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Deconstructing Choice

Again, not to pick on any one individual, another example of lack of thinking is presented. The Rambling Taoist is presenting a deconstruction named ‘One Choice Among Choices‘ of a post at Where’s Your Brain? titled ‘Liberals Screw The Poor - Again‘ about the Florida Supreme Court decision on school vouchers. What I find of interest here, is the clarity with which the Rambling Taoist states his case, though he defends it with obvious logical fallacies.

The Rambling Taoist accurately discerns his opponent’s thesis, “Republicans (more so diehard conservatives) want to offer parents the opportunity to place their children in any school they want and have taxpayers fund it. Liberals, on the other hand, oppose this concept.” Here he recognizes that the issue is about the parents’ choice. He quotes his opponent’s argument correctly:

There has always been this very false perception that liberals are the champions for the poor, yet time and time again the facts prove otherwise. The facts continue to prove that it is the conservatives that are the true helpers for those in need. Republicans as a whole want freedom of choice in education; Democrats do not want freedom of choice. School vouchers provide that choice and Democrats hate the concept.

Unfortunately, at this point he proceeds to talk about the choices of taxpayers, the (nebulous) ‘community’, the teachers at a private school (where he presents an unjustified and misleading position), and theoretical students trying to attend a school where they don’t meet the admissions criteria. This is an example of the Straw Man fallacy. By ignoring the parents’ choice issue in his post, the Rambling Taoist tacitly concedes that his opponent is correct.

But to answer his issues head-on, let me take the Rambling Taoist’s points one at a time.

They do not believe that taxpayers should be offered any choice in the matter. What if I don’t want to fund a school that teaches apartheid or injects God into every issue? Do I as a taxpayer have a choice of which schools my tax dollars will support?

Two fallacies for the price of one. First, the voucher is not state support of the school. It is state assistance provided to the parent for the purpose of funding education. The taxpayers have no more legitimate objection to the voucher going to a religous school than they have to a welfare recipient tithing to a church. Second, where is the taxpayer choice now? Do taxpayers have the choice to not fund schools that teach false religion? that teach false history? that fail to achieve basic educational goals? No. Vouchers have no affect on taxpayer choice.

Though as I see it, the Rambling Taoist wants to give taxpayers only a strictly limited and unfairly biased set of choices.

They also don’t believe that members of the community should have a say in how a private is run or managed or the curriculum taught. What if members of the community want foreign languages such as Spanish to be taught and private school administrators are against the idea? Should the community have the power to impel Spanish classes?

Somehow, the Rambling Taoist sees a distinction between the parents of children and the community. He seems thinks that if the parents of a community want their children to learn Spanish, that the private schools will refuse. To anyone who has ever run a business, this is obviously nonsense. Either that, or he seems to think that the people with no children of their own have an innate right to force their preferences in education on the people who do have children, and that to not allow the ‘community’ to exercise this force is removing some people’s choice.

What if teachers at a private school decide they want to form a union? Should they be allowed to?

On this issue, the Rambling Taoist presents only his opinion of what other people think, with no evidence. A classic Red Herring.

Finally, should a private school be mandated to accept any student who has the requisite funds to attend? Well, of course not! Private schools have standards!

Yes. The people who own the private school have the right to restrict themselves to a fraction of the available customer base, if they think it’s the right thing to do. The parents have the right to choose between schools that provide a restricted environment and schools that provide an open and integrated one. What’s the problem?

As you can see, the choice argument collapses upon itself. It really has next to nothing to do with providing people with greater options.

What really collapses here is the argument that taking choices away from individuals (this parent, this school administrator, this teacher) to give a restricted set of choices to ‘communities’, ‘taxpayers’, or other groups or organizations, or vice versa, “has next to nothing to do with providing people with greater options”.

I think that if the Rambling Taoist was more forthright, he would simply say that he thinks that he can choose better than the parents can, so he doesn’t want them to choose. I may think I can choose better also, but I support their right to be wrong. And who knows, I might be wrong instead. Can a Taoist make the same admission?

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4 Comments »

  1. The Rambling Taoist said,

    January 7, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

    “By ignoring the parents’ choice issue in his post, the Rambling Taoist tacitly concedes that his opponent is correct.”

    I didn’t ignore the parent’s choice. I simply stated that this was the only time that choice seemed to matter. When it comes to anyone else having a choice, then it seems to become a non-issue altogether.

    “First, the voucher is not state support of the school. It is state assistance provided to the parent for the purpose of funding education.”

    The funds go to pay the teachers and administrators, books, materials, building upkeep and everything else having to do with the particular institution. If we’re talking about taxpayer dollars, then I would certainly call that “state support” of a school.

    “The taxpayers have no more legitimate objection to the voucher going to a religous school than they have to a welfare recipient tithing to a church.”

    Personally, I would have a problem with a welfare recipient who sold their food stamps to tithe at the church of their choice. The money and food is earmarked for their maintenance as healthy individuals. If they have money that they have earned, then they can use that for their tithe.

    “Do taxpayers have the choice to not fund schools that teach false religion? that teach false history? that fail to achieve basic educational goals? No. Vouchers have no affect on taxpayer choice.”

    Speaking of red herrings… Taxpayers DO get to have a voice in how public schools in their community are run. Have you heard of such a thing as a School Board? We are allowed to elect people or not elect people to serve as our representatives.

    Do taxpayers get to choose who runs any particular private school? Of course not. They get no voice in the matter.

    “He seems thinks that if the parents of a community want their children to learn Spanish, that the private schools will refuse. To anyone who has ever run a business, this is obviously nonsense.”

    It’s not nonsense at all. Private schools set their own curriculum. If you don’t like it, they say, “Don’t come here. We can find plenty of parents who don’t give a wit about Spanish classes”

    “The people who own the private school have the right to restrict themselves to a fraction of the available customer base, if they think it’s the right thing to do. The parents have the right to choose between schools that provide a restricted environment and schools that provide an open and integrated one. What’s the problem?”

    Right here IS the crux of the problem. Private schools, by their very nature, can set up any selection criteria they want. If they don’t want to accept, say, black students, they can set up a procedure to ensure no black student will be accepted.

    So, while the argument for vouchers states that the vouchers themselves provide parents with school choices, that’s only one-half of the equation. Having the opportunity to apply to a school and having your child accepted are completely different.

    What if a black parent wants to send their child to Academy A, but Academy A doesn’t want to accept any blacks? Possessing the voucher doesn’t provide the parent with any advantage whatsoever.

    And we can replace the word “black” with words like “Gay”, “Arabic”, “Latino” or “Islamic” and get the same kind of result.

    All the voucher system does is allow schools that implicitly discriminate — based on race, religion, class, sexual orientation, etc. — to collect taxpayer dollars. It provides the poor with a mirage. Yes, they have the opportunity to apply wherever they want to, but, in the end, must will wind up back in the now more-impoverished public school system.

  2. Dave said,

    January 8, 2006 @ 2:40 am

    OK, we’ve got a lot of issues here, and I want to avoid using a fisking style, so please bear with me as I hit one at a time.

    About Republican and Democrat positions on parental choice:

    The original thesis was about choices for poor parents. Justadog claims that Republicans are in favor, Democrats are opposed. You have been justifying the position by arguing that there are other interests that should be allowed to choose how these students are educated. Thus, I (reasonably, I think) conclude that you agree that on schooling Republicans are in favor of more choices for poor parents and that Democrats are opposed to more choices for poor parents. The fact that you think the Democrats have the right of it is a separate issue.

    About vouchers being state support of private schools:

    You’ve basically said that because “The funds go to pay the teachers and administrators, books, materials, building upkeep and everything else having to do with the particular institution”, you “would certainly call that state support of a school”. Then you must consider food stamps to be state support of grocery stores as well. Medicare must be state support of doctors, and the rentors must not be the ones benefiting from HUD housing assistance.

    I strongly disagree with you. The voucher is not issued to the schools. It is issued to the parents. The parents find a school and the two parties mutually agree to exchange a service (education) for a payment consisting of the voucher and perhaps additional money. If the parents do not have the voucher, they have to pay the full amount. The parents are the only ones receiving financial aid from the state. By making the financial aid available, the state allows more people to have more choices.

    About current taxpayer choice:

    Yes, I will speak of red herrings. I asked if the taxpayers could refuse to fund objectionable schools now, as you want to have with vouchers. You answered that since I can vote for a school board member, I have a voice in the curriculum, treatment of religion, accuracy, fairness, etc, etc. Your claim is that since a few of the people involved are elected, that’s all the voice that’s needed for a public school. That’s just ducking the issue. If you want taxpayers to be able to not “fund a school that teaches apartheid or injects God into every issue”, to “have a choice of which schools my tax dollars will support”, then why do you think that the taxpayers should not have the equivalent choice right now?

    You personally dislike teaching segregation. Others disagree. In some school districts, a majority might disagree with you. If taxpayers who personally like the idea have to fund schools that teach and practice integration, what’s wrong with taxpayers who agree with you having to fund schools that teach or practice segregation?

    How long does it take to fire a teacher or principal now? Even if much of the community is upset, it’s nearly impossible. What are the odds that the principal who put a video camera in the bathroom will be fired? Communities have little control over their schools today.

    About taxpayer choice with vouchers:

    You asked “Do taxpayers get to choose who runs any particular private school?” Well, you got the answer wrong. Unless enough people agree with the people running a particular private school, that school will close for lack of business. That sure looks like taxpayers choosing to me. The parents can fire the principal with the camera by moving to another school, in just days.

    About ‘community’ control of curriculum (Spanish classes):

    Your error here was assuming that you can have enough community members who want Spanish classes provided to swing a current school board that doesn’t want to provide them, and yet not have enough parents who want Spanish classes to cause the private schools to offer the classes to avoid losing the students. The real world doesn’t work that way.

    About private schools with admissions standards:

    Here you set up a false dichotomy. Right now the poor parents have no choice at all but the public school. You posit that out of perhaps 10-30 schools available, if parents want to send their child to one school that won’t accept them, they have no choices. Nonsense, they have 9-29 other choices.

    The fact is that there will be neighborhood-centric private schools, race-centric schools, gender-centric, religion-centric and curriculum-centric schools. There will probably be far more black-only private schools than there will everyone-but-black schools. All these options exist today even without vouchers. All that vouchers do is make these options accessible to the poor.

    In summary:

    I begin to get the idea that our major disagreement is over the locus of choice. I see choice as something that only an individual can do. I want individuals to have more choices available. But it seems that you are looking for choices available to government or collective bodies instead of individuals.

  3. The Rambling Taoist said,

    January 8, 2006 @ 3:53 am

    I’m not going to go point-by-point right now. I’m just going to deal with the main thrust of my argument.

    “Thus, I (reasonably, I think) conclude that you agree that on schooling Republicans are in favor of more choices for poor parents and that Democrats are opposed to more choices for poor parents.”

    That’s not my point. My point is that conservatives (I really don’t think it’s an explicit Republican vs. Democrat issue — Heck, I’m neither of them — I’m a Green) are in favor of a false choice, one that sounds good, but isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

    I did a little research on private schools in Oregon. Almost ALL of the K-12 private schools are religion-based schools. I visited over 30 of their websites. Not one of them featured a picture of a black or Latino student. Not one.

    Most showed students with lilly white skin with a token Asian or two to give the appearance of racial diversity.

    A lot of the schools didn’t include any information about the costs of attendance. They also didn’t include information on how many of their teachers were accredited nor any information on how they spent their money.

    Now some schools did include information about costs. According to the Heritage Foundation, in 2004, Oregon spent $8,280 per student for public education. There were several private schools whose tuition was lower than this amount. Consequently, from a strictly financial viewpoint, parents with a comparable voucher could pay to have their child[ren] enrolled.

    There were just as many private schools, however, in which the $8,280 was far short of the tuition. For an upper middle class or upper class family, this would pose no problem. The same can’t be said for a working stiff. If the gap was in the thousands of dollars (like at Cascades Academy or Bishop Blanchet High School), then such choices would be off the table.

    To sum up, private schools can establish the kinds of selection criteria that will insure they accept the kinds of students they want. (The ones that cater to the rich and/or bigoted will have no worries about going out of business. Parents send their children to these sorts of schools NOW, so their children don’t have to mix with the “undesireable” classes.)

    Under a voucher system, private schools will continue to accept the very same type of students they accept now. Poor or non-white parents will be told there are a myriad of options, but they will soon discover that few options genuinely exist. Faced with numerous closed doors, their children will wind up in a grossly under-funded public school system.

    Such a scenario will further to widen the chasm between the haves and the have nots. The haves will continue to be accepted into the top schools and the have nots, if they can even afford to attend college, will wind up in under-funded vo-tech schools, community colleges and state universities.

  4. Below The Beltway said,

    January 18, 2006 @ 10:24 am

    Carnival Of Liberty XXVIII

    Welcome to Carnival of Liberty XXVIII, hosted this week here at Below the Beltway. As I announced earlier this week, I have taken over administrative responsibilities for the Carnival. I’m really looking forward to becoming more involved in runni ……

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