Our country will not consider a voucher system for school education. Why not? Because to do so would put a stop to the ideological bulldozing of the powerful. To do so would undermine the Democratic party. To do so would damage The American Federation of Teachers and other powerful unions. To do so would challenge the illusion that American public education is still a beneficial institution.
The most common argument against the voucher system is that those lobbying for it are hoping to fund religious schools. As the argument goes, spending tax money on religious schools would violate the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state. The argument is wrong.
Every American is taxed to pay for public schools, which is then made available to everyone. Public schools do not include religion in the curricula, so it appears that church and state have been fairly separated. Families don’t have to have their children taught religious ideas that are foreign or offensive to them.
The problem with this idea is the assumption that it’s possible to provide education in a neutral, non-religious way. Even if public schools endeavor to remain neutral with regard to formal religions, they must make ideological choices about virtually everything. Even the avoidance of discussing God (or god) is intellectually formative. If education goes on day after day, filling children’s minds with concepts of every sort, yet never mentioning any sort of god, the hidden but pervasive message is that god is either superfluous, or he does not exist. The silence about god in the public schools is a means of teaching agnosticism, if not atheism. This is clearly not a separation of church and state.
Beyond the promotion of agnosticism, public schools make faith choices in the selection of educational content, ethics, human identity, human purpose, etc. There is fierce conflict within our society over how these areas of education should be approached. For example, does science really support Darwinian evolution, or is this “science” being promoted because of its ideological connection to atheism and other forms of humanism? Is scientific materialism science, or is it religion? If people are products of a material universe, is freedom an illusion? Is purpose an illusion? Is human value an illusion?
This question of human value is a critical element in education. Most public school teachers and administrators are idealistic humanists, interested in teaching good manners and good behavior. The problem is that humanism is a cut flower ideology that retains much of its ideas about morality from habit…or it could be said, theft, from Judeo-Christian thought. There may be strong feelings about what morality is but there is no understanding of why. This problem manifests itself in the moral drift that is happening throughout Western culture today. But, more importantly, there is no footing for humanism when it comes to explaining to children why they are of value. A child, descended from an ape, or the result of a cosmic accident, has no value. You may teach children they are important and precious, but if you also teach them they are cogs in a mechanical universe, here for an insignificant moment, the children will soon come to despise those who teach the precious lies. They will become cynical and bitter. Or they will become suicidal. Or they will, like most of the world, choose to make the most of it by being pleasers and conformists when it helps advancement, but they will lie, cheat, and steal, whenever they think they can get away with it. It is the dangerous recipe for a society of hypocrites, looking out only for themselves.
Is morality based on a system of equitable distribution? Is morality merely a construct of those in power? Is morality evolving in a positive direction? Is human identity established on the basis of race? Is White supremacy the key to understanding America’s history? Is the idea of merit a means for the powerful to retain control? If so, on what basis does education proceed? How are children graded or, more importantly, how can it be determined that they have achieved competencies? And if competency is not critical to education, doesn’t education simply become the setting for ideological brainwashing? And if that is the case, are we not espousing a society in which individuality and analytical thinking are rejected for the new moral absolute of conformity…which is routinely changing?
The truth is that America doesn’t know what it thinks about much of anything anymore, and yet Americans hold to their convictions, whatever they may be, with greater insistence and less grace than most periods of its history. Often mistaken but always certain. That is the deserved motto of the American public education system.
Ideology is being crammed down the throats of young children. As psychologist Nicholas Humphrey stated, “…children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.” Humphrey imagines that society has a better sense of truth than do individual parents. No doubt, in some cases he is right. But we need to be honest enough to recognize that society is increasingly untethered. It is not more free, unless what you mean by freedom is “aimless”.
Do we really want our society determining what children believe and think? Our society is a smorgasbord of smaller societies, all engaged in ideological warfare. The most charismatic and forceful promoters of the various mini-societies are typically the biggest idiots in the country. These are the characters that make the front page, or get the most internet hits, and they drive the manic public narrative. One result of this warfare is that in the public education system kids are treated like yo-yos.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill last month that drops the requirement for high school students to prove proficiency in reading, writing or math before graduation. Supporters of the bill insist that considering math and reading essential skills has been an unfair challenge for students who do not test well. We used to chortle at the simple pioneers who were content with education that provided elementary “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic”. Now, apparently, the pioneers were demanding too much. What will these young people, walking about with degrees in hand that they can’t read, be able to do? Are we actively trying to create a dependency class?
Ideology is not the only degenerative disease plaguing the public schools. Another problem is the stranglehold of teacher’s unions. Public school teachers are paid, on average, more than $10,000 per year more than private school teachers. A voucher system would correct the disparity.
The more fundamental problem with the unions is that they look to the welfare of teachers before the welfare of students. This past year, for example, public schools all over the country decided to operate remotely, to the significant harm of children, especially those in the lower grades. While no one is contesting that working during the pandemic was and is dangerous, private schools faced the difficulties and, with few negative consequences, were able to carry on with in-person education.
Unions are dedicated to the protection of teachers no matter how terribly teachers perform. The retention of incompetent teachers has greatly eroded the quality of education in the public schools. Unfortunately, the unions are in bed with the Democratic party. The unions drive their memberships to vote Democratic. In return, the party, even though it represents itself as the party of the downtrodden, continues to stand by while public education erodes to the point of uselessness. The unions sacrifice children for the sake of job security. The Democrats sacrifice children because children do not vote.
The decay of public education is more acute in inner city schools where both students and teachers are largely Black and Hispanic. In this setting it is racial minorities who, ironically, are the major systemic reason for the failing public schools. As Robert L. Woodson put it, “The real school-to-prison pipeline begins within various public-school systems, many of which are run by middle-class Blacks.” Woodson, Shelby Steele, Jason L. Riley, Thomas Sowell, and other black conservatives are rightly arguing that, if blacks and other financially troubled minorities are going to achieve equality in America, it cannot come in the form of hand-outs from whites. It must primarily be via achievements of minorities. If not, they will be trapped in an everlasting vortex of dependency.
These are the kinds of problems that a voucher system would significantly address. When parents have the means to send their children to schools that are high-performing, they will take their money and their children to the high-performing schools.
Some object that this will leave the worst-behaving and worst-performing students as the only students in public schools, harming these students even more. It may be true that the worst performing students will be left behind, and this may be a proper role for public education—to try to provide some skills to the country’s most incorrigible. But the alternative, the track we are now riding on, is a far worse alternative. Non-performing students are not being lifted by the majority of students. Non-performing students are disrupting classrooms and making it impossible for children who want to learn to have an opportunity to learn.
But back to the question of church and state. Vouchers, contrary to the claim that they cross the line between church and state, actually restore that line. For poor and middle class families, the “choice” to come up with the additional funds needed to send their children to private schools is not a viable option. Effectively the government is forcing its flailing ideology on the poorest 75% of American children. Vouchers remove the effective requirement that Americans send their kids to the public schools that are saturated in humanistic and scientific materialistic thought. Vouchers end the effective requirement that Americans send their kids to schools driven by the latest untethered societal trend. The public school system in America is ideological brainwashing, and it is in direct contradiction to the intent of the Constitution. Public education is, inherently in violation of Constitutional law. This continued violation cannot and must not be tolerated.
But the real violation is against America’s children and America’s parents. In order for Americans to maintain intellectual freedom, they must have the right to send their children to schools that are not controlled by the state. And in order for Americans to be independent of financial tyranny, educational tax dollars must be distributed equitably, which is to say, made available to parents for the purpose of helping them send their children to high-functioning, safe schools that teach through ideological frameworks that are substantially in agreement with the world-views of those parents.
Some will complain that the result will be many children going to substandard schools. The data is clear: the concentration of substandard schools in this country is public schooling, especially in America’s inner cities. And some will object that the subject material will not be in accordance with the needs of American civic society. But it is also clear that the schools that are worst at preparing children for functioning as independent citizens are the public schools.
It’s time to put an end to the education of America’s youth by progressive ideological evangelists. It is time for American families to be the focal point around which children are guided and educated. The educational decay in America is palpable, and this decay is revealing itself in every other sphere of society as young unprepared and undisciplined children are spit out of the system that cannot teach them. If there is to be a civil war of ideologies in America, let it be fought by the voting of feet as people choose schools that perform. We can no longer tolerate this system of incompetency, propped up by the monopoly on taxpayer dollars.