Views On Vouchers - Left Side

Their flaws notwithstanding, public schools remain America's greatest beacons of hope and unity



Should the Federal Government subsidize private education?

When my daughter was 5, her mom and I briefly considered sending her to private school. In the end, we opted for public education. Today, nearly 20 years later, I remain convinced that we made the right decision.

In sharing this personal reflection, I’m not suggesting that public education is right for every child. Some children absolutely need smaller, more nurturing environments than any public school can offer. (More on that in a moment.)

The question is, should the federal and state governments subsidize these private enterprises in the form of vouchers for parents who can’t afford private-school tuition? The answer, to my mind, is no.

Clay Jenkinson, one of our nation’s foremost experts on Thomas Jefferson, has argued that Jefferson would be in this camp as well. “Jefferson was not in any way hostile to private education,” Jenkinson writes in his wonderful little book Becoming Jefferson’s People, “but he would be rigidly antagonistic to the idea of spending public money to support private education.” Why? Because private schools are exclusive by definition. Jefferson believed in the public school, by contrast, because he saw it as “a miniature laboratory of democracy, where the children of rich and poor, Jew and gentile, farmer and merchant, genius and plodder met under conditions of mutual respect and tolerance.”

Public schools today retain this fundamental essence, and that, for me, was a primary consideration for my children. Schooling, after all, is not just about book learning. It is about socialization. It is about learning to get along with people from all walks of life.

That’s all well and good in theory, a proponent of school vouchers might say, but the fact is, our public schools are falling short. Indeed they are, in many ways, although I believe the criticisms of public schools are overblown. As someone who went to public schools himself, has sent his children through the system and has written about education off and on for 30 years, I can assure you that our public schools across the country are filled with many excellent teachers.