As the Texas Legislature meets in special session to debate whether or not to empower parents with school choice, the battle lines are being clearly drawn.
Those in favor of expanding school choice point advance their case on the basis of both general principles and documented results. At the level of principle, they affirm that parents have both a right and a duty in shaping their children’s educations. After all, parents have the legal and moral responsibility to provide for their children’s welfare. To properly exercise this right and duty, and therewith, do justice to their family, parents need the freedom to make educational decisions for their own kids. Hence, they support expanded, indeed, universal, school choice.
Looking at the results, The Austin-American Statesman, reporting on the findings of a “meta-study” of 28 other studies of the practical effects of school choice, proclaimed, “school choice works. The evidence is mounting that it’s a win for both parents and students.” That’s true not only regarding student learning outcomes, but also “financial consequences for taxpayers, racial segregation in the school system, parent satisfaction, civic values and practices, . . . studies show school choice makes things better.”
However, in opposition to any expansion of parental rights in their children’s K-12 education, a Washington Post piece argues that “the push for parental rights . . . is [only] a political tactic” of Republicans, a tactic that embraces the “’paranoid style’” of politics,” which “is particularly useful as a mechanism for organizing opposition.”
Not to be undone in dismissing the role and concerns of parents, the National Education Association, a public school teachers union, tweeted, “Educators love their students and know better than anyone what they need to learn and to thrive.”
Let’s look closer at the NEA’s argument that professional educators’ “love” as well “knowledge” of what kids need is “better than anyone [else’s, parents included].”
Let’s assume that educators have greater subject-matter knowledge than the average parent.
What about love?
In fact, this issue once came up in a debate on school choice between former U.S. senator from Texas (and a Ph.D. economist), Phil Gramm and an opponent of school choice. Their exchange is reported here. This is how it went:
Gramm: “”My [pro-school choice] educational policies are based on the fact that I care more about my children than you do.”
An educator opposing school choice replied to Gramm, “No, you don’t.”
Gramm: “OK. What are their names?”
Behind Sen. Gramm’s laugh line lies a serious truth, one first offered by the 17th Century English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is regarded by some as the founder of modern political science. Scholars generally agree that he founded our modern doctrines of both human equality and inalienable rights.
In Leviathan (1651), his most famous work, Hobbes addresses a debate that parallels the exchange between Senator Gramm and his anti-school-choice debate opponent. Hobbes argues, “A plain husbandman [farmer] is more prudent in affairs of his own house than a Privy Counsellor [a close advisor to the monarch] in the affairs of another man.”
Now, how could a “plain” (meaning, “simple” or “ordinary”) farmer ever hope to be more prudent than a presumably highly educated, tightly connected advisor to the king?
Note Hobbes’s qualification—in the “affairs of his [the farmer’s] own house.” Just as individual parents likely lack the subject matter expertise of trained teachers, so does the “plain” farmer in relation to the “Privy Counsellor.” But this doesn’t settle the case for Hobbes. Instead, he argues that, wise though the Privy Counsellor may be about his own affairs, he is not as prudent about “the affairs of another man,” because each of us cares most about our own things, by nature.
By nature, parents care most about their own children, as 25 years of studies of school choice prove, and contrary to the NEA’s condescending tweet.
When it comes to their kids’ welfare, bet on their parents. For the same reason, bet on school choice.