Thursday, August 9, 2012

Filling Pails or Lighting Fires

I posted about the issue this blog post is going to address on Facebook already.  Most of the time, when I find a disturbing bit of news on the internet, I can post a few words about it on Facebook and that will somehow satiate my need for people not to be wrong.  Believe me, people are wrong on the internet all the time; it's important to have a pressure valve, especially if you're me and you just really hate people's inability to come to rational rather than knee-jerk conclusions.

Unfortunately, Facebook didn't work as a palliative this time.  The issue has gotten under my skin and I need to "scratch", if you will.  So, I've come here to do it.

The State of Louisiana, under Governor Bobby Jindal, has decided that it's basically going to outsource (probably I should say, privatize) it's education system, at least in part, via the largest school voucher system in America.

Let me start by saying I think you should be able to school your children in the way that seems fit to you.  For one, I believe in competition as a driving force for improvement.  Let me then say, I think it's obvious that you should want to have your children in public school.

Let me explain.  I often go to de Tocqueville because I believe he put it best when he argued that in a democracy, the people get ONLY the government that they deserve.  It's in the best interest of all it citizens that the country's young people, inexorably marching toward voting age, become educated, capable (in academia, the arts, etc.), and most of all, discerning.  (Incidentally, that's also what's best for the children themselves. )  You don't want idiots for citizens because idiots deserve an idiot government.  In short, as goes the education system, and in particular, as goes the public education system, so goes the democracy.

The public education system works best when all of the citizens and their children (such as they have any) are invested co-partners.

Vouchers are harmful to this system, because they lure away capable students, and they draw money away from the public education system itself.  Period.  Full stop.

They are most dreadfully harmful, as is the case with Louisiana, when they are directed away from the public school system, whose goal should always be to produce well-educated, discerning students, to institutions who make no pretence about being anything but driven by this or that demagoguery.  (Incidentally, I understand, better than most readers of this blog, the short-comings of the current public education system; more bogged down and nearly drowning in bureaucratically motivated testing for testings' sake than it is interested in fulfilling it's purpose.  After all, I deal with college freshman every year.  But again, how are vouchers supposed to make the system better?  How is leaving the system, giving up, supposed to make it better?).

Louisiana tax dollars are going to institutions that have bought so called "text books" that are just plain shameful.  This link does a good job of giving you the rundown: here.  How can it be in the best interest of the citizens of Louisiana (or of the Unites States for that matter) for their future citizens to be thus wilfully misinformed?

I'm a Christian.  I understand that, even though I believe that I experience a personal relationship with a living God, their is an inherent element of faith that I must possess in that.  I also understand that that last sentence sounds like utter nonsense to my readers and friends who aren't Christian and who not only think that I don't have a relationship with God, but also that there is no God and that I'm just deluding myself.  I accept that.  I accept it, even as I hope you might one day come around to seeing things my way.  There is room for respect for each others beliefs.  But what there is not is room for the denial of evidence based facts to fit a dogma that is laughably conflated with religion.  It's not what Christians are called to do, and it's not what Christ did.  It's just plain dangerous.  It's dangerous to our very democracy, our very ability to worship (or not) however we choose.

The most common thing you hear about vouchers is when parents say, 'well, I'm glad we live in a free country where I can choose to school my child wherever and however I want.  I like vouchers because it means we won't have to pay for school twice.'

I'm glad we live in a free country too.  I wouldn't think I'd have to say that, but you seem to think I'm against personal liberty somehow.  I'm not.  But, as to the part about vouchers just meaning you won't have to pay twice, wrong.

You don't have any more argument there than would a person who has no children, or one whose children are grown.  You and them and I have something in common.  We're not paying taxes for our children to go to school, we're paying for EVERYONE'S children to go to school, because it's in our best interest that they do.

So, if you want a refund, fine.  The best you could possibly argue for would be to take the pittance of your total taxes that actually goes to education, divide it by the number of children in public school, and then you may have the sad amount that you paid for your own child.  Hardly worth it I'd say.

(As an aside, note that this is very different than what vouchers actually accomplish, where effectively state governments like Louisiana's are subsidising private institutions so that those institutions can lower their tuition costs, effectively outsourcing education whole cloth.)

There's a reason why private school is so expensive.  No one in their right mind who isn't wholly committed to making a real difference for our future society would go into public education as a career.  By in large the teachers who work with our children in the public system are getting used and abused and they know it, and they come to work and do their dead level best anyway.  In my book, that's the first step to sainthood.  How does starving an already under-funded future help?  Not only that, but it's wrong to abuse such a group of people just because despite the enormous amount of lip-service we pay to the need for better education, what we really mean is better education for me and mine alone and I'd really like to spend as much of our money somewhere else as we can. 

So, send your children to private school if you must.  (There's probably a whole other post in me about how for the life of me I don't see the benefit of a non-public education over a public one, but it's late and I'm tired).  I know and like a lot of well meaning people who do just that.  But, if you do I think you're making a mistake; for all of us.  What's more, it shouldn't even be an issue where the government collected taxes ought to rightly go.      

1 comment:

  1. Daniel, I just want to say that I was not trying to insinuate that you didn’t believe in freedom with my comment. I apologize if it came across that way. Also, I can somewhat see what you mean about taxes and how everyone pays in, even people who don’t have kids and how, “we’re not paying taxes for our children to go to school, we’re paying taxes for EVERYONE’S children to go to school.” Well, yes, except my children. Since my children are homeschooled and we don’t have a voucher system in Alabama, then my children’s education will not be paid with the taxes that are supposed to go toward EVERYONE’S education. It’s not going toward everyone’s education; it’s going towards public school kids’ education. My children’s education is coming straight from our pocket. Every child in Huntsville just got a free laptop, for instance. No one is giving my child one. (I know we’ve decided to homeschool and will have to provide things like that for our kids instead, and we’re prepared to do so, but it would definitely be nice to receive educational benefits to help our children, especially since we, like everyone else, are definitely paying our fair share of taxes toward education.) I have a lot more thoughts about the article and about your blog post, but it’s too much to type in a comment section. I can email you or message you on Facebook if you are interested in having a discussion about it. I think it is a really interesting topic, and there is so much to talk about. I sincerely think you have a great attitude about children’s education and the hope of a better education system. We may not agree about how to go about improving children’s education, but we definitely agree about how wonderful teachers are, and all that they sacrifice. My sister-in-law is a public school teacher, and I see first-hand how much dedication and work she puts in. Just because we homeschool does not mean we are against public school. I also want to add that we are planning on teaching our children scientifically and historically accurate information, as well as information about our faith in God. Seeing that post made me at least realize the degree to which we must scrutinize what curriculum we use. Yikes. Yes, the Great Depression did happen!