Strings on Vouchers
dts4 at CORNELL.EDU
Mon Feb 9 20:44:57 PST 1998
Richard Duncan wrote:
>The key here is consensus. So long as the educational choices of
>parents are reasonable, fairly debatable, the state should not
>interfere with those parental choices. The point is that a liberal
>state should refrain from imposing one view of the good life on
>dissenting families by means of a common curriculum.
>Why can't we all agree that we want
>what is best for *our* children and structure an educational system
>that empowers parents to provide a good education for their own
>children? Why does Steve demand the opportunity to shape the minds and
>hearts of other people's children?
Why is it that parents should have the first and last word on their
children's education? I see no problem with fairly strong parental rights,
but I do not believe in absolute parental rights, which is what Richard
seems to be advocating. Society at large has an interest in children, and
if parents abuse their rights it seems morally legitimate for society to
interfere with the parents' actions. (I take it there is little argument
about this proposition as applied to children's gross welfare -- the
question is whether it extends to seemingly lesser goods such as education.)
The rationale for funding education publicly is grounded in the belief that
there are some things one must know to participate equally in society and
government and to not become a burden on one's fellows [please excuse this
very rough characterization]. There is no *public* interest in teaching
children anything that does not further this rationale. So there is no
public interest in funding teaching of other material. Why shouldn't
public funding of education draw this distinction?
It seems to me that there are things that society can (and perhaps must)
refuse to pay for teaching to children, even if it would be "reasonable" to
teach them and even if there were "consensus" among parents to teach them.
[Though I think that legitimate political consensus can affect the list --
If there are *parental* interests furthered by teaching children other
things (and there most certainly are), why shouldn't *parents* foot the
bill for that? They certainly have ample opportunity to teach whatever
additional things they want, or to arrange for such instruction.
There is a second issue: One of Richard's concerns appears to be that
public schools may teach things contrary or contradictory to what parents
want taught to their children. Here there are two cases: (1) what the
parents object to is material that properly fits the characterization I
attempted above -- material that society rightly has a sufficient interest
in children learning that the societal interest outweighs the parental
interest; or (2) material that society has less than this quantum of
interest in children learning. In the first case the state should win (on
a theory of parental neglect of duties if one doesn't like balancing), and
in the second the parents should win.
I recognize that determining the quantum of societal interest sufficient to
override parental interests is no trivial matter, but surely there is one
(we would not allow parents to refuse all education for their children, for
example). And it seems that its determination must be a political matter
(i.e., subject to collective decisionmaking within constitutional bounds).
Finally, it seems that the constitutional bounds relevant to the
determination are those that govern parental interests vs. societal
interests in children's welfare.
As I see it, the scheme that emerges from this analysis is public funding
of a basic core education, probably narrower and deeper than current public
school practice, and parental funding of whatever other instruction they
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