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Jewish World Review May 5, 1999 /19 Iyar, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Voucher opponents'
worst nightmare

(JWR) ---- (
WHEN OPPONENTS OF SCHOOL VOUCHERS want to truly frighten people, they conjure up the image of religious indoctrination or, egad, "creationist" teaching in publicly funded schools. At that, we are expected to say, "That must never happen!" and rush to the embrace of the public-school monolith.

Well, Sol Stern, a writer for the City Journal, used to be one of those scaredy-cats -- until he witnessed the execrable public schools his children were attending in New York and then compared them with the Catholic schools in the same neighborhoods. Now a convert (not to Catholicism but to choice in education), Stern has become an evangelist.

In a recent issue of the City Journal, he chronicled his visits to several schools that voucher opponents fear most and finds nothing that does not please the eye or the heart.

Believers in Christ Academy is that bogey of bogeymen, a "creationist" Christian school in Milwaukee, Wis., that has come into existence thanks to Milwaukee's publicly funded voucher program (Cleveland is the other American city with a publicly funded voucher plan). All of the kids at Believers in Christ are black, and most of the parents are too poor to pay more than $50 per month in tuition. But all of the parents were desperate to remove their children from the uncivil, anti-academic and violent public schools.

Believers in Christ Academy's walls are adorned with inspirational messages like "I can do all things through Christ" and "God gave me a brain." Each day begins with a revival meeting of sorts attended by the whole school community, including parents. Together, they praise G-d and exhort the children to excellence.

Cheryl Brown, the school's attractive, black founder, teaches biology. Her students learn the facts about DNA and RNA, but they also hear the biblical account of creation. "God created everything," Brown explains. "Science can't contradict that. Science can explain how everything works physically in relation to everything else." Seventh-graders at Believers in Christ Academy can explain black holes. Does it really constitute a threat to the republic if they are also taught that black holes are part of G-d's creation?

Besides, as Stern points out, no one is forced to attend Believers in Christ Academy. It might not be your choice. I know it would not be mine.

But the existence of such a school should not make us angry or defensive.

The idea of vouchers amounts to a fundamental change in the way we educate our children. Step back for a moment, and imagine that we have no public school system and are designing a system to educate our kids from scratch.

Everyone needs food. But that doesn't mean that the government must own all the farms, pay salaries to farmers out of tax dollars, hire distributors and run chains of supermarkets. We pretty much allow the market to fill that need, while providing food aid to those who are too poor to feed themselves adequately.

Does the fact that kids need an education mean that we must buy a huge bureaucracy, complete with federal, state and local functionaries to deliver education? It seems odd that the same people who profess to adore "diversity" are so afraid to see it flowering in education.

Another voucher school Stern visited was Bruce-Guadalupe, a secular school in the Hispanic part of Milwaukee. Spending only $4,200 per pupil, in contrast to the city's $7,200, Bruce-Guadalupe is achieving much better academic results. Surrounded by Mexican murals and mosaics, the students learn English using phonics. Walter Sava, the school's director, explains: "People think that because this is a school in the barrio, we are only interested in preserving our culture and our language. Of course we are, but we are also eager to see to it that our kids become proficient in the English language."

As varied as the voucher schools are, they share certain characteristics. With a few exceptions, the founders of these schools shower the children with love and personal attention. In return, they expect high academic performance and orderly, respectful conduct. They are keen to reintroduce moral training and discipline, and they eschew bureaucracy.

The results so far are profoundly gratifying.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate