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Vouchers For Fundamentalist Schools?

Andrew linked sympathetically to a liberal freaking out over the fact that under Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s school reform plan (which is now being contested in court), state money would end up being used by some parents to pay tuition to religious schools that use fundamentalist Christian curricula — ones that deny, for example, evolutionary biology.

I brought this up a few weeks ago with a Louisiana friend who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. N. and I, neither of whom are fundamentalists, both agree that in an ideal world, this wouldn’t happen. But his explanation of the situation went something like this (I’m paraphrasing):

What you have to understand is that public education is in terrible shape in this state. All kinds of attempts in the past to fix it have failed. Just under half the public schools in the state earned a D or an F rating in the last round of assessments. The system is broken beyond repair. What Jindal is doing might not be right, but at least it’s something radically different. If it doesn’t work, let’s try something else. But it has to change. The thing you have to understand is that there are lots of kids in this state who are trapped in a failing public school, and they can’t afford any alternative. If you had to choose between a public school where your kid had to put up with chaos and disorder, and not learning a damn thing, or some fundie academy where he maybe gets crap science, but at least he’s in an orderly environment where he can learn something, you might feel differently. These are the real world choices parents have to make.

I thought about it, and my friend is right. If I had to choose between a Christian academy that taught bad science, or a public school as bad as what many Louisiana parents and their children have to deal with (not in my parish, thank heaven), then I’d choose the fundie school, and try to figure out a way for my kid to have supplementary science education elsewhere.

Again, I haven’t followed this issue closely, and haven’t lived in the state for many years, so I don’t have any perspective from which to judge my friend’s analysis. If you do, please weigh in. Anyway, Jindal’s plan may not pass constitutional muster, but boy, it ticks me off that so many liberals go at this difficult kind of situation with such ideological fervor that they don’t deal with the realities of life on the ground in 44 percent of the public school districts in the state.

I wish sometimes that liberals would be even half as outraged by the disorder, sometimes violent, that many public schoolkids have to deal with every single day as they were by the prospect of those kids might be taught religious doctrine as science. Twenty years ago, one of my college friends, very liberal in her politics, quit teaching high school in Baton Rouge after she tried to discipline a disruptive 11th grader in her class. He looked at her calmly and told her that he would rape her white ass. She told me the kid said it so coldly and matter-of-factly that it unnerved her. That, and the belief that the school administration wouldn’t take the threat of racist, sexist violence against a teacher by a student seriously, caused her to resign at the end of the spring semester, and never look back.

If my son or daughter had to go to that school if they were going to be in public school, you’d better believe I’d send them to Fundagelical Academy. I’d rather help them navigate the scholarly deficits in their education than the alternative.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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