The following is the second in a week-long series of blogs in support of National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1) from some of Indiana’s leading figures in this ongoing educational effort. Glenn Tebbe is the executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.
Education of children and youth has been a significant part of the Catholic Church’s ministry in Indiana since before Indiana was even a state or a territory. In 1792 Fr. Benedict Flaget established a school in Vincennes to teach reading, writing, along with basics of the faith to the children in the area. In fact in 1801 the first Indiana territorial Governor, William Henry Harrison, asked that Fr. Rivet establish a school supported by the territorial government; He established Jefferson Academy, which is the predecessor of today’s Vincennes University.
Catholic schools have been serving people from all walks of life and all social economic groups for a long time. And, Catholic, as well as the many other non-public, schools have contributed to the well-being of the people of Indiana and the common good throughout the United States. Catholic schools’ curriculum and teachers have helped countless families and young people become productive and loyal citizens as well as providing the foundation for them academically and spiritually.
A commitment to quality education is one of the hallmarks of the Catholic Church. Moreover, a foundational principle is that parents are the first and most important teachers in a child’s life. While they are the first teachers, they cannot and do not educate and socialize them alone. The community, including faith communities, and the state share this common burden by assisting and collaborating with parents to meet their primary obligations.
Programs and policies such as education choice scholarships, scholarship tax credits and charter schools actualize the collaboration between the parents and the state’s responsibilities. The state must make possible the right of parents to choose appropriate educational opportunities best suited to their children’s needs.
Given the critical role parents and families play in the development of children and in building the common good of society, parents ought to have choices in how and where their children are educated. Legislators and state officials have a moral duty to ensure that all parents, though their own choice, have actual access to quality schools, including public, religious and private that are best suited for their children.
Just as Fr. Flaget did in 1792, the Catholic Church still today takes seriously its responsibility to assist parents in educating and nurturing their children and will continue to do so into the future. We celebrate School Choice Week because the Church has always been there to support the common good, just as it did when it responded to Governor William Henry Harrison in 1801.