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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Schools for citizens

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“Our public schools” have a critical role as “an incubator of citizens,” writes Erika Christakis in The Atlantic.

Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society. Unfortunately, the current debate’s focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole.

“Civic virtue and a shared commitment to the common good are primary objects of schooling,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio. However, traditional public schools have no monopoly on creating good citizens.

A growing body of evidence suggests that private schools generally, and Catholic schools in particular, are often better at promoting civic participation and political tolerance than public schools.

Here and abroad, “schools with positive, distinctive cultures, whether religious, philosophical, or pedagogical, have a greater chance of cultivating civic behaviors and sensibilities,” writes Ashley Berner, deputy director of Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Education Policy, in Pluralism and American Education: No One Way to School.

An authority on early childhood education, Christakis is known for challenging a Yale directive on Halloween costumes. “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious, a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” she asked. “There was no room, at least not at Yale,” writes Pondiscio. “Her email triggered wild, emotional overreactions . . . she quietly left the university within the year.”

Less than half of Americans can name a First Amendment right, according to a survey  by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “Freedom of speech” was the best known at 48 percent, with freedom of religion at 15 percent, freedom of the press at 14 percent, the right to peaceably assemble at 10 percent and the right to petition the government at 3 percent.

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