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Volume 10, Issue 3: Magistralis

Voucher Envy

Nathan Wilson

Many overused proverbs and cliches are floating around our life and times. One of these has to do with a camel, his nose, and an unspecified tent. A long time ago our mutual friend-the government-stuck its nose under the edge of the tent of education. Not many seemed to mind at the time, but as a result we have been forced to live with the entire camel as roommate for over a century now. The camel was somewhat bossy and took it upon himself to run things around the tent for us, and thankfully many people are now fed up. So they currently want the camel out . . . or so they have said.

Consequently many private schools have sprung up around the country. Many of the older schools are thriving, and thousands of parents are homeschooling, all in various attempts at camel evasion. The private education movement has succeeded in forcing the camel's nose back out the tent flap. His backside remains, to be sure, but at least he's pointed the right way.
So the struggle for the control of education still rages, but we have come to a turning point. Or, a little more pessimistically, we may consider this a turning point if Christians around the nation will cease being cheerleaders for vouchers. For those just joining the discussion on education reform, a voucher is government money apportioned to the parents of school-aged kids for their use in tuition costs at the school of their choice. A recent court decision in Wisconsin permitted the use of such vouchers, even at private religious academies.
But a private school which accepts vouchers from the government has given in on a key principle and threatens to undo all they have accomplished. Compliant schools would hand what they won in pitched battle from the government right back to it. It's true that some kids would be able to attend good schools that they couldn't have otherwise, but they would only be good schools for a very short while. Right now, the only place where the government does not call the shots in education is in the private sector which has maintained financial independence from the government. A voucher system would destroy that independence. Why would anyone want to give that up now?
For some reason, many Christians who have been critical of government education are now applauding the use of government vouchers. For example, World magazine recently published an editorial praising the hard-earned freedom that vouchers would bring back to the American public (June 27, 1998). But vouchers bring no freedom; they merely extend the slavery in new forms, and those schools which would accept them have not yet gotten free of a slavish mentality.
Why should Christians be excited at the prospect of being robbed by the government in order to pay a little Muslim kid's way to an elite Islamic school where he will be taught to despise Christianity? Or is it only because they think the Muslim is being robbed to pay for their kid's education that they are excited? Why do we snivel and cry when our master takes our money to give to a homosexual artist, but then play the part of the grateful dog when we receive scraps stolen from someone else? Maybe it is because we have learned to appreciate anything other than our usual beating.
For a few years now, Christians have been complaining about the government in education. Now that the idea of vouchers has been introduced, we can see who among us objected on principle, and who objected purely because the quality of the stolen goods they were receiving wasn't the greatest. Do we object because we don't think the camel belongs in the tent? Or do we object because we don't like the way he's running things? One hundred years ago, when he first arrived, the camel was running things, and running them comparatively well. The children under his tutelage received a good education, and yet there were insightful Christians who objected on principle. The government had usurped the authority of the parents, and it didn't matter what kind of job it was doing if it was not the government's job to do.
Those in the Christian camp in favor of vouchers can raise some practical Machiavellian points. Under vouchers, it is true that the level of education would go up for a time. And it is also true that the entire government school system as we know it would probably go under. If every parent were given the option of a good private school over and against the local high school, enrollment in Government High would plummet. The Department of Education would be forced to reinvent itself. Hooray for our side. The Dark Side of the Force would fall and we would forever live in peace and tranquility. For about two weeks. Our children might be in a different building with a different program, controlled by the government via a different mechanism, but the camel would still be stinking up the tent.
The government school system is failing as it is. Vouchers could tip the entire current system over the brink into oblivion more quickly, but that's where the government schools are going anyway. Vouchers hasten the demise of the current statism, but also hasten the advent of a new kind of educational statism. Socialism is when the government owns the industry in question. Fascism is when the industry is privately owned, but controlled by the government. Although they do not understand it this way, proponents of vouchers want the socialist schools to fall . . . so that we may have fascist schools.
And Christians have not yet gotten to the point where they want liberty in education.

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