Dear Dr. Walter Williams

June 18, 2007

A public letter in response to:
 “End Government’s Monopoly on Schools” by Walter E. Williams

From: Tammy Drennan

Dear Dr. Williams,

Before addressing the issue I’m writing about, I’d like to thank you for all your great columns over the years. I’ve been a fan and have used many of your articles in homeschool classes I’ve taught.

You suggest (not for the first time, I realize) in a recent column that state-funded vouchers, or tax credits, would provide the competition so needed to help America’s state schools excel. I’ve been writing for a few years against state vouchers and for better options that I believe Americans are fully capable of.

Yet some formidable minds disagree with me – you and Milton Friedman, to name two. Every time I read of someone I respect declaring for state vouchers, I wonder if I’m missing something, and I go to thinking again. But I can’t get where you are. It just doesn’t add up to me.

In your most recent article, you compare school vouchers to food stamps and imply that they might only go to the truly needy. Of course, the clamor for vouchers for all children would be deafening and I suppose that would eventually be the case. Shouldn’t all children have choice?

How the whole scenario would play out is uncertain, but I’m going to assume for the sake of this letter that vouchers will give children the choice of any public or private school and possibly even some nontraditional options such as internet schooling (of course, some of this is already being done, but I’m imagining it on a wide scale).

Here’s the part I struggle with – where’s the competition? It’s all state-funded and therefore state controlled. There might be a little more autonomy for charter and private schools, and maybe it would even last a while, but there’s that old accountability problem. And as long as schools are accountable to the state, they’ll be stymied by it.

Even worse, as the system of completely (or almost so) state-funded schools becomes entrenched, the problems we have now will become carved in stone. Most schools will be dependent on state funding, so declaring true independence when the inevitable occurs – the tightening of the noose – won’t be much of an option.

So now we’ve managed to take what independence we already have and turn it over to the state – where do the desperate and illiterate go from here?

Not only do we have a thriving independent education sector in this country right now, but it’s growing — in numbers and in innovation. A phenomenal amount of energy and private money is being poured into state schools in a futile and sad effort to bend them to our will and avoid the full responsibility of free choice. That energy and money could be funneled into real choice and true freedom. It’s no pipe dream. As a matter of fact, it’s a far more realistic picture than the one that paints a network of schools funded by the government yet free of it.

The choices that we’re demanding — vouchers, tax credits — are no choices at all. They are actually a way of shortening our chains. We teach our public schooled children daily the lessons of servitude and non-independence, and now we’re working to make sure the chains are not only shorter but stronger.

I can’t help but wonder if the problem may be our own years of state schooling. We lack the vision and the courage to take back our children and our future and to enable the less fortunate to do the same, to put the state in its place (which is not in our children’s minds and consciences), and to fly into the future. We yell, but not too loudly. We act, but not too boldly.

Free choice is staring us in the face. We still have the liberty to embrace it. My fear is that if we travel much farther down the road of all-state-schooling, we will all end up with no safety net. Our private education community will exist no longer – it will be part of the state system. Eventually, we will not even have the memory of freedom.

Respectfully yours,

Tammy Drennan

See also: Walter Williams: Failure of the Greatest Generation