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Vouchers and the Social Contract

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To the Editor:

The recent Commentary by Peter W. Cookson Jr. opposing school vouchers bore the disturbing headline, "There's No Escape Clause in the Social Contract" ("School Vouchers: Pro and Con," Commentary, July 10, 1996). Reasonable people can disagree about vouchers, but this sweeping claim defies the very foundation of the American political system. If government need not depend upon the consent of the governed--if the "social contract" contains no "escape clause"--then we might as well throw out the Declaration of Independence and go back to monarchy.

The declaration (written by a passionate advocate of public schools) argues that governments exist to secure the rights and freedoms of the people and that "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." Surely this reasoning applies to the school system as well--if it does not serve us satisfactorily, we, the people, may alter or abolish it.

Voucher advocates are attempting to alter the current system, not abolish it. But opponents of reform would do well to remember: If improvements are not made, and the system's current flaws accumulate into "a long train of abuses and usurpations," the people might eventually decide to declare independence from public schooling altogether.

Greg Forster
McLean, Va.


To the Editor:

Peter Cookson's analysis that school choice would lead to a fragmented, inefficient, and unequal school system is more accurately a description of our present system. I taught in inner-city public schools for 23 years and even within the city system itself the above description applies, never mind in comparison to suburban and rural schools.

Mr. Cookson goes on to argue that Americans want "safe, productive schools, rooted in the community." That is somewhat ironic, since many of our largest urban systems today are unsafe, unproductive, and are schools that have children bused from numerous neighborhoods.

Mr. Cookson worries that school choice and market forces will hurt the poor and disadvantaged. Yet recent school choice legislation almost always is aimed at helping only those who are most needy.

He concludes with the typical arguments about constitutionality, resegregation (isn't that a joke with most cities already segregated), and potential bureaucratic nightmares.

My argument is that parents want good schools for their children. These schools can be anywhere. Ideally, excellent community schools are best. School choice is the obvious answer. Make all providers of education compete for the children; competition and accountability will insure good schools.

Mr. Cookson should realize that parental choice in education is coming. It is fair, just, and a better way. The American public cannot be fooled much longer. Monopoly is no way to run any business and education is big business.

Ronald T. Bowes
Assistant Superintendent for Public Policy and Development
Diocese of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pa.


To the Editor:

In his Commentary on vouchers ("School Vouchers:They Are Fair and They Are Practical," July 10, 1996) Jerome Hanus begins by expressing concern about the academic and moral climate of the nation's public schools. He states that even if public schools became first-rate academically, there would still be a demand for private schools.

I agree with Mr. Hanus on this point but disagree with him on the use of public funds to provide private religious indoctrination to children. The moral question that he and the religious institutions that have advocated vouchers must ask themselves is this: Is it morally right within the framework of a democracy to force any citizen to pay for the religious indoctrination of another citizen's child?

If Mr. Hanus and his fellow voucher advocates wish to expand the discussion and make it even more relevant, they might also wish to deal with the following question. Is it morally right within the framework of a democracy to force citizens to pay for the religions of the well-to-do and the affluent?That is what happens now under the present tax structure.

Ronald Wenninger
Director of Curriculum
Kaukauna Area School District
Kaukauna, Wi.

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