Assessing Governor Lee’s School Voucher Proposal

Dec 8, 2023 by David Fowler

Assessing Governor Lee’s School Voucher Proposal
Governor Lee wants to expand his education voucher or scholarship program to improve education. Opponents see it as a plan to destroy public education. When asked by a friend if I was following the issue, I said, “No, and I didn’t plan to.” I once supported plans like the governor’s, but here is why my thinking changed. I won’t be surprised if both “sides” think I’m wrong.
When it comes to debates over plans like this, I now think something more fundamental needs to be debated that I don’t recall being debated in connection with any voucher program, and I doubt it will be now: What constitutes an education—what does it mean to be an educated person—and what is education for? 
What is an educated person?
From the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic I gained at Missionary Ridge Elementary School through high school at McCallie, a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Cincinnati, I was well-prepared to “earn a living” to support myself and, eventually, my wife and daughter.
But being prepared to earn a living is not the same thing as being educated about what life is and what it is for. Modern education in almost all its expressions tends to reduce education to what is necessary to earn a living and, by doing so, at least minimally function in society. That reduction is offered, if not exalted, as the content of a good education.
Thus, to my knowledge public education and most educational institutions aren’t directed to the whole person, unless, of course, one believes there is no religious dimension to a person’s life or believes religion and earning a living can be compartmentalized—religion being a layer that can be separately added to what must be learned to earn a living.[i]
What knowledge makes one an educated person?
I recognize that not every person will be an academic scholar, but I submit the following as a description of an educated person in contradistinction to what we tend to value most:
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)
The simplest Christian who knows God and understands the nature and purpose of the cosmos He created knows something more fundamental about life and its purpose than the person who has high levels of academic instruction but is without that knowledge.
What is an education for?
On this question, the Bible is quite clear that all things exist for the glory of God, and an education that eliminates that as its goal is inadequate.
I don’t expect non-Christians to agree with me, but even Christian parents might say to me, “That’s fine, but my children must be positioned to earn money to support themselves. They can’t live in my basement forever.” I hope we can appreciate the theology and cosmology that might lie beneath such a statement. For example:
Can a person who knows God and desires that all aspects of his or her life be lived for the glory of God really be content doing nothing productive toward that end?
Has God created the cosmos in such a way as no one will pay for or support what that person offers? The last 30 years of my life demonstrates that people will “pay” by their donations for distribution of the kind of education I offer.
A person may not be paid much, so is there resident in such a statement a belief about the standard of living necessary for our child to experience a joyful life full of meaning and purpose? I am thankful that God has not yet found living at or below the federal poverty level necessary for my maturity, but I don’t consider my life less in any regard to a lawyer making six and seven figures a year.
Are we saying that being an accountant, lawyer, fashion designer, assembly line worker, or auto mechanic cannot be carried out in a way that offers up what they are doing to God for His glory? If so, our theological instruction may have been too limited and our imagination malnourished.
Now the final question: Does modern education (speaking generally) encourage students to think in the preceding ways about what they will do for a living?
The conclusion of the matter for me.
Because of the preceding, I can’t picture investing myself in the passage or defeat of the governor’s plan. I am unconvinced the program, as well-intentioned as the governor is, will lead to what really needs to be changed—our understanding of what an education is and what it’s for.
Moreover, I am unconvinced that voucher recipients will find a ready supply of educational institutions that will place the Triune God as the foundation of all education and His glory as its end purpose and teach subjects well within that framework.
I suspect institutions with that understanding of education will not want to get entangled with a government that is primarily concerned with producing human widgets to plug into the economy. I think they are wise enough to realize we’re headed in the wrong direction culturally and governmentally, and any freedom granted them today to pursue that kind of education will not long endure.
In sum, I think the fight over vouchers will be, as Macbeth said, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." That’s the result when God is removed from any of life’s equations. That much I did get from my high school class reading Shakespeare’s plays.
[i] Christians cannot blame this on the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause. To the contrary, a general societal failure to know what a whole person education is and thinking of religion as a layer that could be added by its proponents allowed the Court to think religion could be redacted from education without the Court losing its credibility.

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