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Current Battle: Election 2004






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Saturday, June 26, 2004

Battle School Vouchers - Iron Blogger Democrat - Closing Statement

Before I close, let me thank all of you who deserve it: The Chairman, for putting up with my crap enough to keep me on as IBD (and for letting this debate--for the first time ever--go uniterrupted with "Important Notes from the Chairman"); the judges, for following all the links and paying attention even when through my tortured metaphors; and the Challenger, Owen, the closest thing I have to an arch-nemesis, whom I finally have had the chance to duke it out with in an appropriate forum. This has been a fun week, the Challenger and the comments have kept me on my toes, and I have no doubt that the result will be close.

In many ways, I wish that school vouchers had not been the topic. I'm too close to it, too wrapped up in the minutiae of the multi-faceted failure that Milwaukee's school choice program has been. In many ways, I regret staking out such stark non-philosophical territory in my Opening Statement, as what I'm left with, looking back, is a sad trail of failure--a litany of lost years of schooling and misdirected tax funds. I can't take a high road, or stand on a high horse, as everything I have brought to this debate has been the very real, but very negative. I'm even more pessimistic and cynical now that I have lived deeper in this topic than before for the last week.

In other words, it's hard to be the Cassandra in this debate, and it's quite the contrast from my last debate.

But I must bring this to a close, and I think I will use the Challenger's words as a jumping off point. In his last rebuttal, he wrote,
He has argued that we need more accountability from voucher schools. I agree. He has argued that some voucher systems have not lived up to some expectations. I agree. He has argued that we need to be cautious about trampling on schools’ religious and secular freedoms. I agree. He has not, however, argued against school vouchers. If we could come up with compromises on each of his objections, would he support school vouchers? If so, then he does not oppose school vouchers, he opposes how they have been implemented up until now. If not, then I suspect that all of the objections regarding accountability and results are merely a smokescreen for a less attractive, more basic objection.
Here, the Challenger makes explicit and tacit admissions that we haven't gotten vouchers right yet. This reminds me, again, of the losing argument posited by Iron Blogger Republican in the last Battle about the death penalty--if we could remove any chance that anything will go wrong, she posited, it will be okay!

That, and the Challenger's parallel argument here, is absurd: Vouchers in Wisconsin--and Florida and Cleveland and New Zealand--are already so watered down with partisan compromises because they couldn't have happened in the first place otherwise. Look where that has gotten us. And in order to satisfy all of my objections to vouchers, the Challenger would have to make concessions he opposes with all of his "private schools can do what they want" talk. Plus, the Challenger did not adequately explain how tremendous levels of State intrusion into religious schools' operation is not an Establishment issue. Nor has he explained how the State's commitment to provide a free education to everybody is not already fair.

But the Challenger is right; I suppose that I do have a "basic objection" to vouchers. It stems not only from the overwhelming evidence that programs don't work as designed, but also from an deeply rooted belief that our children are not commodities. Our children are not chemicals in some experiment we're conducting. Our children are not pawns in some ideological game.

Our children deserve a quality education, and any diversions from, er, fixing our pitcher, don't get us there.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat
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