Frenier: there’s a solution to religious/woke school dilemma

By Carol Frenier

Both Federal and State courts have ruled recently that religious schools must be included in voucher programs that are made available to other nonpublic schools. This has raised concern among many educators and politicians that using taxpayer dollars may involve religious indoctrination.  

Carol Frenier

These officials might be surprised to learn that many Vermont taxpayers, myself included, do not want their tax dollars used for woke indoctrination either. From our point of view, teaching about transgenderism and variations of CRT are based on a world view as subjective as any religious belief.

Any educational system you can name teaches some core values. Whether religious, philosophical or political, there is a fundamental point of view behind the content and/or style of instruction. What woke teachers consider to be “true,” I consider to be questionable ideology. What I consider one of the most brilliant documents ever written (the US Constitution), some woke teachers consider a self-serving document written by white, male slave holders.

Conceding this reality, many countries around the world have solved this problem by adopting something called “educational pluralism.” According to Ashley Rogers Berner of John Hopkins University, educational pluralism means that state governments fund and hold accountable a wide variety of schools, including religious ones, but do not necessarily operate them. It accepts the fact that education is a community concern but also honors the beliefs of the nation’s families, allowing each school to teach according to its own values and mission, provided the school meets the state standards. As such, she says, it provides a way out of the winner-take-all mentality that characterizes so many educational debates. 

The Netherlands, she explains, is the most educationally plural country in the world. It gives block grants for staff, facilities, and operations to each of its 36 different types of schools. In Belgium, she continues, half of its French-speaking students attend Catholic or independent schools that are fully funded by the state. These two examples, she asserts, are representative of the majority of countries in the western world. The US is actually the outlier, still believing that the government run schools can teach “objectively.”

In a pluralistic system parents have multiple choices of schools, as long as those school meet the academic and citizenship training standards of the state. (Citizenship training prepares students to engage in civil activities and treat other groups with respect.) Thus, a parent can send one child to a Catholic school, where discipline and academic rigor are emphasized, and send another child to a progressive school, where sensitivity to social issues can be affirmed and encouraged.

Many people will suppose that such a system would breed division and intolerance. Ironically, early data indicates that, if anything, graduates of pluralistic systems actually score higher on citizenship. Perhaps this is because from an early age children watch adults respecting different perspectives when deciding where their children would be educated. 

If you want to learn more about educational pluralism look for No One Way to School: Pluralism and American Public Education, by Ashley Rogers Berner (School of Education, Johns Hopkins University.)

This system, or some variation thereof, is worth considering. It could get us beyond out winner-take-all mentality and reframe our thinking about religious schools as just one more choice that parents (who are also taxpayers) can make for their children’s education.

The author is a former teacher and current small business owner and Chelsea resident.

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9 replies »

  1. Well said, Carol.

    We’ve seen much of what you mentioned above in Springfield that last few years . Most of it under the authority of Zach McLaughlin , superintendent of the district here.

    Safe-spaces for those who can’t figure out what their gender is.

    An “equity” committee made of a small group of SPringfield SJW teachers, that were given authority by Mr McLaughlin, to eliminate any books from ALL of our school libraries that didn’t meet their self-described “equity” guidelines.

    CRT being pushed into the high School , of which I have many pages of documents that show that.

    And , when we had two of our grandkids that we were guardians for in the high school , they were being told by certain instructors that they suffered from “White privilege “.

    I have no problem , whatsoever, in giving vouchers to parents who desire that their children go to a religious-based school. That’s a personal choice and not something that government should gaslight ( like certain officials in the House and Senate do)


  2. There are at least a thousand new kids registered in VT to homeschool this year; I anticipate that number to grow by half again next year.

    • It is my hope that co-op organizations bloom to assist those doing home schooling off their kitchen tables. More importantly, it is my hope that such organizations seek out teachers willing to flee the plantation and sell their courses directly to families.

      • One of the problems with ‘co-operative education’ (yet another permutation of what the virtually infinite and innovative possibilities available in a true School Choice environment), is Vermont’s various and nested legislation that prohibits these prospects in its ‘fine print’. Consider 16 VSA 166 (b) (6 ):

        “(6) This subdivision applies to an independent school located in Vermont that offers a distance learning program and that, because of its structure, does not meet some or all the rules of the state board for approved independent schools. In order to be approved under this subdivision, a school shall meet the standards adopted by rule of the state board for approved independent schools that can be applied to the applicant school and any other standards or rules adopted by the state board regarding these types of schools. A school approved under this subdivision shall not be eligible to receive tuition payments from public school districts under chapter 21 of this title.”

        This legislation effectively prohibits independent schools, that may have innovative distance learning programs designed to accommodate homeschoolers, from receiving tuition payments. How many Vermonters would even think to review these obscure laws in the first place. Never mind that public schools are authorized to have distance learning programs and receive public funding to accommodate it.

        Ms. Frenier is simply restating the concepts of free market education (i.e., School Choice) as ‘pluralism’. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. We’ve been ‘considering’ it for years. But how we authorize School Choice, whatever its name, is the question. It’s a negotiation. And understanding the parties is essential.

        The public-school special interest groups are not interested in innovation or negotiation. And there are only two ways to crack this nut. First, elect sympathetic legislators. Second, sue the monopoly in court. The special interest groups, and the certain legislators who enable them, are interested in maintaining monopoly control at the great education watering hole. Period. Because they control the legislature.

        ‘Considering’ anything, by any name, is simply more pillow arranging. The point is, not only is the current Vermont public education system dysfunctional (expensive and unproductive), it is unconstitutional, and until sympathetic legislators can be elected, the courts are our only hope.

  3. The Wokies don’t want to let other people believe differently. They are fundamentalists who think they know better than you, and make no mistake, they will not tolerate anything even remotely resembling educational plurality. They want to own your children.

  4. Good article. I’m just puzzled why parents are supposed to be fine with the indoctrination of their children in public schools to accept wokism, gender fluidity, CRT and all the other leftist agendas but can’t choose to send them to a private religious school unless they pay for it themselves? And why taxpayers are supposed to be fine with paying for the public schools which might well teach subjects they find objectionable but are supposed to reject their tax money going to religious schools?

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