TAG | vouchers
The Daily Telegraph’s Cristina Odone is rightly appalled by the murder of Shafilea Ahmed:
Shafilea Ahmed’s parents have been found guilty of her murder. The beautiful 17-year-old Cheshire schoolgirl was killed by her own mother and father in a brutal honour killing they kept hidden for nine years.
Even though I’d suspected, like everyone else who’s been following the tragic case, that Iftikhar Ahmed and his wife Farzana were responsible for their daughter’s murder, I’m desperately sad. Can religion really lead a mother and father to kill their own child? It is clear that in the Ahmeds’ case, this was so: Alesha, the victim’s surviving sister, testified in court that her parents openly acknowledged that they must do away with the rebellious teenager. She had adopted “western ways”, and brought shame on their family.
It is a terrible tragedy – even more so because although the [Uk] Home Office statistics claim that there are 12 honour killings a year in Britain, the truth is far more alarming. As Ann Cryer, the former Keighley MP who campaigned tirelessly against honour killings and arranged marriages pointed out to me when I was researching faith schools, teachers in predominantly Muslim areas complain regularly of “disappearances”.
I’m not the first to note this, but I have to say that if I were asked to compile a list of misleading phrases “honor” killings would be up near the top. These are shame killings, and as Ms. Odone clearly agrees, they are deeply shameful too.
Back to Ms.Odone:
Once a [British] Muslim girl hits puberty, the most conservative parents will pluck her out of school where she risks contamination from western peers, and if she is lucky they continue her lessons at home. If she is unlucky, they send her back to Pakistan, in an arranged marriage usually to a much older man. I see this as a very strong argument in favour of more Muslim faith schools: only when they feel their daughters are in a safe Muslim school will parents allow them to continue their education past puberty.
Yes and no, I’d say. In principle, taxpayer funded ‘faith schools’ (or, say, voucher programs that permit parents to spend their vouchers on such schools) seem fine to me. When run well, such schools can deliver a better education—and at lower cost to the taxpayer–than their equivalents in the public sector. Everyone wins.
On the other hand, they can also be a poisonous recipe for cultural isolation and, ultimately, the Balkanization of a nation. Taxpayer-funded Pakistani-style madrassas anyone? No, I didn’t think so. To that end, whether in Cheshire or in Louisiana it is essential that schools eligible for taxpayer pounds or dollars need to be open access (academic selection is fine, however) and subject to a strict accreditation process. What’s more, the UK experience would appear to show that the vetters themselves need to be vetted.
The problem with all that is that schools that have weathered that process are unlikely to satisfy parents such as Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed, two killers who are just the latest evidence of the failure of multiculturalism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is under attack for nominating the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines to be the next New York City Schools Chancellor. The New York education establishment and its political patrons are outraged that someone with no background in education might run the city’s schools. Bloomberg counters that management skills are the most important qualification for the job, given the size and complexity of the New York system.
The only reason why previous exposure to the education world might in fact be a useful credential for a schools chief is as a vaccine against the multiple idiocies of that world. Business leaders have shown a depressing tendency to lap up the latest edu-fads, whether the need to teach “critical thinking skills” in the 1980s or the efficacy of smart boards in the 2000s (former Los Angeles mayor and developer Richard Riordan, for example, is pushing those boondoggles through his education foundation).
The following is just a brief list of ed-school nostrums that the ideal inoculated chancellor or principal would laugh out of his jurisdiction: (more…)