The Ghost of Halloween Past
When I hear about George W. Bush's plans to replace adequate funding of public schools with vouchers to private schools, I think about a sad day back in my own childhood: the day good old-fashioned Halloween was sullied by conservative hysteria. Those of you who were kids back in the 80s may remember all the hype about Halloween going around at the time. Stories were being spread about people trying to kill children all over the country by poisoning their candy or hiding pins and razor blades in the apples. News reports started suggesting that parents should assume that someone in their neighborhood was a Halloween kid killer. All candy must be checked, we were told. Parents must accompany their children at all times! Better yet, entire families were told that they should attend church-led Harvest Festivals instead of celebrating Halloween!
Well, pooh. None of my neighbors stuck needles in my peanut butter cups. None of my caramels were laced with cyanide. The whole thing was little more than a big hoax, designed by conservative Christians to reduce participation in the non-Christian Halloween holiday and increase church attendance.
Times have changed, but times have not changed. Now the conservative Christians are at it again, trying to scare the American public into abandoning another fine tradition in favor of renewed church attendance. Their leader and Defender of the Faith King George has established an official federal government office of "faith-based action" (translation: evangelism). One of the most powerful weapons this office will wield is the school voucher.
The whole argument Bush's royal regents give in favor of publicly-funded private school vouchers is that public schools aren't working. Bush himself complains that everyone deserves a fair chance at a good education and that public schools just aren't good enough. His administration's solution is to strip federal and state funding away from public schools and give it to private schools instead.
Apples and Oranges For the Teacher
To claim that all public school systems are effective would be foolish. However, they're certainly better than the alternative: nothing. Bush's arguments are all based upon the assumption that private schools on average give a better education than public schools. There's no good evidence to show that that's the case, and there's significant reason to believe that private schools are actually less able to educate than public schools.
First of all, private schools pay their teachers terribly low wages, attracting either ideologues who retreat from mainstream academic positions or people who regard teaching as an extra job to supplement to their spouses' income. Neither attitude shows much respect for high academic standards. Some good dedicated private school teachers exist, but they are in the minority.
Second, private schools are not required to meet most of the standards that public schools attain every year. Private schools are allowed to maintain outdated curricula and classroom materials. Private school teachers are often not required to have achieved basic standards for educational achievement. Private schools don't have to take many of the standardized tests that public schools do. In fact, George W. Bush wants to require more tests for public schools while exempting publicly-funded private schools from the same requirement -- an unfair double standard that would achieve nothing but to cover-up the lack of rigor widespread in many private school systems. Worst of all, private schools in general are infamous for the role they play in the everyday perpetuation of discrimination based on class, gender, race and religion. The fact is that most of the church-run private schools in the South were set up the morning after the court-ordered racial desegregation rulings of the 1960s as havens for white families who didn't want their children to be forced to share with black children. Are these really the kinds of institutions that the federal government should be supporting?
Waging a Culture War With Our Children
Bush and his cronies talk as if they're interested in giving opportunity to poor children, but let's be honest for a moment: Republicans have never been famous for sticking up for the poor, and George W. Bush honors that tradition proudly. The voucher plan of the Bush administration doesn't have a thing to do with the economic or educational interests of poor and middle-class children. Rather, it's a greedy grab for power on the behalf of the rich and the religiously self-righteous.
Bush's reactionary conservatives are less concerned about the needs of poor children than they are about the fact that children are given the chance to learn about biological evolution and natural selection in public schools. They're less concerned about school choice than sex education. His right-wing allies want to destroy public schools because they want to replace library books with Bibles and rulers with rods.
Even more despicably, Bush's constituents want to make a profit from the destruction that vouchers will bring. The rich families that already send their children to private schools will get a discount on the education of their kids, courtesy of millions of dollars of public funds channelled into schools that previously operated without government support. Private schools will become for-profit industries in which children are forced through commercial-rich, mass-produced product lines in which learning will matter less than the bottom line. In the private schools that Bush wants to support, genuine, academically-rigorous education will matter less than what sells.
Funny how a President best known for his weak, illiterate, and academically-disinterested mind thinks he can tell the American public how to run its schools. Education is best started at home. If King George the Second bothered to read a copy of the Constitution and its amendments he might finally learn about the separation of Church and State and Civil Rights.
In the meantime, the subjects of King George don't have to take his ill-educated plans sitting down. We can stop the destruction of the flawed but essential guarantee of public education available to all by loudly protesting his attempts to push educational voucher programs through the U.S. Congress. We can also keep ourselves educated about all of our new king's efforts to wage his conservative culture war with taxpayer money. After all, a little book learning never did anyone any harm.
Spooky Spectres from the Presidential playground of King George The Second can also be found at the official website of The Ribald Reign of King George the Second.
Absurd times call for Absurd poetry. Check out Bush Haiku.
These aren't just absurd times, they're irregular times.
Better hurry and speak up now,
before John Ashcroft does away with that pesky 1st Amendment!
Give us your Irregular Retorts!