Bruce Fuller, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, is arguing that school choice is actually “progressive.”
Though he eviscerates Betsy DeVos through ad hominem attacks in his recent opinion piece for Education Week, Fuller makes the important overall assertion that “the choice movement sprouts from progressive roots: cultivating schools in synch with the nation’s ethnic and religious pluralism.”
At Berkeley, Fuller studies how schools and civic activists can partner to advance pluralistic communities. Research has shown that private schools, most notably Catholic schools, do this especially well.
Fuller is correct that the earliest goal of the nation’s faith-based private school system was to serve the burgeoning immigrant population during the early 1900s. Many of these schools offered courses in the immigrant students’ native language and worked to sustain ethnic, religious, and cultural traditions.
These faith-based private schools continue to serve our nation’s current population of immigrant families — many Catholic schools in inner cities are located in communities rich with diverse cultures and include instruction in students’ native language.
Fuller joins the growing ranks of liberal progressives who realize that school choice is able to “build colorful schools free of stultifying bureaucracy and recalcitrant unions,” as he writes in his piece.
Allowing parents to choose private schools is also “progressive” in the sense that many faith-based institutions promote increased rates of civic engagement. Researchers find that these schools encourage and structure service-learning projects that help students become involved in their communities from a young age.
Expanding options for low-income families through school choice programs allows these families to select a school that recognizes, sustains, and strengthens their own cultural traditions. Fuller implies that this, in turn, helps to cultivate our nation’s pluralistic communities.
Kate Hardiman is pursuing a Masters in Education from Notre Dame and teaches English and Religion at a high school in Chicago.