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

Playing at markets: Vouchers as a socialist trap

Subsidized "choice" perpetuates dependency

by Douglas Dewey

Editor's Note: Douglas Dewey, President of The National Scholarship Center in Washington, DC, delivered these remarks as part of a voucher debate at SepCon'95. They have been edited slightly for length.

Since I switched my opinion about vouchers some three years ago, I have found a number of arguments against them. But the strongest case by far is that vouchers are wrong for the same reason that government schooling is wrong.

First, I will explain why I oppose government schooling. Then, I will show that vouchers embrace and expand the central flaw of government schooling.

I have a hunch that most of us here at SepCon'95 entertain doubts about government's role in education. Let me state my own reasons for being here:

I am not here because of low test scores. I'm not here because I'm outraged by the infamous history standards, or because I'm alarmed by the agenda of Goals 2000, or because I want to see the restoration of phonics, or because I oppose bilingual education, or because I abhor the Prussian model of state schooling that America adopted so long ago. I am not here to fight the scandal of sex education. I am not even here because children are routinely murdered, maimed, and otherwise preyed upon in government schools, nor finally am I here because God has been excluded and denied by the government schools.

I am here because government schooling exists.

Government schooling is a bad choice

Low test scores and violence are to government schooling what food shortages and corruption are to Soviet collective farming?inevitable. Being against government schooling because the results are appalling is like being against murder because it causes a cadaver. Yes, that's what murder does, but it's not what murder is.

If it were only the result of murder that we found abhorrent then an unreported murder would not constitute a murder; nor would any circumstance where the body went unrecovered, nor would we press charges against failed conspirators, and so on. It is the intent and consent of the will that we condemn. The reason we put a murderer behind bars is not ultimately because his victim is dead but because he made a very bad choice.

I believe government schooling is a very bad choice.

Parents have a positive, solemn and sacred duty to educate their children. This is firmly rooted in natural law and Christian tradition, and backed up by common sense. Civilization depends on the strength of families. To the extent that families abnegate their duties, and relinquish their rights, they are weakened, and so is civil society. To the extent that government accepts or usurps those rights and duties which do not belong to it, such a government exceeds its legitimate authority and becomes tyrannical.

How do we define government education? The same way we classify any other good or service. We determine who the owners are. Those who control the means of production, which is to say, the capital, are the owners. Under socialism, the state controls the means of production for everything, from farming, to mining, to schooling, to entertainment, to religion, even procreation itself, as we see in communist China. The state is omnipotent, the individual of little account, the family, even less.

In mining or farming, capital consists of owning lands, for the wealth produced here is from the land. Since education is not a good, but a service, the means of production consist primarily of owning the costs of service delivery. Ownership is control, and viceversa. It is because the government owns the means of producing education that it can compel attendance and control curricula. Everything about the education monopoly we dread is a manifestation of the government's funding monopoly. Think of funding as a standin for property?which John Locke used as a nearsynonym for liberty.

Remember that the government doesn't have any of its own money so when we speak of government funding of education, we are referring to another fundam ental injustice (or bad choice), called wealth redistribution. So if it's wrong fundamentally, distributing it a little wider won't make it right.

Which brings us to vouchers.

I do not oppose vouchers because they will burden private schools with onerous regulations, or because they will lead to the secularization of religious schools, the homogenization of private and alternative schools, weakened families, the expansion of the unions, increased costs, and yes, decreased test scores. Those are merely the inevitable results. Vouchers are wrong because they make the same bad choice as government schooling. Vouchers fully embrace the error of government funding of education.

To carry out your duty as a parent, you must own the means to produce the education for your children, whether by contracting out or doing it yourself. My wife and I home school our children, but we don't feel more responsible than our friends who send their kids to our parish school. We're both equally owners of our children's education; we simply choose to be our own providers, as well?in essence, we pay ourselves to do it.

Just being a shopper, however, does not make you an owner. Look at food stamps and housing vouchers. Nor does being a "chooser": Let's say you're my captive. If I let you choose among six ways to die instead of one, you're still equally unfree and equally doomed. Or try this: As a government dependent, you could be designated to a government feeding station to get fed at, or you could be given a food stamp with a hundred stores and restaurants to choose from. In the first instance you're a miserable dependent. In the second instance you're a miserable dependent with an attitude, since you're empowered and can demand respect.

Far from sowing independence, vouchers encourage a camouflaged (and hence more insidious) dependence which will reap the same delusion and contempt as any other entitlement.

I think we've hit on the stumbling block for freedomloving voucher proponents: They mistake the trappings or appearances of a free market with the reality. Their hope is that by forcing some of the conditions of the market, such as parents choosing their children's schools, that an actual market might arise thereby. That's why we hear vouchers referred to as "privatization," which, if I may borrow a phrase from Candace Allen, my debate colleague, is simply hanging free market words on socialist grammar.

Here is where voucher proponents begin to resemble Marxist utopians, who also promise that once the state owns everything and everyone is equal, the state will just melt away. Even if I liked the first part, how does the melting happen, and when would it begin? Milton Friedman hopes that vouchers would lead to the repeal of compulsory attendance laws, and the elimination of all government funding for education. What Dr. Friedman has never explained is how we'll go from 88% dependency to 100%, to zero.

Here's another question to contemplate: How soon after vouchers are passed can we expect to see parent groups formed demanding a lower voucher?

Government schooling is wrong because it weakens families, invites tyranny, and redistributes wealth. Government vouchers are wrong for the same reasons. More than 700 years ago St. Thomas Aquinas made an airtight case against doing evil (however small) to achieve good (however great).

Thank you.

Listen to the entire, exciting voucher debate from SepCon'95 (Nov. 11, 1995), featuring Candace Allen and Douglas Dewey vs. Joseph Bast and David Harmer. Order audio tapes 14a and 14b for $8.00 each plus $3 s&h (total, $19). California residents please add $1.24 sales tax. Mail to 1071 N. Fulton Ave., Fresno, CA 93728, or phone your credit card order to .

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