Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | education

Jul/12

9

Don’t Confuse the Children!

Commenter Kevin S. kindly responded to my earlier posting on Bobby Jindal’s voucher program with a link to this Reuters story. It’s worth paying some attention.

An extract:

Louisiana’s plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains “what God made” on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

“We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children,” Carrier said.

Hmmm…

Allowing vouchers to be used for religious schools doesn’t bother me overmuch, but here’s a part of what I wrote before:

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too.

I’m not sure that there’s a lot of that going on here:

In Louisiana, Superintendent of Education John White said state officials have at one time or another visited all 120 schools in the voucher program and approved their curricula, including specific texts. He said the state plans more “due diligence” over the summer, including additional site visits to assess capacity.
In general, White said he will leave it to principals to be sure their curriculum covers all subjects kids need and leave it to parents to judge the quality of each private school on the list.

Yes, hmmm.

With the US public education in such expensively bad shape, vouchers are a terrific idea. It would be a shame if Jindal’s (dare I say it) “fundamentalist” belief in the sorting powers of the market were to bring a much-needed tool for educational reform into disrepute.

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Jul/12

7

Whoops!

Former exorcist and current Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has (to quote the Friendly Atheist) “pushed for a voucher program that would allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools.” The Friendly Atheist is not so keen on the idea (he believes it to be unconstitutional), but I’m inclined to be more relaxed. A little mumbo jumbo is a cheap price to pay for a good education. Religious schools in this country (and elsewhere) have a long record of delivering an education that can be of lower cost and higher quality than that provided for in the state system. And they also have a long and shameful record, not least in corners of the Islamic world, as perpetrators of ignorance and division.

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too. I don’t know whether Gov. Jindal’s legislation provides for all this or not, but, in any event, it would be unlikely to be enough for one Louisiana (Republican) lawmaker. Valarie Hodges.

Livingston Parish News takes up the story:

WATSON — Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said…HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups…Hodges, who represents District 64 on the northwest side of the parish, and another freshman lawmaker in the local delegation, Clay Schexnayder from Dist. 81 in the southwest, voted with the House majority in favor of HB976.

The school funding mechanism, however, did not come up for a vote until the end of the session. By then, a Muslim-based school had applied for support through the new voucher system.

During debate over the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) funding formula, Hodges learned more about the consequences of the educational changes. She voted against the new MFP funding formula; Schexnayder voted for it.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said.

Oh dear. I’m not necessarily opposed to (mild, constructive, gently patriotic, and minimally superstitious) state religions, but I suspect—well over two centuries into the First Amendment—that the time for that in the US may have passed.

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Oct/10

16

Breaker of idols

Jacob Weisberg, Yale graduate, and defender of the Center-Left Establishment (e.g., In Defense of Robert Rubin), has a long piece out in Slate attacking Peter Thiel. Thiel’s heresy is to encourage young university-aged students to work outside of traditional educational institutions by offering monetary inducements. Weisberg concludes:

Where to start with this nasty idea? A basic feature of the venture capitalist’s worldview is its narcissism, and with that comes the desire to clone oneself—perhaps literally in Thiel’s case. Thus Thiel fellows will have the opportunity to emulate their sponsor by halting their intellectual development around the onset of adulthood, maintaining a narrow-minded focus on getting rich as young as possible, and thereby avoid the siren lure of helping others or contributing to the advances in basic science that have made the great tech fortunes possible. Thiel’s program is premised on the idea that America suffers from a deficiency of entrepreneurship. In fact, we may be on the verge of the opposite, a world in which too many weak ideas find funding and every kid dreams of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. This threatens to turn the risk-taking startup model into a white boy’s version of the NBA, diverting a generation of young people from the love of knowledge for its own sake and respect for middle-class values.

Knowledge for “its own sake”? What planet does Jacob Weisberg live on where American university students are seeking knowledge for “its own sake”? The American university racket is by and large one of credentialing and signalling. Most college graduates are unabashed philistines. Their primary goal in life is to seem intelligent, not be intelligent.

Jan/10

31

Great Moments in American Education

Oh, good grief:

After a parent complained about an elementary school student stumbling across “oral sex” in a classroom dictionary, Menifee Union School District officials decided to pull Merriam Webster’s 10th edition from all school shelves earlier this week. School officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the “sexually graphic” entry, said district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. The dictionaries were initially purchased a few years ago for fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms districtwide, according to a memo to the superintendent.

“It’s just not age appropriate,” said Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district. “It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,” Cadmus said. She explained that other dictionary entries defining human anatomy would probably not be cause for alarm.

 I love that “probably”.

 H/t: Andrew Sullivan

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Nov/09

8

Civilizing the young

Many Americans who are indifferent to faith will confess they find themselves challenged as they try to raise good and decent children without the religious confidence their parents had.

writes William McGurn, for whose sagacity I have the utmost respect.  But if I may offer an alternative perspective, while taking Bill fully at his word:  The problem for child-rearing today, if one exists, may stem less from lack of belief in God than from lack of belief in authority.  If parents are unwilling or unable to restrain their children, my guess is that it is their absorption of the 1960s ethic of authenticity, rather than skepticism towards supernatural claims, that is most influencing their practices in the home.  Jesus is not the source of the mandate to say please and thank you; a due respect for civilization is.  Self-restraint, manners, artifice, the ideal of behaving like a gentleman or a lady, these are courtly virtues, not necessarily religious ones, and they were all trashed by the pseudo-cult of “getting back to nature” (i.e., no haircuts, bathing optional, no more suits and ties, no more waiting till marriage, and, from what I observe in some of my peers and their progeny, forks, spoons, and knives expendable).  Religious zeal can in fact trump respect for authority and manners in the pursuit of holy Truth, no less than the baby-boomers’ pursuit of maximal self-expression, which latter quest I suspect is the real child-rearing culprit here (along with a hyper charged multi-billion dollar youth industry). (more…)

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Jan/09

18

Church, State & Education (Ctd)

Walter, the debate about whether taxpayer-funded vouchers should be able to be used in schools attached to one religious denomination or another has been going on for years. My own inclination has been to think, with reservations, that the answer is yes. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that the increasingly diverse nature of religious belief in America is going to add yet another complication to this controversy, one that might cause me (FWIW), and perhaps others, to change their mind.

If such vouchers can be used to pay the fees at, say, Roman Catholic or Evangelical schools, logic dictates that they could also be used for schools associated with other faiths, such as Islam. That’s fair enough, I reckon, but that in turn raises the prospect of taxpayer funding for some schools where the Koran might dominate the curriculum to a degree that takes what is being taught very far from the educational mainstream. What, I wonder, would voters make of the idea of taxpayer-supported madrassas, or, for that matter, schools affiliated to some of this country’s wilder Christian sects? Not so much, I reckon.

The answer, theoretically, would be to insist that all voucher-eligible schools meet certain objective tests (a certain number of hours of math, science and so on), but quite how those tests would be drawn up and policed in the light of the First Amendment makes one wonder if this would be in any way practicable.

Jan/09

17

Church, state and education

Catholic schools are in steep decline, their enrollment having “steadily dropped by more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago”, according to a New York Times account. Among the better-known reasons: 1) nuns and priests who once staffed teaching positions have retired and their ranks have not been renewed in the near-total absence of new American “vocations”; 2) as urban Catholics suburbanized over the past two generations, Church officials for various reasons did not choose to follow them out by establishing suburban schools in large numbers; 3) having fully entered the mainstream of American life, Catholics are less drawn than previously to separate institutions. The Times article adds another, perhaps less familiar reason: while 15 percent of children from Catholic families currently attend parochial school — down from roughly 50 percent in 1965 — only 3 percent of Hispanics choose parochial schools, especially significant since that group will soon comprise a majority of American Catholics.

The policy angle on all this, of course, is the perennial agitation for “school choice” in the form of vouchers or tax credits for parents who pursue private or religious education. My impression — it may be wrong — is that the school-choice issue cuts across both believer-unbeliever and libertarian-traditionalist lines on the Right. Scratch a policy activist in the school choice movement, in my experience, and you will very often find the sort of Milton Friedman conservative who is libertarian-tinged, secular, or both. On the other hand many other conservatives are deeply skeptical of the voucher idea, above all because of the fear that it will extend state control over religious and private schools and thus make them more like the public. And this second group definitely cuts across both religious and lib-trad lines: it includes many libertarians of a sort more “hard-core” than Friedman, some Old Right types, and many of the more strongly orthodox or otherwise religious traditionalists.

Another way of looking at it is that the cause of school vouchers got left behind in the culture wars: the Colsons and Neuhauses, Dobsons and Bauers either never supported it as a cause at all, or chose not to put it on their list of prime demands. What do the rest of you think?

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