Point/Counterpoint - Yes

by Jared Alessandroni | 10/18/00 5:00am

The danger, of course, is the fool who believes in his heart that what he is doing is good. Consider Ted Kaczynski. Here is a man, obviously marred by his experience at his second-rate college and rendered socially useless by his field of study, who decided to send political commentary of a most volatile nature. As a Dartmouth student and a veteran of ORL training, I can assure you that I do not judge the man's ideas. Instead, I only wish to posit that if you give explosives to a well-meaning psychopath, you shouldn't open your mail.

Enter George W. Bush.

The idea is as simple as matching the names of world leaders with their corresponding nations. School vouchers are government-funded tickets into private schools. Vouchers support the conservative agenda of privatizing education. This agenda is based on the idea that the government should have no control over how children are taught. It gives individuals who were not elected the right to espouse their political and moral beliefs not only to their children but to those who would attend these private schools because they effectively have no other option. This control allows inevitably for the integration of religious practice within a school system that, with vouchers, would be funded publicly.

The first amendment recognizes correctly the important correlation between the freedom of speech and the importance of government's non-involvement in the creation and perpetuation of religion. The United States offers its citizenry the specific promise that it will not interfere with their religion. To ensure this, it promises that while it will support the institution of religion in general -- for instance, in terms of tax exemptions for donations to religious causes -- it will not actively serve to support one or a few particular religions. Vouchers oppose the intent of this amendment.

The idea is simple. If you support private schools, you support religious schools. Religious schools represent more than three quarters of all private schools. More specifically, in poorer areas, non-secular private schools are even more prevalent. If you are supporting private schools for underprivileged children, you are supporting religious schools. Religious schools tend to be supported by already established churches and synagogues. There are few alternative or less influential religions that can afford, voucher or no, to support schools. If you support any religious schools, you generally support the major religious strongholds. If you support religious schools, you are supporting their doctrine.

The government has supported religious schools historically. With aid for secularly based curricula, there was indirect perpetuation of religious doctrine. If money was being saved in one place, it could be spent in another, that place being religious education. With vouchers, we are not supporting a curriculum -- we are supporting the entire school. We are giving some students the choice between deteriorating public schools for which the voucher program does not offer additional funding or a religiously based school.

The fear that this religiously based school will in fact actively try to convert a student or force a student to overtly challenge his religious doctrine may be unfounded. States which offer vouchers point to contractual fail-safes like clauses that prevent schools from admitting on the basis of religion or prevent schools from forcing students to perform religious ritual. These blatant religious aspects may be avoided by voucher-students who simply want a better education, but the more subtle elements of the religious education may not. These are not under the control of the government or the parents of these children who themselves are not involved or connected to the church through which these religious schools are run.

The subtle elements -- like whether or not creation theory is taught as the paramount explanation for life, or whether or not abstinence is taught as the only acceptable means of birth control (if even the subject is broached) -- are as numerous as people want them. They are out of the hands of the government and the voting public.

Vouchers give parents the choice. For some, that choice is whether to buy the gold emblems on the new Lexus truck or to add a room to the place on the Vineyard rather than have to pay for their children's private education. For others, it is the choice of whether or not to protect their children from a thing as dangerous as a society with ideas that differ from theirs. These people neglect the current choice of working to improve the schools that currently exist, because the aforementioned option is so appealing. Finally, some people must choose between sending their children to a school which under the current system has little funding, but which under the voucher system would have even less, a school whose parental support network will have entirely disappeared to the more attractive and now free private schools; or they will have to choose a private school that will indoctrinate their children, fill their young minds with a political and social vision that certain people believe to be superior.

Unlike a mail bomb, vouchers don't blow up for 12 years.

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