“Liberty means responsibility.”

George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

The school choice movement continues to plead its case by focusing on “results.” That is, the experts compare the test scores of low-income students whose parents have transferred them to a “charter” school against those of age-mates who remain in the public school to which they were assigned according to their residence.

This fixation on numbers is understandable; the media need to keep the tale as simple as possible, and scores do exactly that.

Up to now, the outcomes so measured favor the performance of charters to a fair degree; in the world of numbers, choice appears to work. Of course, in the hands of anti-choice professionals, these reports can be and are portrayed as the effect of greater sophistication of those parents who made the choice of charters and of their children who have already profited by living with them in such a home.

In any case, the public who consume such conflicting news can, and too often do, conclude that choice would be okay – but it’s no big deal.

But it is. The comparison of scores is, of course, relevant to the wisdom of subsidizing choice for the poor. If, instead of this positive picture, there were a gulf in favor of those students whose families who decided their child should stay put, we might worry about aiding parents to make the escape.

But, in fact, choice of charters and private schools seems not merely to do no harm, but rather to raise scores and make subsidized choice possible. Society can now turn to address the more profound social problems it has created by its disabling of the parent.

The core argument for empowering the poor lies not in statistics but rather in the centrality of parental responsibility in creating and maintaining a stable home and, in so doing, increases our hope for the good society.

Here is a reality not so easily tested; there is no standard mathematics to report the spirit and functioning of parents and its link to the maturing of the heart and mind of their child. There is only our human experience of families.

I fear that, in the eyes of the child, by deposing the parent we have rendered fathers and mothers figures of impotence. They may ask their child at dinner how the school is shaping up, but, when given a negative response, they are helpless to aid their own.

And to the child, the overall message is clear: For 180 days of the year, the raising of a family is out of the parents’ jurisdiction. They may be loving people, but they remain powerless subjects of the public school. The design and pursuit of the good life are in government hands.

One must ask: Just what is the point of this peculiar subordination of fellow citizens according to their bank account? And just what is its effect upon the child’s respect for the very idea of family, and upon the parents’ respect for themselves?

And finally, what will be the contribution of each to the civil order?

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