Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Education – Our Responsibility as Citizens

Stephanie Summers


By Stephanie Summers

September 27, 2013

In a September 20 article, Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education-Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute writes about the bipartisan coalition pursuing education reform.  Hess contends that the missing half of education reform is comprised of needed resources from non-governmental organizations that can equip a cadre of leaders to implement the policy changes being made within the existing school system. Hess writes,

Rewriting [education] policy constitutes only half of a reform agenda. It is equally vital to produce leaders willing and able to leverage new opportunities and to support them as they do so. In a vibrant private sector, this process unfolds organically and invisibly. In a publicly governed system, it needs to be helped along. Indeed, doing so can represent a crucial private, non-governmental contribution to the education-reform effort...

Hess makes a timely addition to the conversation by raising an important question: What contribution should non-governmental organizations make to the education-reform effort?  Hess contends that the resources of non-governmental organizations should be brought to bear on improving how schools are run.

While I admit that it might make for fuzzy math, I’d like to suggest that Hess does not go far enough in identifying what is missing. Other missing “halves” of the education reform conversation are citizens and the vast tapestry of non-governmental institutions including families, churches, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. 

This is a particularly nuanced point for Christians who, rightly so, have advocated for more diverse structures for education rather than government-run schools as the only publicly supported option for families. The Center for Public Justice’s Guideline on Education upholds a core principle of education policymaking. We affirm that parents are primarily responsible for the nurture and education of their children, which encompasses within its scope many decisions that both include and go beyond schooling. When it comes to schooling, families should be able to make decisions about their children’s education in accordance with their hopes for or needs of their children.

Yet the responsibility for ensuring a just education for every family is one that belongs to every citizen in any political community.

I am not a parent. But I am a citizen who is responsible to look after the interests of others. If I do not vote for the public school board on the logic that I do not have a child in school or if I am unconcerned about improving the quality of schooling for every child, I am abdicating one of my responsibilities to my fellow citizens. As citizens we are called to work to secure a more just political order, one where every child, all possessing God-given potential, should be able to flourish.  God has created each one of us as members of political communities, bearing God-given responsibilities that accompany citizenship, bent towards working for a more just political community for all its members.

Further, we affirm that not only citizens in political community, but indeed many different institutions, must be invested in education reform. Such a comprehensive view of education requires an equally comprehensive response by God’s people.

Over the better part of the past year, the Center for Public Justice has been discerning what this response should be within the context of one local political community – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in this case. We spent hundreds of hours asking questions and listening to what Christian citizens had to say about education. We spent time with parents, teachers, non-profit and business leaders, among others.

As a direct result of these conversations, we developed a draft set of resources to equip Christian citizens for investing in education in their local political community. Then we returned to get feedback. We spent more time gathered around kitchen tables, in living rooms, coffee shops, churches, and business offices where Christian citizens were candid about the initial draft. These conversations significantly shaped these revised resources, and we are thankful for the spirit of true partnership that animated these discussions.

As a result, our guide begins to identify the unique responsibilities given to the institutions that make up our society, the different ways each institution can and should engage with education, and finally, the responsibilities Christians bear in the process.  These responsibilities are both political ones (those belonging to all citizens) and nonpolitical ones (those belonging to Christians as members of many other institutions such as families, nonprofits, businesses, and congregations).

There is, of course, much more yet to be done.  Our guide is offered as the first word in an ongoing conversation that we hope and pray contributes to educational justice for all.

- Stephanie Summers is the CEO of the Center for Public Justice. For more information about the guide or the Christians Investing in Education project, contact Charity Haubrich.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”