Heresy: why I support school vouchers

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Aug 2 07:30:48 PDT 1999

Rkmickey at wrote:

>Doug Henwood wrote:
> >I assume that means he approves of union busting but is too shy to say it.
>I don't know what Jose Perez would reply to this point. For my part, I
>think public employee unions often need to be opposed when they identify
>their interests with those of the state rather than with those of the people.
> Does anyone automatically support say, prison guard unions? Given the
>compulsory nature of education, it is sometimes tempting to me to equate
>teachers' unions with guards' unions, particularly when the public schools in
>the inner cities seem so often to be merely preperatory institutions for the
>prison system. That doesn't need to mean "busting" the unions but it sure
>doesn't mean assuming that they are to be automatically priviliged by those
>on the left when they disagree with the populations they are trying to

There's plenty to object to about teachers' unions, or more broadly public employee unions, or even more broadly American unions in general. But there are plenty of reasons why U.S. unions are as awful as they often are. In the case of public employee unions, bourgeois politicians have made sure that no alliance develops between the producers and consumers of public services (see Marc Maier's City Unions for the NYC story). The fight should be to create that alliance. The right is very clear on what they want to do - use the ossified state of U.S. unions today as an excuse to destroy them completely.

As for the rest of the post, it shows an odd faith in the beauties of market choice. For vouchers to work as Perez wants them to work would require well-informed parents with plenty of time on their hands to investigate school options and perfect mobility for students to get from their poor neighborhood to a posh suburb. If we're talking about how schools might work in a socialist utopia, then maybe choice schemes might be a good idea. If we're talking about how they'd work in actually existing American capitalism, then they'd do little to equalizing educational quality.

I'm not clear on how this:

>It is, first and foremost, a continuation to the struggle for desegregation,
>for the right of poor Black kids to go to the same fine schools rich white
>kids go to.

harmonizes with calls for "community control," since Perez-style vouchers would involve crossing lots of community borders, legal and economic.


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