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Warning: Detours To School Choice Are Paved With Non-Sequiturs

In an entertaining extrapolation of facts, Deanna Pan has truly outdone herself. Her latest article for MotherJones lambasts the State of Louisiana’s new student scholarship program by citing pseudo-scientific indoctrination as the inevitable outcome of a voucher system.  Pan’s fallacious argument du jour is False Dichotomy, which she uses to try and show how students will flock to Christian schools once vouchers are provided to them (actually, False Dichotomy offers two end results, while Pan seems comfortable with one). With the help of the anti-religious tandem of Tabachnick & Vinciguerra, she then lists 14 pieces of curriculum from Christian school textbooks as examples of how awful school choice legislation is.

The curriculum samples were funny, but her ability to get from Point A (vouchers) to Point B (indoctrination) belongs on this list of funny people.

Explain this: why does it necessarily follow that families will move to Christian schools once a select few public school students win vouchers in their upcoming lottery? The law in question does provide a non-public school option, just as all school choice legislation should, but to say that these non-public options will get all these vouchers is kind of presumptuous, wouldn’t you say? Louisiana parents are searching for quality, not indoctrination, and if they were searching for a religious alternative to public school curriculums the students would already be enrolled in one of the 400+ private schools across the state. In other words, if everyone was going to embrace pseudo-science, they would have done it by now. After all, Louisiana has the third largest private school enrollment in the country at 19.1%, and this is probably because their public system is in shambles.

Some existing private schools will benefit from student scholarship vouchers, but not all of them. There are plenty of Public Charter Schools available. Still, many proponents of traditional education might fear that new private schools will start popping up to collect these vouchers and absorb students retreating from public schools. Our question at American School Choice is this: “Ok. Well, what’s wrong with that?”

Look at it this way: Parents want to send their children to a good school, regardless of the environment, which is why this law was passed in the first place. If private schools are a threat, then they’re probably educating their students better than the public sector. Tightly-wound, anti-Choicers wouldn’t be so worried about Christian schools getting and keeping former public students if their public schools were performing better.

The problem is, Louisiana’s public schools are absolutely dreadful. Nearly half of them are failing, and the state in general consistently jostles with Mississippi for last place in a variety of categories, including poverty and legal climate. The state’s reputation in education is so damaged and so embarrassing, in fact, that the Louisiana Teacher’s Union has resorted to “thuggery” when discouraging private schools from marketing options to students. Worse still, some schools are coming up with inventive ways of preventing the outmigration of hopeful students, such as Rayville Elementary, which is a failing school that refuses to allow its white students to seek greener pastures.

But performance issues aside, there’s another thing that reader’s of Deanna’s article may have forgotten: Christian schools that actually teach young world creationism comprise a much smaller percentage of total schools than she’d have them think.

Remember, we’re dealing with 5 different types of schools when we’re on the topic of Biblical curriculum:

  1. Traditional Public Schools (TPS) that don’t allow creationism
  2. Public Charter Schools (PCS) that could legally teach it along with evolution, but likely wouldn’t
  3. Private Independent Schools (PIS) that teach the same science as public schools
  4. Private Catholic Christian Schools (PCCS) that don’t use classic religious textbooks by BJU or A Beka Books
  5. Private Christian Non-Catholic Schools (PCNCS) that teach creationism in direct opposition to evolution

The statewide school totals here are rounded:

  1. TPS – 1400
  2. PCS – 100
  3. PCCS – 90
  4. PIS and PCNCS – 300

These numbers show that private, non-Catholic schools represent roughly 18.8% of the total schools in the state, which almost coincides with the 19.1% total private student enrollment for the state cited earlier. But only a portion of these are PCNCS that would maintain a Biblical curriculum. Morevoer, urban kids looking for a Christian option in places like New Orleans might naturally be drawn to the city’s many Catholic schools, which do not carry Bob Jones University Press curriculum (especially after the BJU was labeled anti-Catholic).

With this in mind, how many schools really offer the pseudo-scientific curriculum of right-wing textbook writers? Even assuming every single one of the PCNCS use these textbooks, and even assuming that families overwhelmingly choose these schools over Public Charter Schools (which continue to show huge gains against even the best traditional schools) in the 2012-13 school year, how can we further assume that the kids would be “indoctrinated?” If they can’t tell you what natural selection is after years of learning it in a public school biology class, how can we be so certain that they’ll latch onto “missing links” in Christian school biology class? If you think their biology scores are just fine, think again.

The best part is that according to Deanna, only 119 private schools are participating, not all of which are even Christian. That said, the percentage of statewide PCNCS options cited before is actually much lower, meaning that students have even less opportunity to be indoctrinated by a soul-stealing, child-consuming religious education. Parents beware, Christian schools are creeping into your neighborhoods at night and whispering to your children about God.

Now, let’s get one thing straight here – we here at American School Choice are not supporting the wacky curriculum that Deanna put on display. We’re entertained by it, just like most readers probably are, but Louisiana is one place in particular where religion and education have been unfortunately bound together before. One example was the story in June about a publicly-funded Christian school that was teaching its kids that the Loch Ness monster really exists and is evidence for the disproof of evolution. Another problem arose concerning the voucher law when some lawmakers expressed reluctance to fund Islamic schools, particularly the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans.

Both cases demonstrate school choice gone awry. The first is a prime example of what freaks out secular educators about students using vouchers to attend PCNCS, since all curricular regulation flies out the window. The second problem hovers over us at 10,000 ft. and represents the philosophical implications of funding religious schools in general: do we fund all of them or none of them?

In the end, let us make one thing very clear: if getting an education is a right for all American citizens (and you can decide on your own if it is), then limiting a student’s access to a better one is unethical. If providing an education is not the responsibility of a nation, then we should stop funding public schools altogether. School choice is either a fair method in an ethical system, or the only method in a completely privatized system.

The whole concept inherent in the term “school choice” is reminiscent of America’s original intent to offer an abundance of commercial, religious, and social alternatives to its citizens. The educational establishment is up in arms because it is losing power, but it has clearly lost track of its true mission. If students can choose to leave the public sector for charter, independent, or private schools, they can just as easily return to public schools once they get their act together. This is free market education at its finest, and ignoring its benefits would be like ignoring Adam Smith in 1776, among other things.


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