The Iron Blogger Democrat’s argument against school vouchers is a classic case of making the perfect the enemy of the good. His metaphorical pitcher of water is a vivid image. In the end, he says, “While some of your water is safer now, much of it isn't. And in all your efforts to pour out the water, your pitcher hasn't gotten any better.” Perhaps your pitcher does not get any better and perhaps the glasses of the Glass Man are equally bad, but some of the water made it into the pristine glasses. Jay would deny any of the water a chance to be in the pristine glasses for fear of the Glass Man’s glasses.
I have not denied that some school voucher programs have some problems. I, for instance, would only allow established, proven private schools to participate in the voucher program. But some kids are better off. Isn’t making education better for some kids better than doing nothing at all? Welfare agencies are riddled with fraud and corruption. Should we abandon them completely, and the people that they help, because of a few rogues out there? No, we shouldn’t. We should work to fix them.
Judging by the Iron Blogger’s argument, he would support school vouchers if we could make them work better. Let us make them work better then. If he is demanding 100% success, then he is setting an unreasonable standard. If we were to hold the public school system to a standard of 100% success, we would have abandoned it years ago.
But I will try to resist the urge to write a third rebuttal, and instead write a closing.
I stated earlier that philosophy matters. It does. What we have in the case of school vouchers is yet another battle between liberty and government control. The opponents of school vouchers are uncomfortable with relinquishing some of the government’s control of education. They are fearful that private schools will not perform their function without rigorous government oversight and control. They do not support school vouchers because they could not get the level of government control in private schools without trampling on long-held and long-defended private property rights and religious freedom.
When people band together “in order to form a more perfect union,” there is an inevitable surrender of some rights. Without government, everyone would retain their complete set of natural rights and could live in harmony as long as everyone understood and acted only within the boundaries set by their rights. For instance, two farmers could live next door to each other and as long as each farmer respected the line dividing their respective properties, they would live in peace. The problem is that human nature is such that we are imperfect animals. We can be greedy, spiteful, hateful, jealous, and downright nasty to each other. In a government-free society, the two farmers might have a boundary dispute, and without an arbiter, may end up killing each other.
For this reason, people set up governments among themselves. The government’s purpose is to be the controlling authority when individuals’ rights collide or are violated. The primary role of government is to set predefined rules for resolving collisions of rights (rule of law) and to enforce those rules. To do this, we grant the government the exclusive authority to use coercive means. We permit our government to imprison, fine, confiscate, and even kill, yet forbid individuals from doing any of these. So, we surrender some of our natural rights to government in order to enforce some peace and stability in our society. Because the rights of all individuals are equal, the government must always perform its function in a way that applies equally all citizens.
Government’s secondary role can be to enact the public will. This is the case with education. It is the public’s will that the people be educated to some minimal standard that will allow them to be good stewards of their society and have the intellectual tools necessary to function without becoming a burden to the society as a whole. In order to accomplish this goal, we have created a massive public school infrastructure and we use the coercive power of government to make attending school mandatory.
The issue is that government’s secondary role cannot trump its primary role. We may use the power of government to force kids to attend school, but we may not trample on the rights of the parents to send their kids to the school of their choice. We have in America, as we have always had; a government bound, gagged, and restrained by the chains of our individual liberty. This is as it should be.
In the case of education, we have tasked our government with using its coercive power in order to provide an education to every child, yet government can’t force the kids to attend the public schools. How is the government to fulfill its responsibility to every
child if a child goes to a private school? School vouchers. School vouchers are government’s way of meeting its responsibilities regarding education for every child without violating the natural rights of parents to educate their children in the manner of their choosing.
Let’s bring it down a notch for a moment, shall we? In reality, the children of the wealthy have always had school choice. The children of the wealthy have always attended the best schools – even when they don’t meet the requirements – and always will. My children go to a private parochial school. My wife and I choose not to send our children to the local public school for a variety of reasons that are not the business of government. I am fortunate that the school that my children attend is one where the church picks up the lion’s share of the cost, which keeps tuition very reasonable. If we had to pay the full cost, we could not afford it. Furthermore, parents donate their time and energy for janitorial services, equipment repair, classroom necessities, etc. in order to keep the school affordable. Not everyone is as fortunate as me or as successful as the wealthy. What school vouchers do is provide the less fortunate and less successful in our society with the opportunity to educate their children in a manner which they believe will give their kids the best education possible.
Do we need some accountability with school voucher programs? Yes. Do we need to filter out the charlatans and inept? You bet. Do we need to continue to improve and fund our public schools? Definitely. Do we need to use school vouchers as one arrow in the quiver of education policy? Absolutely – we must.
I would like to thank the Iron Blogger Democrat for the vigorous debate, the Chairman for providing the forum, and the readers for wading through the arguments. May there always be a plentiful supply of toilet paper in your public restrooms.