The health care battle continues to rage in the blogosphere, the real world and in townhall meetings. And Blue Dog Reaganite has been engaged in that battle throughout this crucial month of August, as the amount of space devoted to the proposals moving through Congress bears witness. But I thought I would take today to step back and address an issue that’s nowhere near the headlines, but no less important to the long-term future of the nation. That issue is education.
As is the case with most debates on domestic policy, this debate continues to revolve around the question of control. Who decides what children should learn? Who decides what values they should be inculcated with? Is it the parents or is it the government? I come down decisively on the side of parental rights.
The United States, along with the rest of the Western world, decided long ago that it was the place of the government to guarantee the education of every child, K thru 12 and the public school system grew out of that commitment. And there’s no disagreement here with the basic principle of a society assuring access to reasonable levels of education for all its members. And even though college doesn’t come with the same guarantee, all programs designed to make tuition more affordable enjoy broad political support, including right here at this site.
We have the right principles in place, but it does not go far enough. The commitment to education should explicitly guarantee that every child will be educated according to the desires and values of their parents. If a family wants to send their kids to Catholic schools, or Jewish schools or Muslim schools they ought not have to pay extra for the privilege. They are already paying taxes to support the public school system, which may teach values and ideas they abhor. Why should they pay twice?
The entire system of financing education needs to be changed. No longer should the public schools be automatically given the tax dollars of everyone else. Public schools pass themselves off as value-neutral, but in reality they are in the hands of modern liberals. The Left teaches their own brand of values and their own secular religion and mixes it with math, science and all the rest. Why is this mode of education somehow superior to a Catholic school that teaches the Divine Founding of the Catholic Church and mixes it with math, science and all the rest? It’s not. All families should be given a “voucher” equivalent to the amount currently going to the school system, and they should be able to use it to pay tuition costs wherever they please.
The public school teachers’ union, the National Education Association is the most powerful union in the country today. Unlike the steelworkers, it hasn’t seen their jobs disappear overseas. It hasn’t even seen any loss of employment during hard economic times. The NEA has won tenure for its members, where even incompetent teachers can’t be removed. And they have used that power to ruthlessly protect all their members, even at the expense of the good teachers, and they have used it to push a left-wing agenda on the country as a whole.
Like any group with power, the NEA has shown no scruples when it comes to defeating ideas that might rob them of it. And the notion of “school choice”, as I have outlined, is no exception. The NEA charges that such a plan would destroy the public schools. Can a bigger indictment of the public school system be found? The only way the public schools would be destroyed is if everyone left. Yet here we have the leading teachers union in America all but conceding that such is exactly what would happen! Unfortunately, most pundits don’t think it through all the way to the end. They see the prospect of desolate public schools and assume that this means inner-city children being left behind. But again, the schools are only gone if the kids are gone to someplace their families have deemed better.
There are wrinkles in this plan that need to be sorted out. Children with parents who just don’t care are a legitimate concern and decisions would have to be made regarding who will decide where they should attend. If they need to be bussed out of a bad area and into an area with a better school, then that’s the expense that needs to be shouldered. And when it comes to teaching values, are we ready to have vouchers presented at schools that teach violence or terror tactics? The answer here is no and reasonable parameters would have to be drawn up to determine what schools should qualify. But those parameters should be as broad as possible.
It’s long past time to end the National Education Association’s control of education in this country. This teachers' union has protected its own narrow interests with the same intensity as the baseball players' union. And just like that latter protected steroid users and hurt the game as a whole, the NEA has protected bad teachers and a bad system and hurt the nation as a whole. It's time to start giving poor and middle-class parents real options too finally escape the NEA plantation.