School Vouchers and Private Indoctrination
July 23, 2006 12:33 PM   Subscribe

What do people opposed to school vouchers think of private schools in general, and is supporting them hypocritical?

(This is admittedly naive, but please bear with me...)

I am trying to justify positions concerning school vouchers. I take the stance that if the public is already paying for public schools, why should a few "lottery-winning" individuals be favored into a private institution, also payed for by the public? Obviously simplified, this is laid out in essays all across academia.

Elementary class analysis leads me to assume that school vouchers serve the capitalistic interests of the upper class. Private schools can choose which students they accept, so not everyone with a voucher can use it. Likewise, vouchers usually only cover a portion of the tuition, and the families have to come up with the rest.

My problem in understanding is with private schools, as they are, in terms of class. Do most people who oppose vouchers also oppose private schools, as only those with enough disposable income can afford to send their kids to them? On the other hand, having the state dictate what is taught in public schools isn't necessarily good for the community...

I oppose school vouchers because it is shortsighted and creates an inherent hierarchy in education. Private schools obviously reinforce hierarchy and are generally supported by upper-middle class families, who supposedly get a better education. Ideally (not to be read as "utopian"), I would argue that to truly benefit society, all institutionalized schools should be abolished. But I digress...
posted by deep_sea_diving_suit to Education (22 answers total)
I can only speak for myself, but I support private schools while not supporting school vouchers. Suppose it costs $5000 to educate a child in a public school. You can't take $5000 out of a school system without having an impact on the other students. If 1 out of 10 students received vouchers, you wouldn't simply turn off a tenth of the lights or reduce the heat by a certain number of degrees. I completely support private schools and wish a greater number of students could afford to go, but money should be used to help public schools and not simply a minority of students. The good of the many and all that...
posted by null terminated at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2006

Well I don't about anyone else, but where I grew up the only private schools nearby were christian schools. So I found it very easy to be pro private school (if they want that kind of thing for their children, they can get it...) and anti-vouchers (...but I don't want my tax dollars funding it).
posted by cyphill at 12:51 PM on July 23, 2006

I don't really care one way or the other about private schools, but I think vouchers are a bad idea. My reasoning is that I want the public schools to be good schools, and vouchers seem to undermine that goal. If I didn't think that vouchers would lead to a deterioration in public schooling and the perpetuation of an undereducated underclass, then I'd be all for them, on the principle that choice is good.
posted by hattifattener at 1:03 PM on July 23, 2006

I don't see supporting private school and opposing vouchers as two mutually exclusive positions.

I support private school because I support a parent's right to choose the style of education their children are to receive. If they want a strict Opus-Dei Catholic school, great, if they want a Montessori school run by atheists, great. It's the parent's choice. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of giving the state the power to bar any kind of education but that which is sanctioned.

On the other hand, paying money out of public school funds to hand over to private schools strikes me as a bad idea and I oppose it on a couple of different grounds:

1) Since most of the schools that receive these vouchers tend to be religious, I think that vouchers entagle the government with religion - something I believe is not allowed under the Establishment Clause (1st Amendment). I know the Supreme Court has ruled the other way on this very point, but I see vouchers as a quasi-direct funding of religious indoctrination, which is to the detriment of both religion and the government.

2) It's corporate welfare - and worse, it's corporate welfare at the expense of the public welfare. These vouchers take money away from generally underfunded public schools and serve to prop up private schools that might not otherwise survive. I find it a bit hypocritical when free-market conservatives trumpet vouchers, as they really are nothing more than government subsidies that hide weak and poorly-run schools from market forces.

3) Many voucher proponents, especially the original supporters, have ulterior motives. The idea for vouchers arose on the far-right among religious conservatives and hard libertarians who despise the idea of public schooling - either because they don't like how "God has been removed from the schools" or simply because public schools are government funded. Vouchers have found sucess only where these motives have been subsumed under a kinder, gentler rhetoric of "free-choice" but I don't believe for a minute that many supporters of vouchers wouldn't mind a drastic weakening of the public school system. After all, once you drain the system of money, it's easier to attack on the basis of weak performance and go in for the kill.
posted by thewittyname at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2006

I just think everyone should pay their fair share to support the public schools, whether they use them or not, the same way we have to pay for countless other services we may or may not use individually. It's anyone's choice whether to use the service or not. I have no particular opinion about private schools in general. Each one is different, it seems to me.
posted by lampoil at 1:33 PM on July 23, 2006

My parents wanted to send me a private school here in the UK, but couldn't -- the Assisted Places Scheme (somewhat like school vouchers, I understand) had just been scraped by the new Labour government. If the Tories had somehow won in '97, I'd be talking like a toff right now, or something. I'd probably also have much better A-level results, but hey.

Though I felt a little hard done by at the time (my state school was a bit... uh... rough), I think it's worked out better for me in the long run. I do not support school vouchers, as I think that taking middle-class kids and throwing them in to what will still be upper-class dominated schools is only going to screw them up and make them feel inadequate.

Of course, there's more to this. I later went to a private (all-boys!) school at my parents' behest, when they finally managed to somehow scrape up the money. At the age of 14, it did nothing but give me a deep-seated contempt for the whole institution, to the point where I demanded to leave after a year. Private schools are not 'better' -- they just work the kids to death, fuck up their development (at 14, I'd got a girlfriend -- they acted like girls were aliens), fiddle the exams, and, of course, establish those 'old boys networks' that destroy everyone else's opportunities.

I should probably shut up about this before I blow a gasket, but the point I'm trying to make is that for all my 'maybe you should see someone about that'-style issues with this, I am not against private schools. I am against school vouchers, because I think it is absolutely wrong to use taxpayers' money to send non-upper-class kids to these terrible, traditionalist places. BUT, at the same time, I'm glad for private schools to exist, as they let people with more money than sense take some strain off the state sector, and means that the rest of us don't have to meet the obnoxious little oiks. Basically, just keep them the hell away from me, and keep my money the hell away from them.

Oh, and it'd be nice if the exams were designed so that they can't simply drill their stupid kids to death and ace them, too.
posted by reklaw at 1:34 PM on July 23, 2006

Your argument seems to rest upon the assumptions that (1) public schools are somehow less beholden to the interests of the beourgeoise than private schools, and (2) private schools as a group "obviously reinforce hierarchy and are generally supported by upper-middle class families."

I question both of these assumptions. With respect to the first, much of the public school curriculum is designed to produce well-trained workers rather than critical thinkers. Mandatory typing classes are a good example of this -- while useful for everybody, one doesn't need to be particularly cynical to realize that they were implemented essentially as publicly-financed vocational training for big business. Just because a school is "public" doesn't mean it serves the public interest.

With respect to the second assumption, it depends entirely upon the school. Yes there are schools like Andover and St Paul's, but there are also Catholic schools that serve predominantly low-income families, and there are Montessori schools that if anything break down hierarchy rather than reinforcing it. I've even heard of people going to hard-core socialist private schools. These certainly are not supported by upper-middle class families! You're painting private schools with too wide a brush.
posted by Ø at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2006

Count me as well in the camp of "I have not much against private schools, but don't want my tax money going to them."

First, because I don't want my tax money going to a parochial school, especially not one founded on un-educational or downright anti-educational principles such as avoiding evolution or accurate sex education.

Second, because I don't want my tax money going to a segregation academy, of which there seem to be still rather many in the South. Or even to a school that just by "mere coincidence" has no/very-few black/latino/whatever students.

But people should be allowed to send their kids to such schools, so long as they pass some sort of basic muster.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:06 PM on July 23, 2006

Instead of giving out school vouchers, the American school system should be revamped to actually teach kids adequately. I've watched far too many people come out of high school with a 4.0 GPA only to fall victim to the utter shock of a university curriculum and its requirements.

Private schools are fine for those who can afford them, or who qualify for assistance or such, but the rest of the country's kids should at least be somewhat prepared for what faces them if they go to college. Taking money away from them is only going to make this more difficult.

AFAIC, hypocrisy is insisting on getting the government to pay for your child's private schooling when you can easily afford to pay for it yourself. Taxes for schooling are for public schooling.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 2:43 PM on July 23, 2006

One issue that I don't think that anyone else here has raised is the fact that vouchers will probably help middle and upper class folks more than poor families. My ex- and I looked into private schools for my son and found that the tuition for private high schools cost something in the area of $14K a year. Most voucher schemes that I've seen wouldn't even approach that level of funding and would at best only cover half of it. That means that a family would still have to cover $6 or $7K per kid which would be pretty difficult for lower income families. So vouchers would really be a discount plan for private schools, and wouldn't really help the poor folks who are stuck with crappy schools because they can't afford to move to a better school district.
posted by octothorpe at 2:58 PM on July 23, 2006

Ditto null terminated and octothorpe.

I went to a private school, and sent my kids to private schools through 8th grade -- we used public highschools and home schooled after that. However I believe that diverting money into vouchers would disadvantage the public school system. I was very fortunate to be able to afford private schooling, but don't think it should be subsidised. Public schools need more money not less.
posted by anadem at 3:56 PM on July 23, 2006

A democracy is best served by educated voters - and in a democracy every one of age is a potential voter. Whether public or private, a school system that teaches critical reasoning should be required .

These ideal voters would know enough to register to vote in the proper precinct, would know where and how to complain if they are turned away from that precinct, would not leave a hanging chad, would discount last minute smears, and see through political manuevering such as the Swift Boat liars.
posted by Cranberry at 4:05 PM on July 23, 2006

I don't like vouchers and I don't like private schools at all. They do split society - and worse, they make it so that the most powerful do not have a stake in public education. They are like gated communities and private security, which are both rampant in highly unequal societies. People have the choice - just like people have the choice to urinate in the street, but I don't have to like it.
posted by jb at 4:33 PM on July 23, 2006

I spoke too harshly, especially as I have received a scholarship to a private university. But I don't like that I live in a world where that was the only place I could get any funding to do research, and private schools do directly hurt public educatioon - they take the rich out of it. When the rich are stuck with the rest of us, they care about the quality. And they really are the powerful people.

I lived in city where the upper middle class mostly went to state schools. And we had excellent state schools, so that someone on welfare could get a decent education and go to university.
posted by jb at 4:40 PM on July 23, 2006

I'm another that supports private school education for those that choose it, and simultaneously despise vouchers and all they represent.

My primary reason for hating vouchers is because they are yet another way of siphoning off public money to private enterprise, and in my perfect world, the public and private sectors are strictly deliniated. The taxes we pay shouldn't be used to bolster some company's bottom line. If a service becomes important enough to fall under the umbrella of "common good," then it should be nationalized. That includes education, medical care, social security, transportation (roads, rails and air), communication and a whole slew of other stuff.

Note, that doesn't preclude the existance of a corporate counterpart. If somoene thinks they've got a better way to run a public "good," by all means set up shop and see if you can make some cash out of it. But for the government to step in and help out said companies is antithetical to a properly working democracy: it creates a conflict of interest between the government and the people it is supposed to represent (all its citizens), and the corporations--who are only beholden to their shareholders. In a properly-functioning democracy, a dollar of tax gets divided amongst the 300 million people, not the 300,000 stock holders.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:06 PM on July 23, 2006

Yes, the principled voucher opponents often make the argument that private schools provide an 'easy out' for those who can afford them, and thus problems go unsolved in the public schools that would have been resolved decades ago had Barry BondBroker and Harry McBusinessOwner had their own kids going through the same system.

Your analysis as summarized above is rather weak in that it fails to acknowledge the exceedingly-obvious already-existing hierarchy imposed by tieing local property taxes to school funding: sure, anyone within a good school district's boundaries can attend as easily as anyone else, but what does your class-based theory tell you about who can afford to live within those districts? Decoupling school funding from school location would crater the market value of lots of currently-pricy real estate but would in the long run result in both far more rational real estate pricing and a fairer public school system (imho).

As with many things in american politics a potentially good idea -- decoupling school funding from school location -- has been coopted into a plan to convince the populace to award public monies to private although in principal I suppose I have given you an example of the pro-voucher position (and actually a mildly anti-private school one, fwiw) I should for completeness' sake point out that I cannot anticipate vouchers would be well implemented in this country...
posted by little miss manners at 7:08 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

In Cincinnati Public, the district spends roughly 11k per year per child for an education. Only 5k comes directly from the state of Ohio. The remaining 6k comes from local taxes, etc. So if you subtract one kid that means that you don't have the 5 thousand from the state, but you're not investing the 6k in the child that you have no matter what. You MAKE 1k for every child that goes to a voucher or charter school!

Even if the numbers didn't work out that way, which they do, no school district has some sort of inherent right to the money.

I myself have seen parents take advantage of the Ohio 5k "grant" and send their inner city child to a private school. Thank God he's going there too, he's a genius and deserves better than the cess-pool that is Cincinnati Public. Well, all the kids in Cincy deserve better, but that's another story all together.
posted by allthewhile at 7:11 PM on July 23, 2006

I don't have a problem with private schools existing, but I do have a problem with vouchers, as they are merely a vehicle for shifting public money into private coffers. Public education, IMHO, is worth supporting. Vouchers would merely gut public school funding and turn public schools into an educational institution for the have-nots. They're that already, of course, but the dividing line would shift downward.
posted by wheat at 7:44 PM on July 23, 2006

Suppose it costs $5000 to educate a child in a public school. You can't take $5000 out of a school system without having an impact on the other students. If 1 out of 10 students received vouchers, you wouldn't simply turn off a tenth of the lights or reduce the heat by a certain number of degrees.

I believe some voucher programs recognize this by not making vouchers good for the full average-per-pupil cost. So, a voucher might give a parent a $3500 credit in a situation where the full cost average-per-pupil cost is $5000. If such a split accurately accounts for fixed costs plus some amount, this could actually leave public schools with more per-pupil funding.
posted by weston at 8:38 PM on July 23, 2006

People who are rah-rah private schools often don't understand something very fundamental -- that private schools, being private, are not required to use properly trained and certified staff.

Many do ... especially the very high-end schools ... but your average private school teacher is paid less and has less experience than his/her public school counterpart. It's counter-intuitive, but very true. Morever, most public school teachers are required to complete ongoing training to keep their certifications. There are no such requirements for private school teachers. Many do, of course. But many do not, and none are required.

Even worse, private schools often don't even perform background checks for sex offenders. Some do. Most don't. Keep that in mind the next time you drop off little Justin at Country Day Elementary...

So, that's why I'm against vouchers -- because the currently proposed systems place no kind of certification process on the recipients of the public money. And a voucher system will likely make this problem worse, not better, if private school attendance increases, as schools will rapidly scale up to deal with the influx of students that couldn't previously afford to attend.

At the end of the day, I'd kinda like to know what we're getting for all this money we would be throwing in their direction...
posted by frogan at 8:46 PM on July 23, 2006

UK here - I detest private schooling, and think the state should refuse to subsidise (through vouchers, tax benefits or any other financial means) the existence of institutions which perpetuate the absurd divisions in our society.

I guess in the US you don't quite have our barmy class "system". But still, anything that takes an area's richer kids (and some of the brighter, if there's a scholarship program) out of normal schools and treats them as though they were somehow better has got to be divisive to society, and therefore something that the state shouldn't fund.
posted by handee at 1:18 AM on July 24, 2006

I have no problem with private schools but am opposed to vouchers. I view public schools as an investment in less problems, not something we pay into because we get something (education for our own children) out. It's in our interest as a nation to have an educated populace: someone with no prospects is more likely to be a criminal, making my quality of life lower. The fact that you yourself may have children taking advantage of the system is completely irrelevant in my opinion.
posted by phearlez at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2006

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