My friend Eric Schansberg
has written a brief defense
of school vouchers at his blog. Eric is a Christian libertarian and an economist by training. (He also has a great blog
you should check out and has written three books
I highly commend.) As with many libertarian and conservative supporters of vouchers, Eric believes a voucher program would protect the religious freedom of parents and students, result in taxpayer savings, and ultimately improve educational services by breaking the monopoly of state schools.
Is it true? What are we to think of vouchers?
In the early 20th century, the socialist Fabian Society came out strongly in favor of state subsidies for Christian schools in England. After passage of the Education Act of 1902, Graham Wallas resigned from the board in protest, believing that the society had forfeited its progressive principles by supporting legislation which subsidized denominational schools.
George Bernard Shaw rebuked Wallas saying, "Nothing will more quickly destroy independent Christian schools than state aid: their freedom and independence will soon be compromised, and before long their faith."
Writing later, Shaw let the cat out of the bag. His support for state-financed private and religious education was little more than a ploy to undermine family authority:
In the case of young children, we have gone far in our interference with the old Roman rights of parents. For nine mortal years the child is taken out of its parents hands for most of the day, and thus made a State school's child instead of a private family child…to put it quite frankly and flatly, the Socialist State, as far as I can guess, will teach the child the multiplication table, but will not only not teach it the Church Catechism, but if the State teachers find that the child's parents have been teaching it the Catechism otherwise than as a curious historical document, the parents will be warned that if they persist the child will be taken out of their hands and handed over to the Lord Chancellor, exactly as the children of Shelley were when their maternal grandfather denounced his son-in-law as an atheist.
As night follows day, state aid will lead to state domination. A variety of legal precedents make clear that even a remote cause could vindicate statist controls. For example, universities are subject to Title IX "anti-discrimination" statues if any of their students so much as take financial aid. Remember, too, that not so long ago the federal government asserted control over restaurants because salt in the salt shaker was considered part of interstate commerce.
Allowing the camel's nose into the tent via a voucher program would ultimately yield to the state complete power over curriculum decisions and matters of accreditation. But who is appointed to accredit a Christian school? Is this legitimately the realm of the state? No, the state is a ministry of justice (Rom. 13:1-4). It is God's Word that is the standard of certification, and the state usurps God's prerogative when it claims the right of accreditation.
As a practical matter, would vouchers decrease the cost of education by making services more efficient? Have Medicare and Medicaid decreased the cost of health care? Have Pell Grants, the GI Bill and other forms of federal aid decreased the cost of a college education?
Similarly, it is likely that vouchers would increase the cost of private education. Dumping money willy nilly into schools that by and large operate frugally and efficiently compared to government schools is simply a recipe for educational inflation.
Finally, there is a question as to whether vouchers work. Educational writer Jay Matthews recently
So there were no educational gains. The only accomplishment educationally from housing vouchers was the moving of discipline problems from one school to another.
Matthews fails to note that educational success is primarily connected to innate intelligence, which the Education Department can't do much about just yet, and a stable family life, which helps to instill the virtues of hard-work and discipline while attaching value to the importance of education.
The bigger problem I have is that my reading of Scripture effectively precludes state-sponsored and financed schools and primarily leaves education in the hands of the family. Education must be as to the Lord, and if either church or state are primarily responsible to provide education they will still instill fealty and subjugation to an institution rather than God. (As an aside, I have no opposition to Christian schools, but would argue that they should be separate from ecclesiastical control. In other words they should be extensions of the family, not the church.)
In "The Messianic Character of American Education," Rushdoony put it this way: "Wherever church or state have claimed a prior, or any, jurisdiction over every other sphere of human activity or institution, there has been, with the realization of their claim, a steady diminution of liberty and the substitution of bureaucracy for law. The emancipation of education from ecclesiastical control was thus a major advance in liberal education, but a truly liberal education must also be free of the state, from its support or control."
God has made parents stewards of children, to mold and shape. Our children, says the Psalmist, “are a heritage from the Lord,” indeed, “the fruit of the womb is a reward.” We are called to elicit from our children those things that are pleasing to God. Ultimately, they belong to Him, and that is why Christian education is imperative. The goal then of education for the Christian is to glorify God and to free man. Freedom is ultimately only found in Christ, thus education must place Him at the center of all things.
Ultimately, we desire that our children become Christians and that the Holy Spirit uses our efforts toward that end. At the same time, we do not see that ALONE as the goal of “Christian” education, for “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy" (Col. 1:15-18).
Education must be Chistocentric, for in the falling rain and the rotation of the earth we see the power and supremacy of God. In the beauty of a Shakespearean sonnet or a Bach concerto we glimpse God’s glory. In the narrative of history we take note of the merciful providence of God. In mathematics we see the order of God. In government we glimpse the justice of God. So our duty is to ensure that our children are not taken captive "through hollow and deceptive philosophy," but that they learn to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (Col. 2:8, I Cor. 10:5).
I say again, God has placed education in the hands of the family primarily, not the state or the church. I recall Doug Wilson once saying, and I’m paraphrasing, that "We are responsible for what our children learn, whether we teach it to them or not." Reading through Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 I am always struck by the fact that I am responsible for what my children are taught. That by no means implies that I must teach them everything. However, should I choose to delegate certain things to the church or school, I am still ultimately responsible.
All of life, including education, has an inescapably religious and ethical component. For the Christian, divine revelation is our authoritative source, and from Scripture we learn that education must be theocentric, with the glory of God being the ultimate objective. Therefore, education that is either statist (advancing the interests of the state) or ecclesiocentric (advancing the cause of the church) is problematic. Education must ultimately be under the authority of parents, acting as God’s trustees on behalf of their children.
Would vouchers ultimately strengthen families by providing money to them directly and enhancing the educational choices and opportunities for their children? I think more likely the consequence would be the further leveling of all educational alternatives, leaving fewer choices for Christian parents.