mnewsom at law.howard.edu
Wed Aug 24 16:28:38 PDT 2005
See my comments interlineated below.
From: religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu
[mailto:religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Berg, Thomas C.
Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2005 3:18 PM
To: Law & Religion issues for Law Academics
Subject: RE: Hostility
Well, of course the pro-voucher side, correspondingly, generally accepts
the need for a "common ground" and for some "state imposition." The
vast majority of voucher supporters are willing to have some state
oversight of the educational quality and, within limits, the educational
content in their schools. The vast majority want their religious
schools to teach basic values of human dignity, human rights, and
tolerance and respect for others -- values that they see as required by
their faiths. Of course many of them have different ideas about the
scope of human rights or tolerance than some other citizens do. But
that doesn't mean they oppose the general ideas of rights, tolerance, or
"common ground" -- any more than the fact that public-school supporters
favor public schools in which values are taught means that they oppose
"mediating institutions" as sources of values. All of these arguments,
however heated, are at the margins. Both sides, not just the
public-school supporters, are willing to draw lines.
I am less sanguine than you are about the inclination of some people to
support the teaching of tolerance and respect for others. The rhetoric
of many people, including some voucher supporters, points to an America
characterized by separate clusters or groupings of people distrustful or
contemptuous of other people. One is forced to conclude that some
people find nothing wrong with religious apartheid. (See David M.
Smolin, Regulating Religious and Cultural Conflict in a Postmodern
America: A Response to Professor Perry, 76 Iowa L. Rev. 1067 (1991).) I
think that religious apartheid is a terrible idea, and it does little to
engender the kind of cohesiveness that the country needs.
I don't understand how arguing for school vouchers -- which is what I've
been doing, rather than arguing for religion in public schools --
"overlooks the role of mediating institutions" in forming children.
Rather, the argument for vouchers emphasizes that role, since the
universe of mediating institutions concerning children obviously
includes not just families and churches, but also private schools.
There are good reasons to worry about putting too much weight on private
schools, for the reasons that I mentioned earlier, among others.
The premise underlying vouchers is that the government can achieve its
goals of education and basic socialization as much through private
institutions as through public ones, and indeed should treat the two
equally in funding so as to avoid discouraging pursuit of the private
option. Moreover, if the family would choose a private instead of a
public school, doesn't respect for the family itself as a mediating
institution point toward presumptively respecting, rather than
discouraging, that choice?
Again, we should be concerned about the possibilities of religious
As to ways of decreasing economic pressure and increasing family time, I
specifically said that lower taxes and fewer working women were not the
only means of doing so. I simply said that, realistically speaking,
they were among the means most likely to be on table in our society. To
offer as an alternative to these "a radical readjustment of our economic
rules" proves my point, it seems to me. As a Democrat (albeit a
conflicted one), I want there to be more equitable rewards for work, and
women to continue to participate fully in economic life. My question
had to do with how realistic it is to think that the powerful dynamics
that have led to increased reliance on schools for moral teaching can be
reversed without incurring costs that defenders of public schools are
unwilling to pay.
We appear to agree on this much: there is a Catch-22 at work here. As I
said, Americans know the unfairness of winner-take-all rules, and yet
don't seem all that eager to get rid of them. One does not have to be a
conspiracy theorist to recognize and believe that the Catch-22 is no
accident. We need to deconstruct your "powerful dynamics" and decide
whether religious apartheid is to be our future. (And if religious
apartheid becomes established in this country, the reintroduction of
overt, de jure racial apartheid, given our awful history on race, cannot
be too far behind.)
Finally, I don't see how single-parent families cut against my concerns;
it seems to me that they are more subject to the concerns. Casting
absolutely no aspersion on single parents, it nevertheless remains the
case that they as a class have to work almost by definition and
therefore are likely as a class to have to rely more on other
institutions (often the schools) for the training of their children. In
fact, I would assume that increases in single parenting in recent
decades are another powerful reason why some of the moral training has
shifted, on net, from families to schools. If there is such a
connection, I then wonder further if "reducing the percentage of
single-parent families" is a crusade that many public-school proponents
will want to join.
If we recognize the Catch-22 for what it is, we can perhaps begin to
come up with some creative solutions to the mediating institutions
problem for both single parent and two-parent families. The point is to
respect the zone of private autonomy while at the same time minimizing
the risk of religious (and racial) apartheid. Reliance on private
schools, therefore, is misguided because they can too easily become
instruments of religious apartheid. The fact that powerful interests
may be arrayed against this undertaking, it does not follow that the
undertaking should be abandoned. It only means that it will be harder
to get ourselves out from under the baleful alliance between rightwing
religious and economic interests.
P.S. I, too, am a conflicted Democrat. But my problem is that the
Congressional wing of the party is overloaded with wimps and ditherers,
who, not surprisingly, cannot seem to find a voice, and who repeatedly
get rolled by the Republicans. It would seem that the Democrats cannot
continue to waffle on the unfairness of the winner-take-all rules and
expect to regain national or federal power anytime soon. But on the
other hand, one could read the history of American presidential
elections beginning in 1860 and conclude, not unreasonably, that
Democrats win the White House (taking it away from the Republicans) not
because of anything that the Democrats stand for, but because the
Republicans overplayed their hand and messed things up too badly. So I,
too, am conflicted. History tells me one thing - waffle and just be
"there" to pick up the pieces when Americans get too annoyed with the
Republicans, and my sense of fairness tells me something else. (The
virtual lock that the Democrats had on the Congress from 1932 to 1994 is
another story for another time. It is a story that has a lot to do with
the American South and the Civil War.) Oh well.
University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
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