Vouchers And Disinformation

I have posted numerous times about the myriad ways in which advocates of “privatization” and “choice” in education have contributed to the hollowing out of America’s civic structure. “Choice” sounds great. Providing citizens with a wide freedom of choice–of religion, politics, lifestyle– is a quintessentially American goal. The problems occur when institutionalized choices promote division and undermine civic cohesion.

In far too many communities today, the “educational choice” being offered is the opportunity to shield one’s children from intellectual and cultural diversity. Vouchers provide parents with tax dollars that allow them to insulate their children from  one of the very few remaining “street corners” left in contemporary American society. Whatever their original intent, as vouchers work today, they are mechanisms allowing parents to remove their children from public school classrooms and classmates that may be conveying information incompatible with those parents’ beliefs and prejudices.

In virtually all states with active voucher programs, including Indiana, well over 90% of participating schools are religious– vouchers have allowed sympathetic courts to do an end-run around the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. I’ve previously posted evidence that fundamentalist religious schools are teaching creationism rather than science--but it isn’t simply the science curriculum that is being corrupted by dogma. As a recent article from The Guardian reports, those schools are equally likely to distort accurate history.

One history textbook exclusively refers to immigrants as “aliens”. Another blames the Black Lives Matter movement for strife between communities and police officers. A third discusses the prevalence of “black supremacist” organizations during the civil rights movement, calling Malcolm X the most prominent “black supremacist” of the era.

Legislatures and boards of education around the US are currently engaging in acrimonious battles about how issues of race and equity are taught in public K-12 classrooms – the latest culture war in a decades-long fight around whose stories and contributions get highlighted in school. But largely left out of this conversation has been the education provided in private schools, thousands of which have quietly been excluding diverse voices and teaching biased versions of history for years.

The textbooks reviewed by the Guardian are used in thousands of private religious schools–schools that receive tens of thousands of dollars in public funding every year. They downplay descriptions of slavery and ignore its structural consequences.  The report notes that the books “frame Native Americans as lesser and blame the Black Lives Matter movement for sowing racial discord.”

As Americans fight over wildly distorted descriptions of Critical Race Theory–a manufactured culture war “wedge issue” employed by parents fighting against more inclusive and accurate history instruction- -the article correctly points out that there has been virtually no attention paid to the curricula of private schools accepting vouchers. As the article notes,

Private schools, unlike public ones, receive little oversight or restrictions when it comes to curriculum. In truth, thousands of private schools are currently teaching history through a racially biased lens.

Shades of the old segregation academies.

The Guardian reviewed dozens textbooks produced by the Christian textbook publishers Abeka, Bob Jones University Press and Accelerated Christian Education, three of the most popular textbook sources used in private schools throughout the US. These textbooks describe slavery as “black immigration”, and say Nelson Mandela helped move South Africa to a system of “radical affirmative action”.

The Abeka website boasts that in 2017, its textbooks reached more than 1 million Christian school students. The Accelerated Christian Education website claims its materials are used in “tens of thousands of schools.” One of its textbooks still refers to the civil war as the “war between the states,” and has a section titled “Black immigration”–characterizing the slave trade as “sometimes unwilling immigration.”

With respect to Reconstruction, the Accelerated Christian Education textbook contained the following characterization:

Under radical reconstruction, the south suffered. Great southern leaders and much of the old aristocracy were unable to vote or hold office. The result was that state legislatures were filled with illiterate or incompetent men. Northerners who were eager to make money or gain power during the crisis rushed to the south … For all these reasons, reconstruction led to graft and corruption and reckless spending. In retaliation, many southerners formed secret organizations to protect themselves and their society from anarchy. Among these groups was the Ku Klux Klan, a clandestine group of white men who went forth at night dressed in white sheets and pointed white hoods.

Unsurprisingly, the books were equally biased against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.Science denial, bogus history and homophobia are unlikely to prepare students for life in contemporary American society.

The U.S. Constitution gives parents the right to choose a religious education for their children. It does not impose an obligation on taxpayers to fund that choice, and we continue to do so at our peril.


  1. In the case of whose propaganda is better for students, we have the whitewashed aristocratic version in this corner and the religious version of our society in this corner. Neither kid will be equipped for the real world because it’s both crap.

    How many adults learned about the white capitalists murdering black capitalists just this year?

    What’s interesting is trying to accurate data for global rankings because Google wants to put out a website that ranks the US at the top. I knew that wasn’t right. It took a few searches and filtering to find PISA rankings. The US doesn’t rank in the Top 10 in Math, Science, or Reading.

    Something tells me it’s only going to get worse…

    I washed my hands of Randi W of AFT a long time ago. The teachers better figure something out and work with parents or our future is not very bright.

  2. School vouchers is nothing more than the recapitulation of elitist attitudes that served the lords v. serf societies of centuries past. In the case of “modern” America, the Reagan-based idiocy of removing government from controlling yahoos and fools adds pure, unadulterated capitalism to the divisiveness. The “haves” always want more. The “have-nots” always seek to gain more. The problem of divisiveness stems from the “haves” wanting more at the EXPENSE of the “have-nots”.

    School choice is another of the messaging issues that Republicans use to further their pursuit of taking everything from those who have little.

  3. Many years ago, a colleague of mine quipped how she and her husband always felt like the money should follow the child. And their money ( his large six figure income from a local hospital) certainly followed their children to go to a private Christian school.
    I looked at her square in the eye and asked, “What about our students? You know, that 40% student population on free and reduced lunch? What about the kids whose families don’t even have a car. They count on our buses. Those are the kids who are nothing without our public schools, staff and administrators.”
    She looked at me and shrugged.
    Far too many Hoosier legislators feel the same way- until those same kids end up on welfare or end up incarcerated.
    Far too many Christians forget what that word really means.
    As I told my local state senator,
    You can pay me now or you can pay me later.

  4. Isn’t it a good thing that parents have choices as far as their school’s K-12 education? Isn’t it a good thing that poor parents are no longer locked into sending their kids to failing neighborhood schools riddled with gangs and crime and which won’t give them a quality education? I can’t believe people would really want to go back to the old system we had where only the wealthy had choices as to their children’s education because only the wealthy could afford private school tuition. Vouchers represent a return of people’s tax dollars so they can make a choice to send their children to a private school. The people who benefit are middle class and poorer parents who might want this option. And if they can’t afford that option there are now charter schools, which are free public schools, to give parents a lot more option. Those schools predominantly serve people who are poorer and minorities. There is a higher percentage of minorities in charter schools than in traditional public schools.

    We don’t tell college age students that they can only go to a public university in their area. We don’t make people in southern Indiana go to IU and those in northern Indiana go to Purdue as well as have territories for IUPUI, Indiana State and Ball State. We give people a choice because choice is good.

    The money following the child is one of the best things that’s happened in K-12 education in Indiana. This has leveled the playing field between wealthy school districts and poor ones.

    Sheila’s point about curriculum is a separate issue and may have merit. But that can be addressed without throwing out K-12 school choice which is a wonderful development that has helped out Hoosier poor and middle class parents. Again, I can’t believe anyone seriously would want to return to the old system.

  5. The 2019 statistic of 2.5 million children being home-schooled illustrates the alarming number of Americans with little or no education who are training the future generation. Add the close to quarter of a million voucher-school population, and it’s not hard to imagine how the current deterioration of American intellectual capacity and level of education will continue. What is encouraging is the current Census date indicating a realignment of political power from the rural minority to centers of contemporary population.

  6. My contact with Irvington Community Schools (ICS) and Herron High School may have given me a slanted perspective on vouchers since these schools are part of the few non-religious based private schools in Indiana. ICS does a good job and really helped keep Irvington stable. Herron High draws kids from all over the city and does achieve that blend that should happen in all schools.

    BUT, that said, I can now see how vouchers are hog tying the public schools. Parents upset over everything from the supposed teaching CRT, books about LBGTQ children, to mask wearing are using vouchers and worse than voting against school board members, they are taking the student out of the system and all of the state dollars leave the school system.

    The root of the problem is sending state tax dollars to schools that don’t have to follow state education rules or even fair employment policies. Calling it “religious freedom” instead of racist indoctrination makes it such and easy sell. I will go back to my comments of a few weeks ago, where “freedom” is now the code word for “free to keep my white privilege intact despite the effects on anybody else”.

  7. Paul, I understand your comments because I have seen where vouchers do exactly what you are saying, but only about 10% of the time. The problem is the other 90%.

    On top of that, school choice only works if the house hold has enough money/resources to transport the kid to the school of their choosing. I suspect the people that can afford to take advantage of vouchers are still mostly white and financially stable.

  8. Dan–I don’t know about Irvington, but Herron is not a voucher school, it is a charter school, and there is a difference. Charter schools are public schools. They are obligated to follow the constitution, among other requirements.

  9. The money following the child to the voucher schools is curious, since the money (tax dollars) are presumably from Property Taxes. Churches do not pay property taxes and I would gather by extension their schools do not either.

    The curriculum of these religious schools is the issue. It is indoctrination and propaganda that our taxes subsidize. The religious schools when they take tax dollars should not have their own text books.

    Taxes Follow the child- As far as know – no other tax collected by the government can be spent the way the tax payer wants.

  10. Vernon; Paul kept fully to the issue of the blog today, “Vouchers And Disinformation”.

  11. The courts have tied themselves in knots trying to come up with a constitutional conclusion that school children can be “educated” at home or in “voucher” schools at taxpayer expense and have somehow legalized what to me is plainly unconstitutional. My father, a coal miner, dropped out of school to “go to work in the mines,” – this prior to child labor laws – and my mother dropped out of school as a sophmore in high school. Theirs was a different era. So these good but undereducated people were going to teach me and my two brothers history, solid geometry, typing etc. because they want the “freedom” to determine the curriculum – and at taxpayer expense? No way.

    One of my brothers and I hold graduate degrees and the other a degree. We went to public schools and public universities. I think that if we had been educated by our well-meaning but undereducated parents we would not have turned out to be a public school administrator, a real estate broker and a lawyer, and I would almost certainly would not have married my now deceased wife, who held a PhD in Elementary Education from the U of I in Champaign-Urbana and was a tenured professor at the university level.

    My favorite Greek, Aristotle, the father of logic, told us that we cannot generalize from the particular, but I have a strong feeling that my experience as outlined above has been replicated in millions of cases and thus stands his test(s). If parents can determine the curriculum under the banner of “freedom,” then what’s next under such a slippery self definition? Shall we teach our children not to stop at stop signs? A silly suggestion? Is it any sillier than teaching our children (under the banner of “freedom”) not to wear masks to school in obedience to a directive from an Abbott or DeSantis? Where does this end? Or does it?

  12. One of the founding principles of the Constitution is the separation of church and state. The GOP state legislature of Indiana has decided not to comply with this principle. I don’t believe anyone should receive vouchers who is sending their child to a “Christian” school. Instead, they should get funding from the members of their church. And if they are receiving vouchers, they should be taxed to help pay for them.

    I led a Spirit and Place project regarding “The Mock Trial of Susan B Anthony”. There were lots of home schoolers there who witnessed how the court violated the rights of Ms. Anthony. Home schooling like all other schools varies in quality with how good the parents are at teaching.

    I just saw where Hamilton County schools are taking books re LGBTQ issues, history out of their lilbraries, classrooms. This is almost as bad as book burning. How are their children going to learn to live peacefully with those of us in the LGBTQplus community? ( At this rate my community is going to use the whole alphabet. I guess that would be inclusive. Ha!) We are here to stay. Who knows? Maybe their kids will rebel and become progressives!

    And in the mean time, kids who have been schooled through zoom and other technology are at home ,and their parents are learning how challenging it is to teach kids. Perhaps they will appreciate teachers more.

    I really am glad my sister who taught for many decades is now retired. She is tutoring kids, and no one is telling her how to teach. I am certain she is a really good teacher. I may be biased since I love and respect her so much, but then again, based on the what she has shared with me, I don’t doubt she has been a highly dedicated teacher.

  13. I have always been against the idea of a government funding religious education, or any other religious function, period.
    I was aghast at GWB’s damned “Faith Based” anything.
    Bill Barr’s hubristic echoing of “History is written by the victors,” seems all too scary, in this context, as these fairy-tale believers seem to be gaining strength. Liberty University’s law school, I hove read, teaches future lawyers that the founders were establishing a Christian nation. Like with The Former guy, “Walls are useless when the enemy is within.”

  14. Public school education here and my favorite subject was history and I was one of those who always came in first or second place in the school’s US history contests and upon reflection I can’t say our public education was any better. History class was pretty sterile–slavery was mentioned in that it was mentioned as part of our background but certainly not to the depth and breadth it should have been. I never learned about the atrocities that occurred in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    English class-I was in the top reading classes and I recall after spending years after years reading books written by the ‘great male’ writers, I asked if we could read from some great female writers-I mean there must have been some great female writers. ?? I did graduate from high school in 1987 but I have a 13 year old in public school and since public school is so politically connected I am not sure if she is getting anything different but a pretty sterile education.

    We are now living in Tennessee and on a field trip to a Civil War home when one of the reenactors asked what the Civil War was about and I responded slavery and the South’s need to have cheap labor for their economy he quickly said ‘no’ but states rights and went on this tirade about how it was all about state’s rights and had nothing to do with slavery. I raised an eye brow.

    Also–they stopped teaching cursive handwriting in the public schools. My kid can’t read cursive handwriting and so my and hubby have taken it upon ourselves to get books on how to read cursive handwriting.

    I am alarmed that too much of what maybe occurring is some of these fundamental schools is occurring in the public schools too.

  15. Not having children, I have so much invested in this game (we pay high property taxes with no benefit to my immediate family) that I’m going to speak out about. Forgive me.

    I don’t want my property tax dollars spent on religious schooling! Period end of subject.

    As a product of public schools, I always wished that I could go to private Catholic schools because they had better results! The education was highly respected! Why? Because apparently childhood indoctrination was highly regarded.

    I want the atheist teacher conducting our education, nationwide.
    I do not want mother’s or dad’s doing home schooling.

    Are we Afghanistan?
    No, we are the United States and all of our youth should get the exact same education no matter their status in life. Let’s try that once and for all.

    But, again, I’m just a dreaming AgingLGirl. Great comments today.

  16. I was going to address the issue of text books, but I will go the other way.

    Why on earth would we pay money to the state to pay money to various private schools? I’m sorry, but even though my father’s business was wholesale (AKA middle man), we don’t need that. Why have a “middle man”? Just scrap the entire idea of public education and let everyone pay for the school of their choice. Maybe we could support “pauper schools” for those too poor, so that everyone could read simple instructions and count.

    BTW – since I have no children in school, I should get money back from the government [somehow I keep voting to increase taxes to support public education, but what do I know]

    No – Public education has multiple purposes; it isn’t just to teach reading. One of its most overlooked purposes is “E pluribus unum”, to make “Americans”, not “Catholics”, “Baptists”, “Evangelicals”, etc.

    In generations preceding mine, it turned Irish, German, Polish, Italian, and Jewish people into “Americans”. Maybe it did too much to eradicate the culture of the immigrants, but they all felt that “we are in this together”, not “I got mine; you will not replace us”. Did it eliminate bigotry? No. Did it tamp it down? Somewhat. Did it make people identify as American? That one it did.

    We need more of that.

    In reality, vouchers do very little of the “chose to avoid bad schools” and do a whole lot of “I want my kid in a religious school and I don’t want to pay for it.”

    If you really are worried about kids being in lousy schools, fix the schools.

    We talk about wanting better education, but we treat education as something to be done on the cheap; we joke about “if you can’t do, teach”. Educator should be one of the most respected and highly paid professions. Sadly, that’s describing Finland, not the US.

    Vouchers take money from schools, leaving them in worse shape than ever.
    As for Charter Schools, they also have a cost that is hidden. Those that don’t attend may get short changed on their education.

    I didn’t attend the “magnet school”, turning down two invitations. I wanted to avoid the bus ride and be in the jazz band. The chair of the math department decided that we were rejects and quit teaching. One year of calculus in the Magnet School, zero days for the rejects, even though some calculus was in the curriculum. As slow as he went, we still had six weeks of sitting and doing busy work in math class.

    Vouchers? For all of the lovely rhetoric (like calling for the abolishment of the EPA and labeling it a “clean air” bill), vouchers are a means to destroy public education.

    Sorry for the rant.

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