Ilana Mercer, March 13, 2002

The case of the Cleveland school-voucher program, now affirmed by the Supreme Court, ought not to have been positioned as a state-church issue. At the core of whether parents can receive a taxpayer-funded stipend and spend it in a school of their choice—religious establishment included—is the legitimacy of state involvement in the enterprise of education, not the God-state animus.

But first, getting back to basics means understanding that education is not a right. The only rights people possess are to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to go about one’s business unmolested and unharmed—and to take the actions necessary to sustain life without harming or encroaching on others—is our only natural right. This right is what government must legitimately protect. By extension, any right that depends for its existence on the labor of another is not a right. To the extent government manufactures and reinforces these non-rights, it is an entity that enslaves some for the benefit and in the service of others.

Where the legislator has deployed the force of the law to transform so many human needs into inalienable rights, he can then declare the thwarting of these bogus rights an actionable violation of “human rights.” But just because some service or commodity has, by government fiat, been declared a right, doesn’t mean that it will now fall like manna from the heavens. The costs of the commodity or service don’t magically dissipate. Someone must be forced to work in order to pay for and supply subsidized housing, health care or education. Rights that rely for their fulfillment on the coerced labor of others are not rights, they are politically counterfeited rights and they violate real rights.

It flows from this that all government programs are immoral, the education monopoly included. To the extent that the Constitution flouts this, it is wrong. Parents have a right to take the necessary action to earn the money with which to educate their young. They don’t have the right to compel the childless, the home-schooler, the private school user—nor anyone really—to pay for the education of their young.

Educational vouchers and charter schools are a species of the publicly funded system.

The support for these educational options is understandable. Few systems boast incentives more perverse than public education, where teacher’s tenure—not talent—is remunerated, students with an “appetite for destruction” are coddled with therapy, and school failure is rewarded with an increased budget. And these are the least offensive facets of child-centered, progressive public schools. It’s a sluggard of a system, and it’s turning out bumper crops of ignoramuses, who, all too often, have no more than dangerously inflated self-esteems to show for years of compulsory attendance.

The more sluggish a system, the more likely it is to respond well to competition, which explains why educational alternatives do yield statistically significant, positive results. Introducing market principles to the pedagogic Gulag, however, is not the route! Tweaking a system that is founded on moral quicksand is not the answer! The solution lies in working to replace public with private, consumer-responsive, unregulated, independent education. The home schooling groundswell is the first step; it is a significant and powerful secessionist movement, which signals that, if their tax burden were drastically reduced, American families would likely prefer private schooling.

Bear in mind that where public money is spent, demand for regulation invariably follows. Vouchers allow the financially needy to obtain tax-funded scholarships for private schools. Private education will thus be tainted by money mulcted from the taxpayer. School vouchers will have turned what remains of America’s independent schools into politicized, subsidy-seeking wards of the state, willing to replace canon and curriculum with politically correct indoctrination.

Those who object to vouchers because they threaten the hallowed public-education monopoly or because they spawn segregation can rest assured. By improving it, vouchers further strengthen and entrench the public system. As to segregation: egalitarians can rejoice. Vouchers follow the anti-private property, freedom-sabotaging tradition of forced integration.

Right now, many suburban schools are half decent because control over neighborhood schools has devolved to the community. The school will typically reflect the locality in terms of its composition and the kind of values it espouses. The socialist voucher privilege will eliminate local control, as inner-city kids are palmed off on suburban communities. Choice for some, once again, will come at the expense of choice for others, in this case, local property owners who foot the lion’s share of the tax bill.

It was the mother of all voucher systems, the post-World War II G.I. Bill, that truly centralized American higher education. Under the guise of educating veterans, the G.I. Bill authorized a massive infusion of tax dollars, creating a coercive plan to entrench social-democratic welfarism, purge “traditional notions of merit and class,” and replace academic excellence with “social justice” and political correctness. Strip them of their fig leaf, and vouchers are no better.


March 13, 2002

CATEGORIES: Education & Miseducation, Individual rights, Regulation

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