Dubya's School Voucher Proposal
Some people say: "I personally want school vouchers, which George W. Bush is for ... We need anything which will bring more choices to our sorry education system."
Generally speaking, more choice is a good thing (as long as there are not too many choices to consider). But what if more choice is brought about in a way that diminishes the quality of what you can choose from. Or (in this case) in a way that amounts to favoritism toward a particular religion. Is it good then?
The school voucher proposal means that parents are given vouchers to spend on the school of their choice. This sounds OK in principle, but look at the situation on the ground. Parents have a choice between public schools and private schools. Private schools are mostly run by religious organizations, in particular, Christian. They tend to have better qualified staff than public schools because they can afford to pay better, because they charge for the education they provide. Public schools are underfunded and so don't pay teachers what they should.
So the school voucher system is a way for the government to subsidise Christian private schools by providing less money for the public school system. This fits in with the Christian right-wing agenda of returning the U.S. to a "Christian society" (and all that that implies, including second-class citizen status for non-Christians, and perhaps even harassment and persecution of them, as has often been the case in the past).
In the U.S. separation between church and state is stipulated in the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...". This implies that public money should not be used to favor one religion over another. But that's what this voucher system does: it is a way for public money to be used to finance private (Christian) schools (and thus to promote one particular religion, Christianity).
If the government financed the public school system properly, spending less on the military and more on teachers' pay, then the schools would not be so bad that parents would have to send their children to places where they have to submit to religious indoctrination in order to get a decent education.
Bush's most recent military budget was $344 billion. This is truly obscene. If military spending for just one day each year was instead spent on teachers' salaries then a million teachers would receive an extra $70 per month. But the President and Congress consider stealth bombers and "national missile defense" (against an unreal, fabricated threat) to have higher priority than the education of the next generation of voters (so much for democracy).
So the school voucher system is a bad proposal, but it's what is to be expected when you get a born-again Christian as President of the U.S., one who does not represent the interests of the people as a whole but rather the interests of one or more particular groups (in Bush's case: fundamentalist Christianity, Big Oil and the Pentagon; and the CIA, of course).
What would be a good proposal would be to increase public school teachers' pay by at least 10% (not much, but better than nothing). Why doesn't Bush do it? Because he wants to do further harm to the public school system and force parents to allow their children to be indoctrinated in his preferred form of Christianity.
If a school voucher system is to be implemented then one should ask: What restrictions are there on the establishment and functioning of schools. Specifically:
(1) Can any group whose principles and ideas are consistent with the U.S. Constitution and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and thus non-racist) open a school and qualify for financing by means of school vouchers? Are proposals for non-Christian, or non-religious schools, discriminated against (in practice if not officially)?
(2) Is a private school free to teach whatever it wishes, provided that it acknowledges the existence of alternative views and informs students as to the content of those alternative views? To what extent is the curriculum of a school subject to government supervision and approval?
The Dutch educational system provides an interesting contrast to that of the United States. In the Netherlands the government will fund any group that wants to start a school, provided that its beliefs are consistent with the Dutch tradition of toleration (which thus excludes racist groups). The Dutch government fully finances not only public schools (which make up about a third of all Dutch schools) but also Protestant schools and Catholic schools (which together make up most non-public schools), with a few Muslim, Hindu and Jewish schools, plus some that are based on teaching philosophies such as Montessori and Steiner.
As long as the schools satisfy certain criteria in teaching standard subjects such as Dutch, English and math, at the primary and secondary levels, they are allowed to choose or write their textbooks and interpret history and teach religion as they see fit. ...So if there are to be vouchers for non-public schools then let there be vouchers for all non-public schools, with no favoritism shown toward Christian schools. In particular, Muslim schools should have as much right to open and be government-funded as Christian schools. What do you say to that, Dubya? Oh ... they would be breeding grounds for terrorists. I see. As if those terrorists who bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors were not bred in fundamentalist Christian schools.
Critics of the Dutch system say that ... the Dutch approach leads to ghettoization and isolation, with each group reinforcing its own viewpoints. Some Christian fundamentalist schools, for example, have opposed the use of the Internet in a bid to shut out the outside world.
Nevertheless, the government education inspectors tend to keep up a dialogue with such schools. "The government knows that some groups in society and some schools do not agree with the idea of evolution, and those schools may teach what they want as long as they at least explain evolution and say others believe in it," says Hans Morelis, an education consultant who helped design the national science examination. ...
A willingness not only to tolerate variety but to base a society on it may account for the survival of such a unique education system.
Rick Smith: "Dutch System Caters to Multiculturalism", International Herald Tribune, 2001-10-15, p.14.
Regarding separation of Church and State according to the framers of the U.S. Constitution see:
Thom Hartmann: The Founders Confront Judge Moore
Last modified: 2001-11-25 CE
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