School Choice as Marxist Educational Reform?

Smith, Gerard gsmith at clark.edu
Wed Aug 14 10:23:55 MDT 2002


The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in ZELMAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC
INSTRUCTION OF OHIO, et al. v. SIMMONS-HARRIS that allows the public funding
of private, religious educational institutions is not a victory for
communism, nor should any true Marxist celebrate the voucher movement as
"the reform" that will help "rescue education from the influence of the
ruling class."

Were the educational reforms implied by Marx and Engles inclusive of all
political/religious curriculum?

Did their plan for "Free education for all children in public schools"
include school choice funded by public tax dollars as a means for achieving
their aims? I think not.  School choice, as currently constituted, allows
for the education of the next generations of capitalist within their own
private, religious institutions. Does any serious Marxist believe that
educating successive generations of capitalist within private schools will
further the revolution? I hope not. School vouchers appear to be an
acceptable socialist reform that will help underprivileged children acquire
better education.  But be careful what you wish for.  The spectre of
discrimination appears frequently in  judicial halls.

If we allow one group to use school vouchers, then according to the Equal
Protection Clause we must give all parents these vouchers. Citing the 14th
Amendment, the moral majority, the Christian conservatives, the right-wing
trolls will argue that if the Federal Government allows one group school
choice through school vouchers, then all children must be given this equal
access to school choice. If this is not done, then a lawsuit may be launched
charging that school vouchers for "poor children" is discriminatory.

In Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court noted ''At stake is
the personal interest of the plaintiffs in admission to public schools as
soon as practicable on a nondiscriminatory basis.'' The lower courts were
directed to ''require that the defendants make a prompt and reasonable start
toward full compliance,'' although ''[o]nce such a start has been made,''
some additional time would be needed because of problems arising in the
course of com pliance and the lower courts were to allow it if on inquiry
delay were found to be ''in the public interest and [to be] consistent with
good faith compliance . . . to effectuate a transition to a racially
nondiscriminatory school system.'' But in any event the lower courts were to
require compliance ''with all deliberate speed.''

This same judicial logic can be applied to school vouchers and to school
choice. If only one group is allowed access to school choice through
vouchers, then the S.C. will rule this "discriminatory" if conservative
plaintiffs press the case. But with the current administration in power, the
legislature may move swiftly to enact school vouchers to placate their
conservative, middle class, and underprivileged constituents, thus avoiding
any constitutional challenge to "school vouchers for the poor." When this
happens real "right-wing trolls" will open charter schools and private
schools across this country with one aim: to set up non-discriminatory but
separate school systems for religious/political indoctrination to educate
successive generations of capitalists.

ZELMAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION OF OHIO, et al. v.
SIMMONS-HARRIS et al. established the first precedent in complete funding of
school choice. Based upon Mueller, Witters, and Zobrest, the S.C. has "never
found a program of true private choice to offend the Establishment Clause."
>From this they conclude:

"that the program challenged here is a program of true private choice,
consistent with Mueller, Witters, and Zobrest, and thus constitutional. As
was true in those cases, the Ohio program is neutral in all respects toward
religion. It is part of a general and multifaceted undertaking by the State
of Ohio to provide educational opportunities to the children of a failed
school district. It confers educational assistance directly to a broad class
of individuals defined without reference to religion, i.e., any parent of a
school-age child who resides in the Cleveland City School District. The
program permits the participation of all schools within the district,
religious or nonreligious. Adjacent public schools also may participate and
have a financial incentive to do so. Program benefits are available to
participating families on neutral terms, with no reference to religion. The
only preference stated anywhere in the program is a preference for
low-income families, who receive greater assistance and are given priority
for admission at participating schools."

Nor did they find that the funding of private education with public funds
represents an incentive to enroll students in religious institutions, nor
that this funding causes a "public perception that the State is endorsing
religious practices and beliefs."

Everything seems to be in place for the next step in fully funding school
choice through vouchers or tax breaks, or "chits." While the short-term
effect will allow poor children to attend better schools--including
religious institutions directly opposed to Marxist ideologies--the long-term
consequence may well be the establishment of a constitutional endorsement of
public funding for private schools.

I am fully aware of the disparities and inequalities in the American
educational system. My opposition to the current educational reform
supported by the S.C. is not opposition to educational improvement for the
poor. I am not against better education for poor children, minority
children, or children in general. However, equality in education can only be
achieved with a radical reform of the property tax system for school
funding, by improved training of teachers, requiring that teachers be
experts in the subjects they teach, and by standardizing the curriculum so
that class distinctions, gender/role distinction, and religious
distinctions, et. al. are eliminated. Achieving such Marxist reforms seems
improbable in this age of identify politics and reverse discrimination
lawsuits.

Certainly George W's Leave No Child Behind Act does not achieve the
aforementioned aims, although giving States the mandate to adequately fund
failing schools may help in addressing disparity in quality. Using their
rhetoric of poverty, and creative interpretation of legal precedent the
conservative court chips away at separation of church and state. Little by
little, the rationale for public funding of religious education is
established.

Gerard

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