Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Problem for Government School Apologists; American Ideals

A battle is taking place within the New Jersey Democratic Party. The battlefield is education. The issue is parental school choice. Previously, we heard from proponents. Then, we heard from the opposite side.

A recent column by former New Jersey Governor James J. Florio highlights the problem defenders of government schools face; American ideals. Their answer? Ignore them, like they never existed.

In this piece, Florio takes aim at school choice and vouchers. Let me state up front that I am not a proponent of vouchers. Though the bill Florio refers to is a hybrid--it is financed by tax credits--it retains some of the dangers of vouchers. For my in-depth analysis of the bill, see The Voucher Trojan Horse.

The voucher issue aside, my issue with Florio is philosophical: He is attacking the whole concept that any individual has any rights in the matter of education and its funding. Here are a few excerpts:

   Our American public school system, open to all of our children, has been responsible for the nation’s formation and development. It is the institution that harmonized our diversity, created a literate citizenry, brought us unparalleled prosperity and is the key to the upward mobility that provides us with social stability.   Voucher proponents, who are willing to jettison this uniquely American institution, justify their position on the basis of some failing schools in urban and remote rural areas.   They would segregate our most motivated students in such schools and transfer them to private and parochial schools. The vast majority of remaining students, 85 to 90 percent, would be intellectual residue.   Voucher supporters, rather than committing to improve educational opportunity for all, run up a white flag of surrender on the hallowed American tradition of universal education...   Vouchers would siphon money and the most motivated students from such schools, and would be a sad commentary on our commitment to “liberty and justice for all.”
Florio is specifically taking aim at the Opportunity Scholarship Act, supported by many Democrats, which is a very limited tax credit-based voucher plan. Florio calls it a "Dracula of an educational idea." Perhaps his vehement opposition--he seems to think the country is doomed if it passes--is because Governor Christie has called it a "down payment" on his ultimate goal of choice "for every parent everywhere." Grant freedom to one parent, and you open the door to the argument for choice for all--which was exactly the point of my question to pro-choice Democrats: On what basis is it fair to deny any parent or child the choice?" Perhaps Florio read it.

In any event, his use of the term "Dracula" is apt: His ultimate motivation is a real blood-sucker of an idea, egalitarianism. "Equality for all is apparently too much of an effort," he says. I left the following comments:

The “hallowed American tradition of universal education” predated tax-funded, government-run schools. In fact, by the mid-19th century, just as the government takeover of education was getting started, literacy rates were already near 100%.
The hallowed American principles that were actually “responsible for the nation’s formation and development; …that harmonized our diversity, created a literate citizenry, brought us unparalleled prosperity and is the key to the upward mobility that provides us with social stability”—are the principles of inalienable individual rights and a limited rights-protecting government.
Gov. Florio ignores another hallowed American principle—the principle of equality before the law—the only sense of equality that is true to our Founding, the nature of man as a metaphysically autonomous being, the principles of “liberty and justice for all,” and morality. It is an equality that leaves every individual free to pursue his own goals and happiness by his own effort and voluntary trade and association, while forbidding coercive interference by others, including others in their capacity as government officials. Any other kind of “equality” can only be accomplished by massive rights violations—i.e., the looting and gradual enslavement of productive individuals—and by destroying the best and brightest. Notice his fear of “segregate[ing] our most motivated students”—i.e. of any concern for the best and brightest, whose parents might want to pursue better opportunities for their children. (Notice also his utter lack of confidence in the public schools, which would turn the “remaining … 85 to 90 percent [into] intellectual residue.” Egalitarian ideologists are not happy until every student is residue.)
Florio inverts another hallowed American principle—that government is the servant, not the master, of the people. This means that individuals, not government, have first claim on their own earnings, and have an inalienable right to spend it as they judge best.
Regarding the subject at hand, the principles noted above—which, sadly, had to be reiterated—means that tax credit-based school choice—not just for the few, but for everyone—should be the direction we move in []. The government-run schools violate those principles on a massive scale, through force of taxes and compulsory education laws. And to all reactionary defenders of the status quo, I ask: If the government-run public schools are so great, why do you need force to hold it in place? Don’t you think that parents and taxpayers would voluntarily send their kids to your schools, and voluntarily pay for them? Don’t you think you can compete in a free market? 
I wasn't the only one who zeroed in on Florio's egalitarian vampire.
mpcarrollr25 writes: "Under the guise of advocating for equality, former Governor Florio would happily consign talented students – indeed, every student – to a second class education..." 
Sir Galahad writes: "Citing egalitarianism the writer goes on to rationalize sacrifices parents and children must make to the state for the sake of the state budget.
Governor the term equality is a political term meaning equal before the law. Students regulated to an obvious inferior school system by law could hardly be construed as 'liberty and justice for all'".

And Mtown_Quaker writes: "When the FORMER Governor states, 'They would segregate our most motivated students in such schools and transfer them to private and parochial schools. - can somebody tell me why that is wrong, if it is done by their own free will and parental consent? Quite frankly, I want to cherry pick the 'best and brightest' out of terrible schools and help place them elsewhere with private means where they can actually get a decent shot at an education. I don't see a moral issue with doing that at all.
To the contrary: Where is the morality in forcing these children to attend wretched schools?

Of course, the proper answer to the likes of Florio is to ask; Why not parental choice for everyone, rather than forbid it to the few? Like all statists, Florio's worldview holds that the "masses" are too stupid and irresponsible to care about their own children, and are perfectly willing to neglect their children's education. Therefor, the state must take control, because then the superior intellectual elite will do what's best for them.

As to my challenge presented in the form of the questions that close out my comments, I would also ask: What good is education, without the freedom to act on it?

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