Strings on Vouchers
MAULE.Prof.Law at LAW.VILL.EDU
Mon Feb 9 15:07:26 PST 1998
richard duncan <rduncan at UNLINFO.UNL.EDU> asks
> What business does *government* have using its power (both sticks and
> carrots) to mold the minds of impressionable children? Why should
> those in control of the reins of political power be allowed to
> determine what children think about the relative importance of the
> potato famine and the Amistad incident? About evolution and creation?
> About the meaning of family? About which contested values to endorse
> and which to reject?
I tend to agree with Rick but, despite my libertarian tendencies,
only to a point. There *are* some things that people need to know,
and if they don't know it not only increases the burdens on everyone
else but it also threatens the democracy.
1. Understanding the legal-political process (what was once called
civics): the three branches of government, how a bill is enacted into
law, the federal-state nature of the country, the text of the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
2. The names of the states.
3. Enough arithmetic to function in life without imposing on others.
(granted, the ability to make change and to balance a checkbook are
rapidly fading as necessities but there'll be a replacement skill, I
4. The ability to read.
5. The ability to write (and type, I suppose, or to use a mouse).
6. Safety rules: red v. green lights, stop signs, don't play in the
traffic, look both ways before crossing, don't play with matches, etc.
7. The factual history of our nation, though admittedly this is a
tough one. It is tough to teach history absent context and values. It
is tough to select the curriculum without context and values. Perhaps
Rick is correct that parents ought to be able to select the context
and values but it's annoying that some students don't know some
things as to which there is no dispute that they occurred. (When
students claim that the U.S. put a person on Mars in 1966 it's really
scary..... but when someone claims that the U.S. put a person on the
moon in 1969 at the expense of 10,000 children dying from
malnutrition throughout the country, where is the line drawn between
fact and opinion/value/context?)
The Amistad - potato famine issue is a symptom of this problem. There
are only so many hours in the day and not every fact of history can
be taught, nor is it important. Quick -- how many electoral votes did
Andrew Jackson get? But some things important to some people are not
important to others. A nation of people ignorant of its history is
doomed. The Amistad - potato famine issue quickly becomes a "my
ancestors (or more precisely, people like my ancestors) had a tougher
time than your ancestors (or more precisely, people like your
ancestors). In some ways, both are momentous events and in some ways,
neither rises to the level of gripping headline. The deeper question
is how to set a reasonable line. The Catholic elementary school
curriculum includes coverage of the Know-Nothings and casts them as
strong "anti Catholic" persons. I've seen material that comes at the
issue from another direction. Should the government choose, mandate,
or forbid one or the other? Hopefully not. If it did, would ther be a
serious 1A issue? Yes. But suppose that as time goes by an
overwhelming number of people begin teaching their children (or
having their children taught) that the Know-Nothings were early
heroes of the "religious cleansing" movement whose proponents are
lobbying for a "pure religion" amendment to the Constitution. Should
the government be involved to "correct" the error? Does it depend on
whether the "other side" has the political and economic clout to
counter-attack in the "marketplace"?
I see a lot of stupid things being taught to children by all sorts of
people in all sorts of places. Whether it is the driver who is
reading the newspaper while barreling down the Turnpike (to the
amazement and, fortunately, criticism of my children), or the
racist whose words eventually reach the children, or the drug dealer
who claims his product solves all problems, or the preacher who
claims that three 100-foot bungee jumps save the soul (I made that up
so as not to offend anyone -- watch someone tell me there really is
such a sect somewhere), or the parent who tells a child to select
foods based solely on taste, these actions all have some direct or
indirect, immediate or remote, dangerous or harmless impact on that
child's interaction with the rest of society now and in the future.
But until God shows up in person to take over education, I'm no more
comfortable with the stupid things that government bureaucrats and
"educators" prescribe than I am with the stupid things that people
teach. So it becomes a matter of who's teaching more of the
intelliget things. And on that one, I need to go with most private
and parochial schools, and a few public schools.
Professor of Law
Villanova University School of Law
Villanova, PA 19085
maule at law.vill.edu
(610) 519 - 7135
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