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The Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 6, July 1996

From the Editor

The great thing to me about taking the pure Separation position is that it leaves no place to hide. You can't declare that you want to get the government completely out of education, and then say you're only trying to "improve" or to "save" the public schools.

I know there are thoughtful individuals who favor vouchers, and who also favor separation of school and state ? and don't mind saying so out loud. Joe Bast at the Heartland Institute, Ed Crane at the Cato Institute, and Bob Poole at the Reason Foundation come to mind. My hat is off to them. They are showing integrity in the face of what would be, for me, a tremendous temptation to be less than candid.

Some voucher proponents, accused of wanting to "destroy public schools," vigorously deny it. To the contrary, they say, vouchers will improve the schools by forcing them to compete, and will give families a sense of "ownership" of their education. (Neither of which, by the way, touches the fundamental wrongs of state schooling, namely compulsion and dependency.)

Of course, some people do look to vouchers as the salvation of state schooling. Others see vouchers as merely a stepping stone to Separation, and make no bones about it. And there are yet others who privately favor Separation, but who use the rhetoric of the first group ? the school rescuers ? when proposing vouchers.

Honesty issues aside, the folks in that last group could have a tough time if tax-funded vouchers are ever widely implemented. If the vouchers "work" ? test scores rise, violence drops, classrooms get fresh paint more often, and the exodus of families from the system is slowed ? they will have dampened momentum toward what they privately claim is their real goal, Separation. If vouchers fail ? nothing changes, or things get worse ? who will listen to them when they finally propose Separation? ("You said vouchers would save us! Why should we listen to another of your crazy ideas?")

Maybe I should take a cue from David Henderson, who in an interview in this issue has the courage to admit to a lapse of intellectual rigor at one point. I did something similar once. While telling myself that I would happily press a magic button and end state schooling tomorrow, I found myself blurting to a reporter that vouchers were a good idea because they would "improve the public schools." Wrestling with myself proved to be too exhausting!

We hit vouchers pretty hard here. To those who remain convinced that (tax-funded) vouchers are a genuine vehicle to take us to Separation, I invite you to stay with us. We already agree on where we want to go; a spirited "discussion" of how we'll go is just part of the fun. (And if you think you could write a convincing defense of vouchers against the dependency issue as raised by Marshall Fritz and Doug Dewey, please be our guest. Our pages are open to you.)

Steve Smith

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