Vouchering to Gomorrah


Libertarian-bent lawyer Tim Sandefur posts this note at Panda’s Thumb:

Neal McCulskey of the Cato Institute and Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect have a debate going over whether school choice programs would help resolve the evolution/creationism controversy. Here’s McCulskey’s first post, Yglesias’ reply, and McCulskey’s rebuttal.

Vouchers. Parental choice is an issue across the curriculum, but it is especially poignant in sex education, biology, and history. In those three areas there are national movements to direct curricula, some of the movements in each area based on a great deal of misinformation and disinformation.


McCulskey’s first post suggests that the two sides in the science vs. creationism dispute simply “want their beliefs and morals respected.” This from the CATO Institute? Well, CATO is more respective of differing views; but most on the pro-voucher, right-wing side of this discussion or any other regularly suggest the views of the opposition are not worthy of consideration. Not tolerating fools lightly generally marks conservative heroes. I suppose the issue for McCulskey is fuzzed up a bit — it appears he thinks the creationist side perfectly rational. Having monitored that particular debate for three decades, I view it differently. Now with more than nine court cases decided, in federal and state courts and the Supreme Court, it is clear that there is no scientific basis for creationism, nor for its modern daughter, intelligent design.

McCulskey’s call for “respect” for parents’ wishes to teach their kids and other kids pseudo-science is out of place. The drive to get evolution out of biology is driven by a view that truth as viewed by the parents who oppose evolution is every bit as valid as reality, though evidence supporting the view runs the gamut from non-existent through bogus, to extremely weak.

Once upon a time in America, American parents held a firm consensus on the value of education. In a distinct departure from European tradition, Americans viewed education as a path to a better life. Learning to read, learning mathematics, learning history, geography and literature, was a ticket to a better life. Even on the frontier, or especially on the frontier, knowledge meant survival. In the drive to populate the swath of the North America that would be the United States, knowledge of science and crops was essential — it is useful to remember that the Great Plains were considered unusable desert until the invention of a plow that could break up the sod to cultivate food crops in place of the wild prairie. One of the big issues for new settlements was where to find teachers, the issue of whether there would be education having been assumed by law and culture.

The consensus in favor of mass education began to break down even before compulsory education took hold, in the 1930s. The trial of John Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925 was an early indicator. The Cold War struggle to impose prayers, Bible readings and other signs of religion, by law, indicated the breakdown of the consensus was underway. Angst over a perceived moral crisis in post-birth control pill sexual revolution illustrated the spread of the problem.

Consensus still exists that kids should know how to read; the problems come in considering what they read. One group fears what children will do if they learn what scientists know about how life diversifies; one group fears what children will do if they know the full story of human sex and procreation, and how to prevent procreation; one group fears that children get the wrong ideas about history.

There is irony that our nation spent so much of the 20th century combating the ill-effects of propaganda by foreign nations, propaganda which poisoned discussion in culture, politics and economics. Having won a couple of the bigger skirmishes, the World Wars and the Cold War, many who opposed propaganda then, propose propaganda now.

McCulskey urges that we let the propagandists off the hook, let them take their “share” of the education money, and go teach what they want to their own children. It’s not an entirely harmless proposition, at least to those of us who think education matters. Science matters, for public and personal health reasons, for one. History matters, as we can see from the continuing struggles for civil rights and human rights.

It seems to me it is important that we achieve a consensus again, and that the consensus be tilted in favor of more accurate information, not less. We have standards of weighing the value and accuracy of information, in science, in history and social policy, and in law. We need to get a consensus on using those tools of reason to promote our teaching our children how to reason.

One thing we know from our brief history as the United States. The moral issues do not get easier the more we know. To function as a free, democratic republic, and as a free society, we need good information, and our kids need that information and the reasoning tools to use it to make good policy.

McCluskey wrote:

Clearly, when it comes to countless disputes in education, what is truly right or truly wrong is very difficult to know. With that in mind, we must answer the question: Is it better that government impose one idea of what’s right on all children, or that parents be able to seek freely what they think is right for their own kids?

He may not note the irony — it’s not the government which urges “one” idea. Nor would we think of allowing such parental choice in all areas. A parent who pulls his kid out of world geography because he thinks the world is flat skirts the limits of abuse by disinformation. (When people get concussions, we ask them questions about time, place and politics to see whether their brains are functioning well; McCulskey is, in essence, saying there are no “correct” answers to such questions; a response that we live ‘in a fifth dimension’ and that the president is Al Gore, while supportable under some logical twists, would earn a head injury patient at least another night in the hospital.) A parent who calls algebra “a tool of the devil” doesn’t get much say in whether his kid takes algebra. A parent who thinks creationism is good science should have no difficulty with his kid learning the contrary, if he is indeed committed to a fair and complete exploration of the issues that relate to whether it is good science or not. That consensus is more important.

Urging vouchers in order to let parents pick their brand of propaganda hurts our ability to achieve consensus on what citizens need to know. Vouchers should not be promoted to avoid a fight on what is important to know. It’s a necessary fight, and a constant struggle. Delaying decisions is unlikely to make them easier.

14 Responses to Vouchering to Gomorrah

  1. steven says:

    I have both sides perfectly straight. I don’t argue that creationists are not trying to use the law to force their view on other people. They most certainly are, and, thankfully, they are being rebuffed by the courts. I argue that you are doing the same thing.

    Keep the argument straight!

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  2. Ed Darrell says:

    No, that’s exactly the opposite of the current situation. It is the creationists who ask to meddle in the lives of other people. They are the ones who, more than 100 times since 1925, have asked laws to ban or dilute evolution in schools. The only person ever jailed for teaching in the area was John T. Scopes. It has never been illegal to teach creationism, per se — only illegal to teach religious dogma that lacks the backing of science, as science.

    Since they cannot convince anyone of the veracity of their claims, creationists use law to force on other people their views.

    Keep the sides straight!

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  3. steven says:

    To call it an odd form of child abuse is basically an excuse to meddle in the lives of other people, in an effort to force on other people what you can’t convince them to do by voluntary means.

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    While I think it’s an odd form of child abuse to teach falsehoods and baloney to kids, I don’t disagree with the right of a parent to teach creationism to the parent’s own kids on the parent’s own time.

    The only time I get concerned is when creationists insist that my kids have to be dumbed down, too. They don’t have that right. They don’t have the right to insist that public schools teach crank science, either.

    Their right to teach their own kids false stuff ends at their door.

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  5. steven says:

    I know – pursuit, not persuit. Spelling was never my best subject.

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  6. steven says:

    Ed, I just have to ask you this question. How do your comments square with the idea that we all have the right to life, liberty and the persuit of happiness? If some people want to wallow in ignorance (by teaching their children creationism instead of science) than why should you or anyone else have the right to stop them?

    DavidD – according the our Declaration of Independence these rights come from our creator (could be god, could be nature), not from our neighbors and fellow voters.

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  7. steven says:

    To quote Thomas Jefferson: “–a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government,–.”

    That is my philosophy on the proper role of government. David and Ed obviously differ.

    By the way, gentlemen, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that school vouchers do not violate the establishment clause of the Constitution. This was in regard to the Cleveland voucher program. So, David, you have been outvoted. From what you wrote above, that must make it right.

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Educational freedom? No teacher should have the freedom to teach failed ideas and disproven hypotheses as current and accurate. That’s not freedom — at best it’s license, at worst it’s tyranny.

    Only teachers of evolution have ever done time in jail for teaching it. There is no law against teaching creationism, though there have been a couple of dozen laws against teaching evolution or requiring that it be watered down. More than 100 times since 1925, state legislatures have entertained proposals to censor science in the teaching of evolution, and only once — last year, after the Dover trial — has anyone ever proposed a law against creationism. That law was killed by the scientists, who noted that it would restrict freedom.

    So on the freedom side of the scale, it has been scientists who have stood — with the ghost of Galileo — for freedom, for freedom of thought, for freedom in teaching, for hundreds of years.

    The only think necessary to get creationism into the schools is for creationists to go to the lab and do the research that produces real support for it. Since the first modern evolution trial, in 1967, creationists have steadfastly refused to do the research to back their claims.

    If there is no science to back it, it would be a travesty to treat it as science. Michael Behe, the closest thing to a real working scientist intelligent design has, noted under oath at the Dover trial that to expand the definition of science to allow creationism into schools also expands the defintion to allow in astrology. There is a clue there for creationists, though we can only hope they might take it.

    If Christians wish to send their kids to Christian schools, let them. Don’t think that they’ll get creationism in the good ones. No Christian university of any note teaches creationism today — it’s failed science, and it would be immoral for Christians to teach it as science. The better Christian schools at the secondary and elementary level understand that. In the meantime, public education is not designed to coddle religious whim and caprice, but is instead designed to produce thinking citizens who can make democracy work. Democracy requires good information — creationism fails that simple test.

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  9. DavidD says:

    “without individual freedom there can be no real science.”

    I love this comment. What a great slogan it could be. Who cares what it means? It has such a ring to it. Of course it may not take much individual freedom for there to be real science. Whatever that amount is, there’s always been much more than that where I’ve lived. So that makes it a moot point, right?

    As badly as scientists have done in teaching evolution to evangelical Christians, so have parents done sometime. So the government has standards for the care of children in many areas, vaccinations, that a child not be parented with abuse or neglect, as well as educational standards. The government has the right to do that for the welfare of the community and for the welfare of the child, a right the people have given government constitutionally and through their periodic votes. Those who try to push creationist ideas in the schools have the right to do that through their state constitutions, unless those constitutions prevent it due to religion. The federal Constitution prevents such establishment of religion, so the current attempts by creationists to be in schools seem doomed to fail forever, even though they do come to power sometimes.

    The issue is not whether Christians can send their children to Christian schools. They can, but they want me to pay for it. No, I vote against that. Someday I may get outvoted, but not yet where I am. The government doesn’t have Medicaid pay for abortions that some would object to paying for. Why should I have to pay for schooling I disagree with? If the people or their representatives vote for me to pay for it I will. They have that right without asking me for my individual consent. So it is for Christians having to pay their share for public schools even if they send their kids to private school. People as a whole have decided to do it that way. It’s a reality of life, as real as the tyranny of breathing, even though it’s cultural instead of biological in origin. It may be might makes right in the end, but it’s not that there’s no right.

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  10. steven says:

    How about educational freedom? One problem with educational standards that everyone is required to follow is that you don’t always know who is going to be setting those standards. How would you feel if the creationists/intelligent design advocates gained enough political power to impose their standards on all of us? Do you think that this could never happen?

    You say that you don’t trust one size fits all government such as that advocated by most creationists and the intelligent design advocates. But you seem to favor one size fits all government as advocated by those who agree with you. I don’t see any difference between your philosophy and that of the religious right in regard to what the government has the right to impose on its citizens “for their own good”.

    As far as evolution vs creationism/intelligent design, I accept the evidence that scientists have gathered so far that supports evolution, and that is what I want my children to be taught. Evolution is science and creationism/intelligent design is not science. But we don’t have the right to force science on someone who doesn’t want it just because we think that it would be good for them. That is what you are advocating.

    Under a system of educational freedom those, like me, who want their children to be taught real science would send them to a school that taught evolution. Those who wanted their children to be taught fake science would send them to a school that taught intelligent design (or whatever they called it). Scientists have always been free to use voluntary persuasion in order to convince us that evolution is real, and they have been doing a damn poor job of it, according to statistics that show almost 50% of Americans basically believe in the story of creation as told in the christian bible. Perhaps that is where your efforts would really do some good.

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  11. edarrell says:

    The only reason no one is forcing creationism on anybody else is that the scientists got the courts to intervene to protect individual freedom, religious freedom, and educational standards.

    No, I don’t trust “one-size-fits-all” government such as that advocated by most creationists and the intelligent design advocates. I don’t even trust the “two-sizes-ought-to-cover-everybody” compromises they sometimes pull. They are, after all, selling the emperor’s new clothes.

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  12. steven says:

    You say that McCulskey appears to think the creationism side is rational. Why the hell should that matter? That’s not even what the argument is about. So long as nobody is forcing creationism on anybody else then what is your problem?

    I have a question for you: What matters more, individual freedom or science? My answer to this would be that, while they are both extremely important to a civilized society, without individual freedom there can be no real science.

    Do you really trust a one size fits all government solution to produce an education system that will serve the needs of all individuals? That’s the problem, and I think that Mr. McCulskey hits the nail right on the head.

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  13. […] Mark Olson is a veteran blogger on issues of concern to conservatives and to Christians, at Pseudo-Polymath. He’s responded to my earlier post on vouchers. Marks calls it ‘a bit of a quibble.’ […]

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  14. […] At Milard Fillmores Bathtub, Ed Darrell, points out a short exchange between Neal McCulskey and Matthew Yglesias on vouchers (Mr Darrell has links to both) and then goes on to make his own points on the matter. I’m going to quibble a bit. Mr Darrell writes Once upon a time in America, American parents held a firm consensus on the value of education. […]

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