After a decade or two of introspective breast-beating, educators are turning from an examination of what is wrong with public schooling to what is right with private schooling. This latest entry to the field examines religious education in the United States. Nearly 5.1 million students attend some sort of private school (K-12), eschewing for whatever reason the “free” government education which stands alongside, often with superior equipment and ancillary amenities, teachers’ aides and gymnasia. Between 80% and 85% of these private school students, according to the authors, attend schools operated by religious denominations.
The overwhelming majority of denominational schools are operated by Roman Catholic parishes and religious orders, and in this volume’s lead essay, “Catholic Schools: The Nation’s Largest Alternative School System,” Thomas Hunt and Norlene Kunkel examine the development of Catholic elementary and secondary education. Later essays trace the histories of smaller denominational systems, the Lutheran, by Jon Diefenthaler; Calvinist, by Donald Oppewal and Peper P. DeBoer; Seventh-Day Adventist, by George R. Knight; Christian (evangelical) Day Schools, by James C. Carper; and Jewish. by Eduardo Rauch.
The individually excellent historical essays are not well connected to the second half of this essay collection, which discusses three major contemporary concerns of private education: successes and failures of public schools, tuition tax cred its, and state regulation of private schools. The first of this triad, an essay by Charles R Kniker, accurately reflects the fact that private schools have taken over the common goals of public schools by default. While the common school (later public school) of Horace Mann aimed at instilling five “citizenship objectives” in its students, “patriotism, knowledge of American history, awareness of the political process and voter responsibilities (civics), ability to communicate and ability to discern (critical thinking),”‘ public schools have gradually abandoned this responsibility. Instead, assisted by the work of L’lwrence Kohlberg and others, values clarification in each of these areas is being taught without reference to any general religious principles. The process itself has become more important than the norms against which judgments are made.
The contributors to this volume, primarily educators and professors, have hit upon the old answer to the old problem, and their entry into the discussion will undoubtedly strengthen the case for private education in the future.