Re: the right to purse excellence

Cathy Pauline Lachapelle (aelin@leland.Stanford.EDU)
Thu, 1 May 1997 22:43:29 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 30 Apr 1997, Deborah Bartle wrote:

> Cathy Pauline Lachapelle wrote:
> > Vouchers make a lot of sense in a very straightforward way. Finally,
> > money can be distributed more fairly
> This idea is nothing more than 'Socialism', really. When was it
> determined that the redistribution of wealth was required to
> 'educate' people equally? In what, the last 25 years, more money
> hasn't solved any problems.

On the other hand, money makes a big difference --don't let anyone tell
you it doesn't. I live on campus with my family, and our school district
is the extremely wealthy town next door. They spend much more that the
state average on schools -- and what do they get? THe most creative
interesting teachers (paid for high wages). Excellent supplies, including
multiple computers in every classroom, technical support, and so on. A
variety of types of schools to satisfy a range of parental preferences.
Good physical plant. Big playgrounds (my son's school has a farm).
Low teacher-student ratios, with aides in all of the elementary school
classrooms. I've worked in lots of school districts --
including very urban ones -- and these things make a *very* big difference
(particularly the professionalism of well-paid, well-respected teachers).

So what's wrong with socialism, any more than with republicanism? (or
oligarchy, which may be a more apt description of our system)

> > --What about poor kids living in the middle of cities -- how will they get
> > to good schools, if their parents can't get them there?
> These are the folks who suffer the most from the current system because
> it is assumed that these poorer people are unable to educate themselves,
> and someone else must take charge to provide for them which results in
> disempowerment. Just because families are poor does not mean that they
> are incapable.

Who says that the poor are incapable? They work long hours for low wages,
may not have a car or the time to get their kids far from their own
workplace. When I was a student teacher in an urban alternative school,
we worried a lot about the working-class and poor kids. I met their
parents. They were doing all they could, trying to do the best for their
kids. But so many poor children have just one parent, are barely staying
housed and fed... Are we to assume that good schools are going to
magically spring up where there were none before, given vouchers? My view
is that, if we are to try out a voucher system, we would need to *ensure*
that they do.

> > --What about places where the schools are in bad condition, or have some
> > other reason they can't attract students? Will they rot away because no
> > one has money to invest in them? How could a school with failing systems
> > and poor materials keep up and catch up with schools that start out better
> > off? What about the kids (probably poor local kids) who get stuck going
> > to these dying schools?
> I think that if the community was responsible for educating it's own
> and not compelled to tow the line, that the their creativity would
> have no bounds.
Many urban school districts have 100-year-old physical plants. It is
*extremely* expensive to build in the city. Not only that, but many urban
schools need to deal with violence. These schools take more money to run
them, and would need a large amount of capital to rebuild. On a voucher
system, where would that investment come from? Again, this is something
we need to think about and plan for. The "bounds" of creativity can be
monetary. And I've just talked about the physical problems -- what about
the difficult, expensive process of pulling together a school where staff
and principal and administration are demoralized, maybe older, not knowing
what to do with an increasingly troubled school population? Turning a
troubled school into a school community of staff and teachers doesn't
happen by magic. It takes time and sweat and diplomacy and vision, and
yes, money.

> > --What about our tendency as people to be insular? Will we end up with
> > White schools, Black schools, rich-kid schools, poor-kid schools,
> > Christian schools, Muslim schools, (...)? How are we as a people going to
> > deal with learning to live together if we don't see each other in schools?
> I just havn't seen where government compulsory multicultualism is
> the only answer.

Who says compulsory multiculturalism? Just getting kids and parents and
teachers from different social classes, religions, and ethnic groups to
work together can be an enriching (or a conflictual) experience. I
suppose there's nothing inherently evil about people sticking with their
own groups, and acting as a unit. But my own ideal is a democracy where
people have an understanding and tolerance of others, and social
psychology has amply demonstrated that understanding and tolerance tend to
follow when people develop relationships with each other as people,
crossing racial and gender and social caste lines. It doesn't often
happen now in schools, but it happens some. Will it happen with a voucher
system? Switching from a communal system to a market system, I tend to
worry that it won't unless we as a people decide to encourage it, (though
I must say I can't think of any way that I would endorse that I think
would work.)

I guess I can sum up my opinion about vouchers like this: vouchers are
NOT a panacea. Just as the current system has its potentials and its
pitfalls, a voucher system would as well. Now, it may be a big help to
public schools just to have a change-- I would not deny that public
schools as a rule are a mess of an institution. I think I would like to
try using vouchers as a sort of "electric shock therapy" -- but not before
thinking carefully about what "we, the people" value in education, and
taking steps to safeguard those things. (I always did prefer a rational