1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Freedom to Educate: Public or Private?

Several friends interested in the idea of a high school that is geared toward "introducing students to the whole of reality" have expressed the following concern: Can a public charter school take our human need for totality, for the Infinite, seriously? To put it bluntly, isn't asking questions about, and seeking answers to these questions about what fulfills the human heart illegal? Or to restate it slightly, isn't asking ultimate questions within the curriculum a sectarian undertaking? "Sectarian" seems to be legal jargon for "religious" in numerous Supreme Court decisions. Not being a lawyer, I don't yet have a legal answer, but my current understanding is that "asking the questions is permitted," but "insisting upon a particular answer" is not allowable. (If you read that last sentence and find it incoherent, you have a good grasp of church-state jurisprudence.)

Here are some questions and issues to look at:
1. In theory a private school would allow for maximum academic freedom yet creating a private school means steep tuition and - barring a lottery windfall - this would limit us to teaching the affluent.
2. A public charter allows for a stream of revenue, but limits our freedom to teach. Thus, we can teach students from a wide spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds but may be constrained in what we teach.
3. Is it moral to raise the questions about life's meaning without providing an adequate hypothesis of meaning for the student? Might this not lead to scepticism? JB has pointed out that this one criticism of schools organized around the Great Books curriculum. Can the danger be lessened or eliminated?
4. Wouldn't this school be redundant? After all, there are (aren't there?) private and pariochial schools that take the human heart seriously. This is an objection worth taking a serious look at. My hunch is that they are few and far between. There are schools that, for example, say they are all about Jesus but their curriculum mirrors a secular one with the addition of a Theology or Bible class sprinkled on top. As I see it, what is lacking is not so much "faith" as it is "rationality" - a rationality that doesn't limit itself to narrow categories. Who is doing this right now?

These are the questions that have come up so far. What do you think?

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