Privitization of Schools: What Faith Are You Funding?

chuch collection plate“…I think privatization and choice programs will grow massively at the state level.  We’ll have poor schools with declining budgets for the poor inner-city kids and rural kids, largely made up of kids of color and poor whites, and we’ll have the relatively affluent schools in other areas.”  Michael Apple, 1998

It has been blindingly obvious that the private schools most ready, willing and able to accept vouchers for student transfers out of public schools, have been parochial, or if you prefer, religious institutions.  It seems apt to call this the “Lighthouse” strategy here in Indiana.

In the HT today education reporter Bethany Nolan demonstrates this fact.  It has been demonstrated ad nauseum though since the program hit the marketing circuit.

Nolan notes a pending lawsuit brought against the program:

The lawsuit argues most of the 352 private schools whose students are eligible for vouchers are affiliated with churches or other religious institutions. It also said the Indiana Constitution directs the General Assembly to educate children through a “general and uniform system of Common Schools.”

This, as noted, was an obvious circumstance of the voucher law.  So obvious in fact that one must consider it as part of an intentional strategy

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But what seems a clear issue is that this is at the very least an example of the state funding religious organizations.  These organizations (aside from escaping taxation) provide limited and narrow economic benefits for a minority population and escape accountability that is provided by governmental oversight.  One might also note how as a citizen I am free to attend School Board meetings (meetings that are required and proceedings that are required to be available to citizens).

There is of course the economic promotion of “religious favoritism” to note as well.  Nolan details the cost of attending St. Charles Catholic School:

Located on the city’s east side, the K-8 school has about 440 students. Annual tuition is $5,800 for non-Catholic families and $3,900 for Catholic families, whose costs are subsidized by the church.

Join and get a price break!–like a Sam’s Club for religious instruction.

“St. Charles principal Alec Mayer said accepting vouchers enables the school to further its educational mission, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.”

Interesting contention–I would read this as saying, “we don’t extend our proselytizing reach to our poor families (do they have any poor families?) because they can’t afford a Christ-centered education”.  Wherefore is the charitable hand?  I would think you’d want to educate children free of charge in the ways of your faith.

As an irreligious man (the dictionary kindly lists “heathen” and “sinful” as a synonyms for this word!) I see this as a clear discrimination on economic grounds alone.  You see, even with the voucher, tuition might be out of reach. In other words, it’s still a “private” and exclusive education.  And I would reiterate that a religious education should be “free” to all comers.  The church and its members who want to spread the “Word” surely should be the ones to pay the tab for their mission.  But a religious education is not the equivalent of a secular education.

And what is that mission that the Indiana legislature and Governor has permitted to be called “choice” as an alternative to a “common” public education?  Let’s look.  This is from the Church’s “school” Philosophy:

Students who complete the St. Charles program are expected to reach their full potential and to be knowledgeable, healthy, and faith-filled children who will grow into responsible, compassionate, and faithful adult followers of Christ, prepared to pass on our Catholic traditions and heritage to future generations.

Here too is the “pledge” the students take, in conjunction with their national indoctrination pledge:

Today I promise to keep Jesus:

in my mind †
on my lips †
and in my heart †

I promise to always do my best and
to treat everyone with respect and kindness.

I promise to take good care of everything
God has given me and to have the courage
to always do what Jesus wants me to do.

Today I promise to live what
St. Charles School teaches. 

Frankly, I would prefer funding the Father over the Son, and I’m a little stingy when it comes to dropping coin for the mysterious third musketeer of the Trinity.

Will there be an I-Step section for Jesus questions?  If we want “common” ground perhaps we should also add an I-Step section on religion to be administered to the ACTUAL public school students.

I jest, angrily though.

A true education concerning religious institutions and their doctrines (which I would encourage) would never have the idea of teaching “faith” incorporated into it.  As the church proclaims, as the Right Wing Foundations proclaim, the family is the only place for teachings of religious faith.  A religious state is a fundamentalist state.  A fundamentalist state is one in which one faith is privileged and promoted and enforced as a method of control.  A fundamentalist state is a totalitarian state.  Religions are “totalitarian” hierarchies.  But then again so are corporations.  And come to think of it, school systems might be characterized this way, especially those that announce public discussion for issues already decided.

And so you see why this makes very good sense to the ruling Oligarchy.  Churches and schools are the best places to indoctrinate our children into authoritarian and corporate ideology.  This is why our current “leaders” are promoting this.  And this is exactly what Jefferson feared.

But further, we appear to be reversing the stated goals of Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive Party: “To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” A fundamentalism is in all ways a regressive formulation; a retrogression to an idealized (narrow and exclusionary) past.

I think it’s well past time to be very, very worried.

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  1. David Weigand August 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I certainly have reservations about – if not definitely against – school vouchers. But I continue to be amazed at the practices and policies that are put into effect with the public school system that fly in the face of well-established, documented research (e.g. starting school earlier … come on!) It seems to me that all the “school reform” with the public school system is merely tweaks to a poor design. This comment is made with all due respect to public school teachers – most of whom work extremely hard for the benefit of our children. In short, as much as I oppose many of the changes supported by our state superintendent and governor, these changes have sparked a lot of discussion over education, and I think this is sorely needed if it ultimately leads to an overhaul of public education. In my opinion, the design of public education needs to be seriously challenged, and that’s finally happening, with school vouchers being just one example.

    1. Doug August 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      Hey, David,

      Well, what is school failing at specifically? Testing, it has been said, is simply a means to cry “fail” as a first step in politically motivated “change”

      States that consciously choose to send public funds to religious institutions are making a particular statement though I can’t be in any way certain what it is.

      One thing we might note is that “Religion” is an “Individual” “Choice” and so we could say targeting that group for a “push” into a “free market” ideology makes very cynical sense. More to come on that!

      But honestly, we first probably simply ought to be honest…why do we have schools and what do we expect of them and do these things have anything to do with “learning” as an “enlightenment” idea? Should it?

      1. David Weigand August 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm

        My concern over what I believe to be shortcomings of a public education (and most other forms of education for that matter – religious or otherwise) do not lead me to support the politically conservative “changes” that we so often hear about – stricter standards, standardized testing, giving “grades” to schools, longer days, etc. To the contrary, I wish that the powers that be in public education would take a look at what works well in private schools (and not everything does!) and try to implement these things in the public schools. What comes to mind is the Montessori approach. Our daughter attended preschool at Montessori and though we had no intention of her attending 1st grade at Montessori (which she’ll be doing this fall), she loved her preschool experience and we made the decision based on the thinking that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Anyway, based on the limited research that I’ve done, children who receive a Montessori education tend to be more inquisitive, more intrinsically motivated, better problem-solvers, more interested in learning, etc. than children who receive a more traditional education. This begs the question … Are children who receive a Montessori education predisposed to be more of all the good things listed above because of factors unrelated to the approach (e.g. the quality of parenting, economic status)? To be certain, that’s probably a factor, but Montessori schools that serve predominantly poor children with less than ideal home lives tend to have a high level of success. My question … Why don’t the public schools consider using a Montessori approach? Some districts throughout the country have gone to a Montessori approach, so it’s certainly doable. Does MCCSC even consider it? To the best of my knowledge the answer to that question is a resounding “No!” Why?!

        Other things … Research has proven over and over and over again that sleep (or lack thereof) is directly related to academic success. The more sleep students get the better they perform. So, what does MCCSC decide to to? Start the day earlier! Doesn’t make any sense to me, particularly for teenagers who experience biological changes that lead to later bedtimes and a desire to sleep in.

        And the overuse of praise by our school teachers! Don’t get me started on this one. Research has clearly demonstrated that praise – in general – is detrimental to a child’s development, but have I met a teacher in the public schools that isn’t mindlessly praising children all the time. Not yet. (My daughter’s Montessori teachers don’t praise the students and I’m so happy about that!)
        By the way, I’m a huge fan of Alfie Kohn. Have you read any of his stuff?

        Another thing … Grades have been shown to be counter-productive to learning. There are viable alternatives to giving grades that facilitate learning. So, why do we give grades?! I have no clue.

        Anyway, these are a few of the things that I’d like our public schools to at least discuss. I envision a public school system that doesn’t use grades, doesn’t offer awards (e.g. praise), etc.

        Is it possible?


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