First Things has just posted an important and thoughtful essay by Ashley Berner, “The Case for Educational Pluralism.” Berner (left), co-director of the Moral Foundations of Education Project at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture — and an occasional guest blogger at CLR Forum — argues that pluralism can offer great benefits and help resolve tensions in public education.
Unlike the American model, which relies on government to deliver education, the pluralist model involves government funding of private schools. These schools may reflect a variety of beliefs and perspectives, both religious and non-religious; public oversight is limited to ensuring that general educational requirements are met. Berner points out that many Western democracies have such systems, which allow greater educational diversity than the American model. Moreover, pluralism avoids a central problem of American public education: a false neutrality that masks a secularist philosophy many parents reject.
Berner concedes that educational pluralism comes with problems of its own and may face constitutional difficulties under current law. But, she writes, pluralism “offers an honest acknowledgement of the myriad value judgments inherent in any education and generously accommodates a variety of beliefs and opinions in a way more congruous with the United States’ democratic political philosophy than does the current system. While some people fear that such pluralism would produce division and harm the students educationally, evidence suggests that, in fact, pluralism often yields superior civic and academic results.” Read the whole thing.