I've been disappointed with the Utah Amicus lately. Instead of well-reasoned logic regarding Utah education vouchers, the Utah Amicus web site has resorted to name calling and sound-biting that are neither fair nor accurate. UA discussed briefly in a recent post about the interview KVNU Radio's "For the People" had with Paul Mero. Here's part of what UA had to say:
The Sutherland Institution lead thinker is still regurgitating his doomsday revelation that our local public schools are devoid community values and we better vote for vouchers to stave of "cultural extinction", and that's just the beginning.
I don't remember Paul Mero saying that.
Here, instead, is the sum of what he said that might be construed to remotely resemble UA's accusation. He said that the federal government has been historically notorious for not nurturing the cultural differences of minorities, instead preferring a one-size-fits-all solution. The most well-known recipient of such non-nurturing in Utah is the Mormon church. (Others, not specified in the radio interview, but described in Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations, are the Mennonites, Catholics, Blacks, and Native Americans.) Based on these examples (the most detailed--but not only--one being the Mormon church) The Sutherland Institute believes that vouchers will help to restore this sense of cultural appreciation among minorities.
Mero did say in the KVNU interview that voucher opponents fear that private-school voucher users will be "freaks of society or something" and not "real Americans." I see where he's coming from, but that's putting it a bit less than tactfully. Then again, I've done radio interviews, and I know what it's like to be put on the spot.
Utah Amicus goes on to say
My favorite part of the show was when I listened to Paul try to explain how the LDS culture was basically extinguished by the federal government, and that public education was a player in that extinction.
That wasn't what he said, either.
He basically said that current government schooling forces assimilation to a generic American standard, and that Mormons are the largest historical example of that in Utah. In the interview he said, "The voucher bill that was passed by the legislature has everything to do with helping low-income and minority students." Forty-plus percent of this population do not graduate from public schools. The public schools in Utah, according to Mero, are not helping the minority populations in Utah, and private schools are better suited to help them, since they do not have to subscribe to the one-size-fits-all paradigm.
The statement about "cultural extinction" can be found only in the introduction (page 8) of Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations and says this:
Practical realities may ultimately require modern Church members to confront an old choice: expand access to alternative education and educational choice, or face cultural extinction.Based on the tenor of Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations, this makes perfect sense to me. Navajos have lost a great deal of their culture. So have Blacks. So have Mormons.
The only beef I have with Paul Mero's statements in the KVNU interview is that he stated, in essence, that if a community is (for example) 75% LDS that LDS values should predominate for that community. I disagree.
I agree with KVNU's Tom Grover is correct that public education should be religiously neutral. The problem is that it is not, by and large, religiously neutral. Because they can't encourage the understanding of various religions, the dominant religion is no religion at all.
Here are some substantive paragraphs from Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations that help to describe where Sutherland is coming from with relation to vouchers. From page 32:
Although the way Mormonism was treated by the Federal Government becomes the main focus of the article, page 35 makes it clear that Mormonism was not the only minority thus treated. (A failure to carefully read or understand this most salient point can convey to the reader a completely different perspective than the one that was intended.)
[Thomas] Jefferson believed that tax-subsidized elementary schools should be wholly governed by parents of the local neighborhood. "But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by the Governor and Council, the commissioners of the literary fund, or any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience. Try the principle one step further and amend the bill so as to commit to the Governor and Council the management of all our farms, our mills, and merchants’ stores."
President Andrew Jackson developed the social-engineering paradigm used against Native Americans, Mormons, and Japanese-Americans. Loose or partial variations of the paradigm were also employed against Mennonites, Catholics, African-Americans,German-Americans, Italian-Americans, and other distinctive demographic minorities, depending upon the strength and sophistication of the relevant minority group’s opposition.
Once applied to the unpopular Native Americans, use of the Jacksonian Paradigm evolved and spread. Starvation and other means were used to compel Native-American school attendance.
To belie the statement in the interview that religious discussion always has to resort to animosity, page 38 tells the story of Frances Burke, a public school teacher who was sent to Utah to de-Mormonize public education. He then describes how well she was loved in the community of Tocquerville, Utah despite her being of a different religious faith and despite the reason for which she was sent there. Mero concludes the story with this observation:
Frances Burke’s story is perhaps illustrative of how we can reclaim Utah’s education identity and how we can overcome politics as usual to answer urgent and important questions of education policy today. Frances was in the middle of the education wars of those days. There were fewer contentious spots than standing as an educator in rural Utah publicly proclaiming your intent to use “anti-Mormon” schools to convert Latter-day Saints. But upon her death, she was not remembered for any contentions in which she was involved, she was remembered for who she was. She was well-respected not because she defended a system of education or a preference of faith, she was well-respected because she saw her neighbors as she saw herself, a valued human being.
I'll admit that because I come from the perspective of already supporting vouchers, I read Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations with a bias in favor of vouchers. Those who are opposed to vouchers are more likely not to pay attention to the details of Mero's logic. I have paid attention to it, and it makes sense to me. I personally feel that if someone reads Vouchers, Vows, and Vexations with an intent to understand the details of what is written, that they will be compelled to conclude that, regardless of their position for or against vouchers, that this Sutherland whitepaper is an excellent defense of vouchers.
Postscript: Another sub-conversation in the KVNU interview had to do with the average cost of public education in Utah. According to this paper, Sutherland calculates the average cost of private education in Utah to be $4,519.97.