Sunday, June 19, 2005

Welcome to the Balkanized States of America

The voucher discussion on this blog and others last week was fascinating for me. Fascinating because it's an inherently interesting discussion and fascinating also because I simply can't understand how people fail to grasp a simple concept: if I take money from you, you will have less money! Easy, huh? Well, not for voucher proponents.

I'm interested in another angle, too. And that of course is the separation of church and state problem. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which is in the midst of running a seven-part series on Milwaukee's seven year old voucher program:

Three sentences bring home one of the most significant impacts of Milwaukee's groundbreaking private school voucher program.

One: On doors throughout St. Margaret Mary School, at N. 92nd St. and Capitol Drive, there are small printed signs that say: "Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school."

Two: More than 10,000 students - over two-thirds of the total using publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools in Milwaukee this year - were attending religious schools.

Three: Wisconsin is putting money into religious schools in Milwaukee in ways and amounts that are without match in at least the last century of American history.


Yes, the Supreme Court ruled (by a 5-4 vote that exactly mirrored Bush v. Gore) that the Milwaukee voucher program was not in violation of the establishment clause. But they've been wrong before-- and they're wrong on this one. I'm fairly convinced that this will look, many years hence, like the colossal blunder that it is. It takes a while for history to rule on such things.

To quote Justice Stevens' dissent:

I am convinced that the Court's decision is profoundly misguided. Admittedly, in reaching that conclusion I have been influenced by my understanding of the impact of religious strife on the decisions of our forbears to migrate to this continent, and on the decisions of neighbors in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East to mistrust one another. Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundation of our democracy.

Welcome to the balkanization of America.

Jonathan Kallay asked in a comment if there was an intrinsic value to public schools. Yes, there is. And it's this: kids of all religions -- and of no religion -- go to the same place and interact. They learn, along with history and math and the like, the important lessons that those that are different from them aren't actually so different from them. If Catholics go to one school, Muslims to another, Jews to yet another, and so on, how will those lessons be learned?


6 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan Kallay said...

People who want to keep their children in a homogenous environment are already able to do so by sending their children to private religious schools without vouchers. One could argue that vouchers can actually promote diversity by putting children in schools they would not go to otherwise. If vouchers go mainstream, religious schools would have to adjust their religious curriculum to accomodate the new, diverse, perhaps more secular clientele.

If those arguments don't suit, why don't we just forbid the use of vouchers in religious schools (allowing them to be used only in secular ones) and be done with it?

8:15 AM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Jonathan, one could not argue that very well.

Vouchers promote zero diversity. Religious schools do not have to change anything about their schools, with or without vouchers.

They do not have to take anyone they do not wish to. If you do not conform to their standards you need not apply.

A couple of questions, ones always glossed over by voucher pundits, must be answered before we can move to deciding on vouchers. Why do we intend to give up on our public school system? If we do not have enough money to fund one system, how do we have enough money to fund two?

11:00 AM  
Blogger Ragnarok said...

The money does not belong to you; it is to be used to educate children. If they can use the money to get a better education elsewhere, that's exactly what they should do.

Would it crimp the public schools' style? Perhaps. So what? Given their miserable record of failure to teach, protecting bad teachers, wasting money, choosing bad textbooks and putting the interests of the union before those of the children, that's exactly what should happen.

As for the myth of underfunding, note that here in California the per-pupil spending is more than $10,000, not counting things like capital outlays, debt service and so on.

This is more than many private schools charge.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Fascinating because it's an inherently interesting discussion and fascinating also because I simply can't understand how people fail to grasp a simple concept: if I take money from you, you will have less money! Easy, huh? Well, not for voucher proponents.

Well, there are two things wrong about that statement. First is one of simple math: you've conveniently forgot that a voucher also removes a student from the system. So as long as the cost of the voucher doesn't exceed the money that would have been spent educating said child in the public school system the school system comes out ahead (on a per-student basis). Second: take a look at D.C. some time. Their voucher program actually rewarded the public schools. Not only do they not lose a penny of funding when a kid leaves with voucher money, the Federal gov't threw in an additional $15 million dollars (the same amount they gave the voucher program) on top of it all. Fewer students and more money (still crappy results, mind you, but two out of three ain't bad).

7:47 AM  
Anonymous blingwhacker said...

The flawed premise in arguing against vouchers is the notion that the state has some kind of claim on the minds of children. Second, that this is a "public" interest question: minds belong to individuals not to states and individuals must be free to develop them free from coercion by others. In other words, public education should simply be eliminated, all taxes taken to fund it not taken and parents and children free to decide who will educate their children.

The reason religious schools present the only viable alternative is because they have churches to draw from to help subsidize their schools, which in turn makes them cheaper to run. Other private schools are expensive, however, because of a lack of competition for pupils. Were all potential students in the market for private education, then the present costs of a good private education would be driven down significantly. As for diversity, it would exist in abundance - which it doesn't under compulsory education. To argue that privatization would make a good education prohibitively expensive is to argue against the history of free enterprise, which has demonstrated ad nauseum that competition drives price down and quality up; it is to defy basic economic logic; and it is to pretend that "public"education (which cost enormous amounts of money - not to mention the myriad non-financial costs) somehow educates well - which it doesn't.

Perhaps most importantly, bad teachers would simply not find work, or if they did, they wouldn't find it with parents of good students. Under the present school system, parents every year send with great misgivings their kids to classes the kids loathe with great intensity. That is a morally abhorent act.

1:17 PM  
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4:43 AM  

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