Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Message of Christ" and New Jersey's Education Wars

As his state’s landmark Opportunity Scholarship Act moves inexorably toward passage in the legislature, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is ratcheting up his battle for education reform centered around parental school choice. On the opposing side, defenders of the government-run public school monopoly are resisting Christie’s initiatives with everything they’ve got.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act is tax credit-based in order to conform to the constitution requirement to separate church and state. There are no direct government checks going to any private religious school.

Yet NJ Star-Ledger columnist and steadfast opponent of the school choice bill Bob Braun doesn’t see it that way. In a recent column entitled N.J. vouchers would wrongly use taxes for schools with religious affiliations, Braun correctly and lucidly defends the “wall of separation” doctrine. He concludes with this ringing endorsement for freedom of ideas:

At recent Sunday masses, churches in the Newark Archdiocese showed a film urging parishioners to donate money to Catholic ministries, including schools. The voice-over on the film noted that Catholic education "conveys the message of Christ."

But no Catholic — neither I nor Chris Christie — has the right to expect Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers to support our causes, convey our messages, involuntarily through their tax dollars.

So, how does that statement square with his staunch defense of the education status quo? I’ve left the following comments:

"I am Catholic. A graduate of a Catholic elementary and a Catholic high school. I contribute weekly to my parish, monthly to a Catholic hospital, and annually to my high school.


"It is just plain wrong to use taxes to promote a religious message."

The irony here is monumental.

Why isn’t it just plain wrong to use taxes to promote any non-religious message? Education is fundamentally about promoting ideas, beginning with basic philosophy. Should education be about molding students to conform to the group, so as to promote social agendas, as progressive educators believe? Or, should education be about training children to become independent-thinking adults, their minds trained to operate objectively so as to deal with reality in service to the furtherance of their own lives? When you are forced to pay taxes toward the public schools, you are forced to pay for ideas – a “message” – that you may or may not agree with.

Braun promotes voluntarism on one hand, while on the other unwaveringly defending a system based solely on the antithesis of voluntarism - force. Worse still, he dismisses those taxpaying parents seeking to gain control over a bit of the lifelong flow of their own money into the government-run establishment, and redirect it toward a better education for their own children! Instead, he demands the initiation of still more force in order to extract even more money from unwilling taxpayers to pour into the public schools.

Yes, no one should be forced to financially support religious schools and their teachings. Likewise, no one should be forced to support any school through taxes. No one should be forced to pay for the education of anyone else’s children, but should be free to voluntarily pay, with their own money, for the best education they can find for their own – or voluntarily contribute to the education of others. This is possible only in a free market – the “free” meaning free from physical coercion. Considering Braun’s voluntarist premise, he should be an unabashed promoter of free market education, since the free market is based solely on the premise of voluntary contract and voluntary association among men.

What, exactly, is “the message of Christ”? Is it voluntarism, or force? To Bob Braun, the teachers union, and all other reactionary defenders of the status quo, I ask: Why do you insist on maintaining a public system that collects its revenues and students by the legalized force of compulsory taxation and compulsory attendance laws? Don’t you believe that parents exercising their moral right to act on their own judgement with their own money would voluntarily choose your schools for their children, and voluntarily pay for them?

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