Boisi Center Putting the Spotlight on School Choice

Boisi Center Putting the Spotlight on School Choice

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Are Americans better off when they can choose schools that best fit their own conception of morality? Is there a "common good" that, in the absence of a common school, is less likely to be realized? Are there moral benefits to choice itself?

These are some of the questions to be addressed when the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life hosts a major national conference March 9-10 on the moral and philosophical issues inherent in the American debate over school choice.

Vouchers, charter schools, home-schooling and other changes in the American educational landscape have begun important national debates in America.
Yet most of these debates have involved economic and pedagogical questions, pitting contrasting methodologies and interpretations of statistical data against one another. Discussions on the effect of school-choice reforms on America's moral economy and civil society have been correspondingly rare.

In the hope that deeper reflection will inform the tone of public controversy, the Boisi Center has invited philosophers, historians, legal scholars and religious leaders not normally engaged in these debates to mull the effects of school-choice on the common good.

"Education reform is at the top of everyone's agenda, from the Bush administration to the teachers' unions to the American public in general," said the Boisi Center's director, Prof. Alan Wolfe (Political Science), who will participate in the conference. "This is an especially timely occasion to reflect upon the kinds of reform that are desirable - whether they should include the introduction of market forces or the institutions of civil society.

"These disagreements go much deeper than the usual 'policy wonk' debate: Their seriousness stems from the fact that contentious moral issues are at play, such as the meaning of equality and pluralism, the status of institutions like the family and churches, or the proper understanding of the US Constitution."

Scholars will present papers on the themes of school choice and pluralism, school choice and equality, the ecology of various institutions in civil society, and school choice and constitutional law.

BC colleagues joining Wolfe at the conference will be Law School Dean John Garvey, Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology David Hollenbach, SJ, and Assoc. Prof. Joseph O'Keefe, SJ (LSOE).

Also scheduled to appear are: Boston University faculty members Charles Glenn and Glenn Loury; Princeton University faculty Amy Gutmann and Stephen Macedo; University of Notre Dame faculty John McGreevy and Paul Weithman; Meira Levinson (Boston Public Schools); Sanford Levinson (University of Texas School of Law); Martha Minow (Harvard Law School); Richard Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary); Michael Perry (Wake Forest School of Law); Nancy Rosenblum (Harvard University); Rosemary Salomone (St. John's University School of Law); and Joseph Viteritti (New York University).

The conference, one of the signal events in the Boisi Center's nearly two years of existence, has been organized with support from the Smith Richardson Foundation. Information on the conference is available online at the Boisi Center Web site at /publife.

Attendance is free for members of the Boston College community and currently enrolled graduate and undergraduate students. Those interested in attending are asked to register in advance, either online at the Boisi Center site, or by contacting conference administrator Thornton Lockwood at ext.2-6047.


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