Wednesday, April 25, 2012

School Choice? Thoughts on School Vouchers

Here's a quick summary of what a school voucher is, just to provide a bit of context for those who may not know.

From Wikipedia:

"A school voucher, also called an education voucher, is a certificate issued by the government, which parents can apply toward tuition at a private school (or, by extension, to reimburse home schooling expenses), rather than at the state school to which their child is assigned.

Under non-voucher education systems, people who currently pay for private schooling are still taxed for public schools; therefore, they fund both public and private schools simultaneously. Via offsetting the cost of private school tuition, vouchers [or tax credits] are intended to allow students and families to choose the school that best fits their needs. Opponents of school vouchers say allowing families the option of both public and private schools undermines the public education system through threatening its funding and enrollment."

What are the basic assumptions for the concept of vouchers? Why was the concept developed? Its the idea that "I shouldn't pay taxes for something I don't use." One of the definitions of a tax is that it applies to everyone, not a select group of people; otherwise its just a fee. This certainly ought to be true with public education. Another assumption is that "I don't have the choice because I don't have the money."

First, as a side note, for those who want less government, it would seem vouchers is not the way to go. Why allow the government to pay for people to go to a non-public school? Its just more government involvement and spending in the private sector.

Secondly, the "choice" is a false dilemma. Parents already have the choice. There is no law saying they can't send their children to another school. No one is coercing them. One could then argue that in effect they don't have a choice because they can't afford to go to a private school. If that's the case, then I don't have the choice to buy a Ferrari. Instead, I'm stuck with public transportation! Well, I do have the choice. I have the liberty, but not the right. But voucher supporters are demanding choice, not rights. To make a more sound argument, I would suggest they modify their rhetoric.

It comes down to an interpretation of the role of public agencies. If I don't like my city's police department, can I get a voucher to help me offset the cost of hiring a personal body guard? I can hire a body guard, but I can't expect the government to foot the bill for me. Again, I have the liberty to do so, but not the right to expect the government to help.

I'm part of a community, and that community has a shared interest in the police force as well as the public schools, whether I use these services directly or not. We can take our kids out of public schools, but we can't exempt ourselves from the community we live in.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Marriage has been on my mind a lot lately. First of all, of course, because I myself was recently married. My sister also was married. Three of my close friends are engaged to be married. Many of my neighbors in our apartment complex are newly-weds.

Specifically, I have contemplated a lot on how we as human beings choose our life partners. What strange forces of nature conspired to construct a marriage by bringing two seemingly random individuals together at the right place and at the right time? How do these people find each other? If given the chance to meet everyone in the world, would they still choose each other?

More importantly, I have wondered why we choose to stay with them or choose to leave them.  Divorce rates have increased dramatically in the past 40 years. This certainly draws attention to questions such as these.

Today, it seems that marriage is only about "love". It is approached as a temporary contract between two individuals and is good for as long as conditions are favorable. When two people "fall in love" they can also "grow" out of love too. They say, 'Well, we weren't right for each other. Maybe we were at the time we got married, but one of us changed; things changed'.

Many in our society have come to the point where they no longer even bother with marriage. They are worried the life-long commitment would be too hard and will result in undue hardship and heartache. It will only make it harder to separate if things don't work out.

Is marriage an outdated social construct? Has our modern, progressive society we moved on? Why is it so hard for our young people to find companions, and even harder for them to maintain such a vital relationship?

I'll let you in on a little secret: its no different outside of marriage; in any relationship for that matter. Even people who avoid marriage and "co-habituate" will still run into this problem. Avoiding marriage will not avoid the heartache and frustration of human relationships, as long as we ourselves are human. But avoiding marriage will avoid the satisfaction and fulfillment one can have in a real marriage.

We never meet everyone in the world. Yet, out of the statistically small percentage of people we come in contact with in the short span of time we have to look for a companion (less than 1/4 of our life), how can we find and choose a suitable companion? And when we do find someone, how do we know he/she is the right one for us when we have never even met .001% of all humans on the planet? What guarantee do I have that he/she will be right for me? This seems impossible to answer.

Our modern society has the wrong paradigm about marriage relationships. When it comes to our wayward children, we don't say, 'Well, I just had the wrong kid. That's why it didn't work out. My kids weren't right for me'.


Its about being the right parent for your kids. Not about having the right kids. We need to ask, what can I do to be a better parent for my kids? So it is with marriage; its about being the right spouse, not just finding the right spouse. Because we do change; that fact of life doesn't have to end a relationship.

A real marriage is not a contract. It is a covenant.  It is a man and a woman who commit to each other forever. No matter what. Happiness in marriage is not to be found only in an absence of hardship, but in working together through those problems. The success of a marriage is measured by a couple's commitment towards one another.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Habits of the Heart

Some of you may wonder at the title of this blog. What does it have to do with family, education, or community? I have chosen this title because it has everything to do with them.

The phrase has its origins in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who was one of the first European observers of the American political system.

He introduced the idea of "habits of the heart" as he observed the role of religion, morality and individualism in American politics. Tocqueville may have had his own meaning for the phrase, but here is how I see it:

We all have habits. While some can be good; most of them are bad. Some of us sleep too much. Some of us eat too much. Some of us may be late to everything. These habits develop over time as a result of self-indulgence, pride, ignorance, or despair among other things.

In addition to these physical habits, we also have habits of the heart. These habits develop just as physical habits do. We may fall into the habit of apathy; the habit of fear; of doubt; of pride; or the habit of  isolation.

But just as we can develop good physical habits, we can also develop good heart habits. We can cultivate habits of caring, of conversation, of teaching, of character. A habit of associating with others can be a very healthy habit.

Communities (and the individuals in them) need to develop and promote good habits of the heart. Some communities can collectively fall into habits of  materialism, isolationism, or excessive individualism.These are destructive habits, as addictive and devastating as the physical habits of drug or alcohol abuse. They must be curbed and overcome.

What habits of the heart are you developing?

"There is more of a link than is thought between the improvement of the soul and the betterment of the welfare of the body. Man is able to keep these two things apart and consider each of them in turn but he would not know how to separate them entirely without losing sight of both of them in the end."- Alexis de Tocqueville