Conservatives against private education

One little item came through the transom this week that, while not being particularly revelatory or earth-shattering in itself, was a useful reminder of the so-called American conservative movement’s wayward drift upon a sea of un-principles. 

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s secretary of education — a position conservatives used to say should not exist at all — made her semi-annual appearance to pitch for something she, along with most of today’s progressive conservatives, calls “school choice.” School choice, as I have explained in detail elsewhere, is just the political right’s version of the same old concept of government-standardized educational egalitarianism and redistributive justice that progressives of all stripes have been pushing worldwide for two centuries. But like so many bad ideas promoted by allegedly conservative parties, this one carries the special danger of draping its outrageous illiberalism in the flag of liberty.

School choice is nothing but a mechanism for ensuring that what little independence remains in private education today is snuffed out forever in a new competition for state funding, which funding, of course, will necessarily be conditioned on state standardization mandates.

At any rate, the item that caught my eye this week quoted from a speech in which DeVos specifically singled out Florida as a model of what could be achieved in standardized test score improvements, if only the whole nation could be encouraged (i.e., forced by law) to replicate the Floridian school choice system. 

Florida. The state in which Jeb Bush was governor all those years. Oh, right: DeVos, before she carefully raked over her tracks to appease Trumpsters, was a longtime Bush ally. Her “school reform” agenda is Jeb’s, which is to say it is the anti-individual and fundamentally totalitarian Common Core fantasy repackaged and masked behind the rhetorical façade of states’ rights. All naïve supporters of school choice as a “conservative idea” who simultaneously despise Common Core as progressivism on stilts would do well to remember that the Republican Party’s strongest advocates of the former are also its strongest advocates of the latter. They know very well that there is no contradiction between comprehensive progressive standardization and government-funded “private education” “choice.” The two concepts are complimentary, and were designed to be so.

Trump’s education policy (insofar as Trump may be said to have any policies) is Jeb Bush’s, just as his foreign policy is a combination of Ron Paul’s and Vladimir Putin’s. It remains to be seen which of the two policies will bring more catastrophic effects for America’s future. Since I am of the sort to believe souls are more important than bodies, and spiritual death more meaningful and intractable than physical, I would be inclined to guess the education policy will do deeper damage in the long run, if in fact Betsy DeVos and Jeb Bush are given free rein to shape the nation’s educational future.

My reason, lest anyone new to Limbo should misunderstand, is not that public education is better than school choice, but rather that school choice is public education. As for my thoughts on public education in general, I once again recommend my book on the subject.

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