Increase Educational Choice

by Silvino Lantero Vallina

Through the most rigorous studies and my own professional experience I have come to confirm that freedom, in addition to being a human right, constitutes one of the key factors in advancing the notion of educational liberty–a notion that benefits all.

In the Catholic perspective, man, by the mystery of the Incarnation, has been elevated to a singular and unique status: man derives his dignity from God. According to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity feeds a moral conscience from which we cannot be separated and which constitutes the surroundings of our every action: in the economy, politics–and even education.

Consistent with Ratzinger’s moral reasoning, then, educational freedom in the open society requires limited state power and free markets. Democracy and freedom can hardly exist if the state excessively takes part in the lives and properties of citizens, and education is currently where the interventionism of government and bureaucracy is pronounced with great force–much more than is desirable.

Paradoxically the level of educational equality, the maintenance of which is the main reason offered by the state’s near-monopoly system for its very existence, has been consistently deteriorating, as evidenced by the poorest of students who are trapped in state schools. There they are manipulated through watered-down and politicized instruction.

And it is because of this interventionism that the Spanish scholastic system is expensive, onerous, and inefficient; it does not adequately serve families and students.

It is therefore in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity that I call for the extension of educational freedom. The state should temper its legislative power in the face of the many benefits offered by institutions of civil society, including non-state schools. Unfortunately, according to regulations established by the Department of Education in 1985, the purpose of the present nationalization of education, including restrictions on the creation and selection of schools, is to eventually remove non-state education in Spain.

These same state regulations impede the educational progress in state and non-state schools alike. Conversely, we who support freedom in education call for the curricula to be opened and not forcedly adherent to rigid methodologies, schedules, and evaluation procedures. The fundamental duty of the state should be to establish objective standards corresponding to the stages of general educational development. The political majority at any given time should not be setting the curricula because the true contents and objectives of education stand independent from whichever majority is in power.

Further distancing itself from government intervention and politics, educational choice would give families and students the power to choose their own educational itineraries. They could experiment with new educational technologies without the obligation to attend schools regularly.

The present regulations must be progressively surpassed to introduce scholastic innovation and fiscal accountability. In addition, we should implement compensatory strategies (tax incentives, vouchers, etc.) that extend to the poor the educational freedom to choose countryside, district, or contract schools, among others. The present regulations do not allow such freedom and should be repealed, with the exclusion of laws that dissuade unjust discrimination.

Under a plan of educational freedom, the state would only carry out the protection of human rights, the enforcement of contracts, and the determination of criteria for basic results of the aggregate school system. It is necessary, then, that those in charge of enforcing education law have no political allegiance. A Department of Education that is independent from the politics of the executive power would be guided by national norms, the quality of the system in relation to global results, and civic and constitutional principles. It could also contract external inspection from a reliable source–a powerful technique for quality control and measurement–for continuous improvement.

Do these reforms address all the cycles and stages of educational freedom? No, but they are starting points in man’s ever-increasing realization of freedom, that which is bestowed upon him by God.

Silvino Lantero is the proprietor of Vallina Schools, private schools that also teach moral development, in Oviedo, Spain.