While I am on the subject of things that conservatives get right and liberals get wrong, I want to bring up the subject of school vouchers.
This is a system where the government takes tax money and pays a parent or guardian to get their child educated. The state does not manage the school or pick the teachers or pick the coursework – but it does require that the student meet certain standards. It is, after all, paying for a service – the quality education of a child. It does have a need to adopt some measure of making sure that it gets what it pays for.
One of the common objections to this system that I hear is that it is a tax subsidy for religion. There are a lot of parents who would use these vouchers to send their children to some form of religious school, where they will get religious indoctrination at state expense. This violates the separation of church and state – which does not permit the government funded religious indoctrination.
I think that this is a flawed argument. The government is not paying for religious indoctrination. It is paying to educate a child to acquire a certain set of knowledge and skills. It just so happens that, at the same time as the child is being given these skills, in some setting, it is also getting religious indoctrination. However, this is not something that the state is paying for.
It is also the case that, while a child is being educated, it is breathing – consuming oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. The fact that this happens while a child is getting an education paid for by the government does not imply that the government is paying the child to consume oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
To determine what the government is paying for, we do not need to look at what happens while the child is learning. We need to look at what the state considers to be a successful completion of the contract on the part of those who get the money. That contract cannot include any type of religious indoctrination, but this does not permit religious indoctrination going on at the same time as the terms of the contract are being met.
On this matter, we still have many and good reason to set high standards. We benefit from a well educated population, and we have reason to condemn the uneducation and miseducation (myth-education) of children.
However, the fact of the matter is that the political compromise necessary for public schools is to teach ignorance on all controversial matters. By 'controversial', I am no talking about scientific disagreements about (for example) whether t-Rex was a carnivore or scavenger. I mean any fiction that a segment of the population absolutely refuses to let go of.
The option that I would propose is not to oppose school vouchers, but to use them.
Lets create our own schools.
I would love to see an Academy of Reason for K-12 education.
This would not be an atheist school – I would oppose that. An atheist school would mean picking winners and losers on matters of fact. Though I think I know what the facts are concerning the existence of a god, I reject the arrogance of presuming infallibility.
However, it would be a school where a philosophy course covering the arguments for and against the existence of a god ( along with free will, epistemology, logic, and value theory) may well be a required course.
It would be a school that discusses creationism in its biology class – specifically for the purpose of educating children to understand exactly why creationism is not science. One could devote whole lectures in biology class to, "Here is what the creationists say. These things are false, and those things over there are not science"
It would be a school that could offer honest and informative classes on the history of religion - and even of history, for that matter. The question of what counts as evidence and whether there is evidence that Jesus actually existed could be discussed.
It would be a school where those students who are interested could take in a class that looked into the biology and psychology of homosexuality, and where students would get accurate information about sex, pregnancy, and venereal diseases and how to prevent them.
There are other potential concerns about school vouchers. For example, some worry that taking the best students out of the public schools and putting them into private schools will lower the quality of public education. Also, public schools are concerned about having less money to spend on education. Consolidating schools to cut costs will mean longer commutes for school-age children and their parents. This is not the end of the discussion.
However, there would be a lot that could be gained from having schools where teachers are free to teach and students are free to learn. And a school voucher system would help parents of modest means to get the it children into those schools.