Friday, October 19, 2007

Homer Too: Vouchers are not an educational issue

Don made the following comment:
"I vote that you put Homer on the front page again. His latest comment is truly remarkable!"
Since the vote was unanimous, here it is.

As this voucher thing is heating up Utah politics and as a public school teacher I want to repeat that this whole thing is not an educational issue. It is squarely a political issue and has been from the beginning. People have been teaching and learning for thousands of years in all different ways and under all different social systems.

The way our system of public education has developed is as uniquely American as, well, as are the values that constitute our society.

We propose the bold idea that as a public we ought to provide for the education of all of us together, attempting to break down the barriers that would deny someone the opportunities that our America envisions.

And then as a public, we pay for it. We want it, we pay for it. Just as we pay for any other public institution or government service or function we may want as a society. We the People means we decide--we also pay.

So, yes, Frank, cost does play a part in this, but when it's only about the cost, it ceases to be about purpose and values. Even in business with cost-benefit analysis becomes the driving force there is a danger that a worker, for example, becomes merely a cost on the balance sheet instead of a human asset to the company.

With all the Oreos and the million dollar memos floating around, I'm afraid the voucher arguments are beginning to sound rather crass and bottom-line oriented.

The danger in privatizing something that is essentially a social institution is that the profit motive and the winners and losers mentality of that all-important voucher icon, competition, will destroy the human side that is the essence of education.

Frank thinks I'm dismissing cost. That's a chicken or the egg argument. Which came first? the cost or the value? If it's cost, then education becomes a commodity--if it's value, then education is a goal, objective, and something that we work to improve and strengthen, and yes, pay for, together as a society.

It's more about priorities and competing values. And where we put our money certainly reflects our values as a society.

Next, are you kidding Frank? No choice in Utah compared to other states? The reality is the complete opposite. Utah's schools are so porous and ill-defined that boundaries don't seem to mean much for our system here. Actually many east-side schools in SL County wouldn't exist otherwise. Parents can and do choose all the time in this state.

Most states have city-wide school districts instead of our large regional mega-districts. Some states are very strict about controlling access to certain neighborhood schools and programs. In upstate New York they will send investigators to an apartment outside of a district even if you're building a house within the school boundaries.

I guess "real" choice for you means the public should pay for our private choices. I'm sorry, I may sound like a crazy liberal with this, but the conservative republican I am resists that kind of whiny, entitled grab of public money. We pay taxes as part of our responsibility in being a member of a larger society and then we live our own lives.

I don't get a tax refund for disagreeing with a war, I don't get a tax refund if I don't need or use police or fire protection, and I don't seek a water voucher if my choice is to use bottled water instead of the tap (sorry Rocky).

This is not about choice, not about money, not about some mythical monopoly (nope, I'm not a member), and not about savings or even cookies. It is about power and control. It is about the boundaries between competing spheres of power in our society--the private and the public. It's about control of the public treasury. It's about the unequal power in a stratified society used by some to further increase their incentives for fleeing the larger society. It's about controlling who our children might be educated with, and by whom, and about what things.

Finally, (I must say this has been quite a release since I'm busy teaching 198 high school students most of the time), I don't think that directing our debate to the larger concerns of the values that make us who we are as a society makes me a "lofty moralizer". I was hoping that considering the consequences of the money and power-driven decision-making we've been seeing in the legislature lately (nukes anyone?) actually makes us seem wise and deliberate.

Survival of the fittest really only works for the fittest. So what kind of society are we if that is our governing value?

United we stand, divided we fall. Why can't we work harder for and more committed to one of our most important institutions?

I hope that we can continue to revisit our wonderfully American governing values as we move our society into the future. I'm sorry if this polemic sounds over-dramatic when looking at the doomed voucher law, but honestly Frank, if it's not about values first, then what is it about?


Paul Mero said...

I'm just bummed that Homer took out part of his original comment...the part that says, "Mero is right."

BTW, if you love this line of thinking you will really love my speech at BYU next Tuesday. I'll make sure you all get a copy of it.

Best, PTM

Rob said...

Homer, this must be a pretty powerful post. I've decided to delete Jeffrey's comment, Bradley's, and mine own. I'll save them all for a later.

By the way Bradley, I appreciated your post. Deleting it has nothing to do with you.

Now, let's focus on vouchers.

Rob said...

You can post it Paul.

Barbara said...

This should be on every newspaper's op-ed page. Thanks for sharing it. It has helped me articulate the issues when asked where I stand on vouchers.

democrat said...

We want it, we pay for it. Just as we pay for any other public institution or government service or function we may want as a society. We the People means we decide--we also pay.

Ogden's Mayor Godfrey has a habbit of; I DECIDE, YOU PAY.

Emily said...


I agree with you. Sums it up beautifully. Seems we are bogged down by the details, when really... what Homer says, especially in his last paragraph, is exactly how I feel.

Paul Mero said...

Thanks Rob, but it will be too long for a normal post (I think).

BTW, to all and anyone, so if this line of thinking abut revisiting our values is considered the epitome or summation of the voucher debate...then why did you all give me such a scolding over the Sutherland essay on the history of education in Utah?

And please don't simply say..."well you did it wrong" or "you had ill-motives." I know you all disagreed with it.

But the spirit of it is exactly the same as Homer's words. It has to do with our "education identity" and who we are as people, as Utahns.

Just something to think about...I am not really asking for another marathon discussion right here.

And, Rob, thanks again for the offer to post next Tueday's BYU speech.


Anonymous said...

Actually Paul, I think you provoke discussion with your last post. In your essay I found your use of the word "Utahns" to be interchangeable with the word "Mormons." We are Americans who live in Utah. Your Sutherland Institute tract does illustrate the concern many of us have with vouchers creating a divided and polarized society though, thanks.

Paul Mero said...

Thanks. From 1847 to about 1900, the two words were synonymous.


CraigJ said...

But that's not who we are now, right?

Paul Mero said...

But that isn't revelant in this discussion...the point of being reflective about our values. Our history is a part of our identity.

And, yes, the state is still predominantly LDS.

Craig, you have this chilling affect on what should be a fascinating dialogue. :)


Homer said...

We are who we are TODAY. Seeing how policy decisions should follow our shared common values, it is appropriate to engage in dialogue in order to articulate common values.

Paul, your Mormon History piece can be desconstructed on so many levels. There are good and bad conclusions as well as some valid and very questionable historical conclusions. But in this forum today concerning vouchers the historical debate is irrelevant.

Your piece as a pro-voucher argument, however, had the effect of reinforcing the tendency of many in this state of trying to influence public policy debate with appeals to church authorities, some of whom are no longer able to speak for themselves.

The voucher argument should be made on its merits for our society today, and for the direction we of today want our society to take. Mormon or otherwise, we're all in this together in 2007.

In this debate it's sort of a cop out for the voter to say "wow, if John Taylor said something from his polygamist hideout, then gee, maybe vouchers are divinely inspired."

And that's the sort of mormonist non sequitor that your piece added to the civic dialogue. When the issues in this state involve any sort of play for power we have such a dangerous tendency to grasp for church authority at the expense of others outside of the Mormon cultural mainstream, who must still be guaranteed a place at the American table.

The potential changes to our social structure because of vouchers, among other pro-privatization pressures, has the potential to aggravate divisions in our society, not just along religious lines as the Sutherland piece maybe naively provoked, but also along class lines, socio-economic lines, and racial and ethnic lines.

In a country that strives for E Pluribus Unum, the potential for disaster is always right smack in the center of our human nature. We must guard carefully the progress we've made in sustaining the fragile balance between the rights of me and the needs of the community, between the power of the majority and the vulnerability of the minority for over two hundred years.

The most we can do now is learn how the past dealt with the solutions to their particular issues, see if anything can help enlighten our issues and then make our own decisions for our own time.

We can't relive the past. History is forever responsible for its decisions, even if they affect us today. But we must make responsible and wise decisions for ourselves and future generations and society as a whole.

So when our representatives and movers and shakers start selling this dramatic change as a no-worries, obvious win-win accounting procedure or trying to answer these deep social and political questions with a plate of oreos and a glass of milk, it's time for the people to take hold of the debate and make it a matter of referendum.

Today is always the time for further work in strengthening and improving the amazing promise that is the American public education system. Believe me, there is much room for improvement in our present system, but that's a challenge for the whole of society. this voucher law represents an attempt by those of power to exit the debate altogether--sort of a take the money and run approach to public debate.

Maybe what we so admire about our heroic heritage is nothing more than regular folks courageously facing a changing future together doing what they needed to do.

Our chance to be a heroic generation isn't about cutting our losses and dividing up the spoils through vouchers and privatization, or even trying to relive some distant nostalgic theocratic vision of another time.

Let's take our resources, intellectual energies, and faith, along with our all-American open, caring nature to reach out to all of our children and make our public system even better, together, for the future.

Paul Mero said...


I am not sure that MLK or any true civil rights leader would pooh-pooh history, or say it’s only relevant if it says what I want to hear.

The non-sequitor about the controversy of the Sutherland essay was how many folks linked Utah education history with polygamy and blood atonement. That was a disingenuously cheap shot whenever it arose…a diversion from what I wrote and a diversion from actual historic fact.

I’m a conservative…meaning I look to conserve what is good about our world and reform what is bad. I am not a progressive…meaning I do not look to change things just because, in my arrogance or my preferences, I would like to see things change.

Public school certainly has its place, but its place needs to be defined by 1) its history, and 2) its modern relevancy. For you to ignore the admittedly ugly history of public education in Utah is to miss a vital piece of the puzzle in defending it today. You should want to really understand what took place and all of the sentiments involved. Our essay did that very well.

If all you do is defend an ideal that has held political sway in Utah, post-Depression era, and ignore both what really was and what really is, then you belie your own stated (and noble) goal of finding a common identity. You will have a conversation only with like-minded people. This is why I use the term “romanticized” to describe your and others’ view of public education.

The repeat of Don Gale’s op-ed in today’s Des News is a perfect example of what I mean. Outside of a couple of specific remarks, his is truly a romanticized view of the value of public education, especially in this day and age when so many students are failing…and lack real options for hope of success.

Lastly, at least when the essay invoked the names and words of past LDS authorities I let them hang out there on their face. What we get today is a very passive aggressive form of “quoting” LDS Church leaders. Lots of David O. McKay (a dead prophet who is more quotable on education because he is more freshly dead than Brigham Young??), lots of allusions to how the public school system is already the LDS system because people, like my good friend (and former stake president) Barry Newbold (btw, one of the best men I know) runs our school system, lots of subtle references to how President Eyring and President Packer and Elders Oaks and Holland and Bednar are all “system” guys, etc. ad nauseum.

If you really believe what you write about everyone coming together in the spirit of unity, then you need to practice what you preach and not knee-jerk discount any idea or opinion that brings to the surface facts that don’t jibe with your romanticized view of public schools.

I can have this conversation…the question is, can you and yours?


CraigJ said...


(sorry to interrupt your conversation with Homer but since we've had a few I hope it's not too intrusive).

I agree with you 100% about Barry Newbold. He is one of the finest men I've ever met.

I would enjoy having more conversations with you. I confess I'm busy through Nov. 6th :-) But Nov. 7th is a new day.

You might find yourself shocked to know just how much ground I think you and I could cover. I have several years' research that may be useful to add to the mix.

I recognize you're a bit of a maverick.

I guess my invitation in a previous blog comment was not clear. Conceptual architecture is where everything starts.

I like you, Paul. Much of what you're saying here deserves discussion. But I think it would be best to sit down after vouchers are decided one way or the other.

Mind you this is sincere.


Paul Mero said...

Craig, I'm with you. My son goes into the MTC on November 7 (Tacoma) and then Sally and I leave for So.Cal. to cry for a week beginning the 8th.

But I will have my laptop (Sally calls it my mistress...if true, you would think I would feel better when I'm on it!!) :)

So, I'll check in...maybe we sit down after that.

Best, PTM

democrat said...

My kids are better than your kids.. so the government should give me $3,000.00 a year.

Anonymous said...

if it's not about values first, then what is it about?

Better values are taught in private schools without the educrats and unions thinking whats best for our kids.

Emily said...

The best values are taught in the home.

Reading, writing, math, science, and music should be taught in the schools.

Don't you think words like educrats and unions are getting just a little bit old in this discussion?