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Vouchers For Fundamentalist Schools?

Andrew linked sympathetically to a liberal freaking out [1] 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.

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61 Comments To "Vouchers For Fundamentalist Schools?"

#1 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 27, 2012 @ 10:30 pm

rr said, “There is a broad spectrum between the likes of Richard Dawkins and Al Mohler.”

I agree, however the extremes tend to be the most vocal and activist. So my concern would be who would likely to run the school.

Frankly if this stayed in Louisiana or Kentucky I wouldn’t care about it. But New England isn’t free from YEC nonsense either. Across the border in New Hampshire there have been a few school board take overs by YEC as well as recent bills in the state legislature. Things like this have a way of spreading because New England states are small and people move between them.

#2 Comment By rr On June 27, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

quote: “The evidence for macroevolution is extremely strong; and as my aforementioned sister points out when she talks about these things, “macroevolution” and “microevolution” is a false dichotomy invented by ID people to muddy the waters. By definition, large changes over time (“macroevolution”) result from myriads of infinitesimal changes (“microevoution)–thus they are ultimately the same thing. That’s not going to work.”

I wasn’t even talking about what was true or not or what “works.” I was merely making a comment about the spectrum of beliefs about evolution.

#3 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 27, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

This is a wake-up call for those who believe in public schools to find ways to make them work, well, or… the above choice is obvious.

#4 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On June 28, 2012 @ 1:28 am

I said explicitly taught, not exposed to, Tumarion.

MH, it was a while ago so my recollection could be inaccurate, but my microbiology professor was much more interested in teaching about cellular processes than the evolutionary implications, if any, of the subject matter. Same deal in genetics. Obviously in both subjects adaptation in light of environmental pressures was of interest. But it was a research institution and they were primarily interested in investigating, understanding and explaining processes they were observing or could observe and not particularly interested in spouting off about origins. Possibly as a matter of personal temperament they were happy to leave the mytho-poetic musings to their whole organism colleagues on the soft science side of the discipline. Then again, maybe it was just a bad school.

#5 Comment By JonF On June 28, 2012 @ 6:38 am

Re: By definition, large changes over time (“macroevolution”) result from myriads of infinitesimal changes (“microevoution)–

Careful about that. There’s some evidence that evolution proceeds by sudden (relatively) changes after long periods of relative stasis. “Punctuated equilibrium” does fit the fossil record better than Darwin’s gradualism, and given the chromosomes are (in a sense) quantized there does need to be an abrupt transition from A to B at the genetic level.

#6 Comment By TTT On June 28, 2012 @ 7:56 am

If a school teaches YEC, it teaches its students to believe in giant global conspiracies of forged evidence, and that every scientific process for gathering and understanding evidence is a lie. Please understand – it isn’t that evolution in itself is so inherently awesome that everyone must learn it just because. Rather, the rejection of evolution reveals a mindset that it is okay to disregard extremely ample evidence in favor of some older and more ego-comforting belief. Trashing the evidentiary reasoning process on ANY subject would be just as alarming and offensive – it just so happens that evolution is the most oft-trashed.

#7 Comment By Franklin Evans On June 28, 2012 @ 9:30 am

Edward, the “sides” you claim deserve equal time are simply and irredemably non sequitur. The conflict between science and faith is wholly on the faith side. Scientists will bloviate about it, the Dawkins/Hitchens crowd being their avatars, and I will join you in chastising them for their rhetoric. In the end, there is only one true statement: Science has nothing to say about faith qua faith, and faith has no place in science.

My mind boggles at the cognitive disconnect perpetrated by the anti-evolution faith crowd. Why must they impose faith outside of its logical boundaries? Why is it so important to acknowledge God in science? The obvious answer about some of them is that their spiritual lives are driven by the need to proselytize everywhere, to fortify the faith of believers and convert non-believers. That has nothing to do with science, and that is why we’ve had the Constitutional arguments about separation for so long.

You need look no further than the Catholic/Protestant war of the early 20th century fought in classrooms. Immigrant Catholics put their children into free public schools, and pulled them out because Protestant proselytizing was rampant. It did not end until mandatory prayer was finally prohibited. There is your perfect example of why religion must not be in public schools.

#8 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On June 28, 2012 @ 11:06 am

Loudon is a Fool, maybe it’s just since the mapping of organism genomes, but it is my understanding that the origins stuff is not soft science. Eukaryotic cells contain complete prokaryotic cells (e.g. mitochondria) which contain their own DNA. Mapping the mitochondria genome showed a resemblance to the rickettsia (a free living prokaryote) that enters eukaryotic cells to parasitize them. This provided evidence for the origin of eukaryotes from prokaryotes via endosymbiosis. The nucleus of eukaryotic cells is hypothesized to be a complete prokaryotic cell engulfed by another prokaryote, but I don’t know if they have genetic evidence for that yet.

In this case of genetics the mapping of junk DNA has been instructive. Sometimes it really is junk, but other times it contains complete but inactive genes. These genes are subject to mutation, but since they are inactive the organism doesn’t have a penalty or benefit. By lining up mutations in pseudogenes they’ve been able to map the interrelations between species much better than previous studies based on comparative anatomy.

Disclaimer: I majored in science, but not biology. I’ve just kept reading on current developments in the field.

#9 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 28, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

The foundations of evolutionary biology are all laid out in the first two chapters of Genesis. Its just that human knowledge wasn’t up to recognizing what God was talking about until the last couple of centuries.

Ken Hamm of AIG fame wrote a plaintive book about how children raised in good Christian homes (and schools) go to college, learn about evolution, and lose their faith. That is only natural. They have been taught all their lives that evolution and the Holy Bible are in direct and irreconcilable contradiction. When they learn that there is a mountain of evidence compiled over 200 years by thousands of people, all over the world, for evolutionary biology, they have little choice but to abandon their faith.

If only they had been taught that, in the immortal words of Galileo, the natural world and the Word of God cannot be in contradiction with each other.

#10 Comment By Peterk On June 28, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

The District of Columbia spends $29,000 per student.imagine if the parents got even 1/2 of that as a voucher

#11 Comment By Gene Callahan On June 29, 2012 @ 4:25 am

@Mike Stroud: “Vouchers have been the subject of endless debate for years now, but the origin of the idea was in the last-ditch effort Southern segregationist politicians made to aid white parents wanting to keep their kids out of integrating schools.”

This is one of the 100%-made-up facts, huh Mike?

From Wikipedia:

“The oldest continuing school voucher programs existing today in the United States are the Town Tuitioning programs in Vermont and Maine, beginning in 1869 and 1873 respectively. Because some towns in these states operate neither local high schools nor elementary schools, students in these towns “are eligible for a voucher to attend [either] public schools in other towns or non-religious private schools. In these cases, the ‘sending’ towns pay tuition directly to the ‘receiving’ schools.”

“A system of educational vouchers was introduced in the Netherlands in 1917. Today, more than 70% of pupils attend privately run but publicly funded schools, mostly split along denominational lines.

“Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman argued for the modern concept of vouchers in the 1950s…”