspirations and beliefs. However, I think it would be prudent to cultivate good working relations with school administrators, to enable them to negotiate better terms for their children.