Topics of Crunching

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Vote of 2012: Education

“As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC 2229)
School Choice. This is something that some Catholic leaders have chosen to support, and today I'm going to try to find out if I agree. Despite Catholic schooling being much cheaper than most secular private schools, there are still those who cannot afford to send their children to be educated in the parochial system. And more and more, I can see how a family that truly lives in the counter culture that is the Church would want their kids anywhere but public school.

A Voucher for your Thoughts?

Who pays for our public schools? Everyone. Those with children, those without, those who are also paying private school tuition and those who are using the public school system. I understand the idea - if we expect only the parents of children in public schools to bear the burden of that cost, either the system would come to a screaming halt or thousands upon thousands of children would go unschooled. Or both.

But on the other hand, what if those parents who choose to school their children in a private or parochial school receive an exemption, since that have removed the cost of their own families from the burden of the state? Or, take that a step further. What if parents who choose an option other than public schools were given the option of a voucher to apply toward a school of their choice, be it Catholic, Communal, Montessori, Homeschool, Spanish-speaking, etc. Essentially, all citizens pay taxes to educate the nation, but when it comes time for them to cash in on those funds, they can elect to withdraw from that account to pay for schooling outside the state or federally funded schools.

I am not the first to think of this. In fact, I didn't come up with it at all. It's an old idea, so I'm sure that the wanderings of my thoughts on this subject are equally as mundane and unoriginal. Yet, I wonder. Wouldn't that kind of "voucher system" stimulate economic growth and healthy competition between private schools, lower tuition costs, and remove a lot of the burden on a heavily-loaded state school system?

And then there's the issue of philosophical and religious freedom. That isn't dead yet is it? What if I don't want my child to be taught evolution, or sex ed, or history the way that it is taught in public schools. What if the teachings of the state system go fundamentally against what I am working my butt off to teach my kids. Isn't that my freedom? Doesn't the burden of education fall on the parent, not the state? So yeah, pull 'em out. Keep 'em home. I have many friends who homeschool, many who send their kids to a wide array of private schools with a spectrum of philosophical strategies. But they are still paying for their kids (and every one else's) to go to school.

I believe that this system was born out of the best intention: to give every child the right to an education. But one size fits all is not a true fit for anyone.

Church and State: You gotta keep 'em separated?

There is a long-standing argument that the government cannot provide a stipend for parents to fund religiously-based education because it is a violation of the separation of church and state. But what about the children of my friends who attend The Circle School, a wonderful family cooperative school here in San Antonio? That school has no religious affiliation whatsoever, but it does teach a particular philosophy. Their mission statement reads, "The Circle School's mission is to foster and encourage each child's awareness and respect for her/his own unique self within a framework of shared community ethics and knowledge." That's not religion, but it certainly is a way of thinking. Is it a church? No. But technically, the objections that those arguing for a violation of separation of church and state would have the same guff with these guys. This leads me to a quote from the Catholic Advocate:
"...If the voucher system is limited only to public schools and non-sectarian private schools, the majority of private schools will be left out of the mix. Furthermore, most non-sectarian private schools are well beyond the financial reach of parents, even those who receive government subsidies. So, in essence, a voucher program that excludes parochial schools is really a public school program. For reasons already discussed, this is not much of a choice for those Catholic parents who are concerned with the direction of public education." Source
What's so bad about Public School?

I'm still not sure about all this, but I know that I don't like a lot of the things I was taught in my public school days. When I recall the information I was taught in biology, in civics, even in drivers ed, and compare it to what I know now as an adult, I'm pretty disappointed, and I went to one of the best public high schools in our nation (ranked #7 in the US the year after I graduated). Despite all the attempts to provide a broad-based, unbiased education, I was taught some things that were downright propoganda. Weren't you? Can't you think of something you learned that was blatantly untrue, or weren't allowed to do that was a violation of your rights?

I don't think that it's avoidable. Education will always be biased. Raising children is, in the worst light, propaganda and brainwashing. BE HONEST. It all is. From the first time you tell a one year old baby No until the moment they start thinking for themselves, children are being formed by our opinions and the actions that they fuel. We cannot create an unbiased educational environment, so we must protect our liberties and allow parents to educate their children in the system that best meets their morals and standards.

Another flaw? Neighborhood and income level influences our education. As I said, I went to a wonderful high school. My husband's education was atrocious. The school, overwhelmed by discipline and attendance issues, was little more than a bad babysitting center. The difference? The neighborhoods we grew up in. My high school was populated with the children of the old-money part of a large southern city. His was full of the townies of a low-income area in a military town. That entire school system is so bad that his mother has chosen to send his younger brother to one of the only private schools in the area, a non-denominational Christian school. For his family, that is the only real choice.
I don't know much about what causes the blatant unbalance in situations like this, but I do know that my brother in law is lucky that his parents can afford to send him elsewhere. For my husband and his sister, they simply had to make do and, to put it bluntly, try not to get shot between classes.

I also have a big objection to what I see as a confusion between freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. If my daughter wants to pray over her food before she eats in the school cafeteria, and even visibly cross herself, that's her freedom. If you don't like it, don't look. She's not making you pray. I know that this is an ongoing battle, and I'm so thankful for those standing up for our liberties, but I fear our culture has gone too far toward freedom from religion in public schools, and that my young children will not have any rights to practice their faith in a public school system. I hope I'm wrong. In the meantime, I'll support a system where I can choose a different school for them, even if I'm not wealthy.


So far, I think a voucher system, to include parochial and philosophically-based schools, is genius. Maybe it would eventually eliminate the need for public school. Wouldn't that be a yoke worth throwing for our poor overburdened states? Either way, even though I know I need to think holistically, I must say that I love this idea for me. Our income makes it impossible to pay for even Catholic school, and I fear that I would be a poor teacher for my girls at home. How about you? Would you like to see something like this?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Vote of 2012: An Aside

When I posted my first blog in this short series, I got a little bit of backlash. Not of my writing or ideas, but of someone else's. The criticism was of the original idea that inspired the post. Where did the idea for the 5 Non-Negotiables come from, and what were the criteria were for deciding on them? Why was it that the first four, issues of "honoring life from conception to natural death," were unbending, but other issues of life, specifically the death penalty and war, were not? Isn't it hypocritical to value life in some instances, like abortion, but not in others, like war?

I think it's important to take a moment to address these comments here before I continue with my original plan for this series. I'll let these documents speak for themselves. As for my opinion on the subject, I understand the objection. They make a very compelling argument, and truth be told I was all but convinced. But after additional research, I am sticking to my guns. Here's what I found:

The idea of the 5 NNs originated from the book A Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics, published by the group called Catholic Answers Action. You can find the original publication in it's (rather short) entirety at this site. But to answer the issue brought up by my readers, I need only quote a few paragraphs.

This excerpt comes from the Appendix of the 2006 version of this publication. It was a late addition to the text, after some controversy with a liberal Catholic organization after the 2004 publishing. For a more complete history, read the section of this Wikipedia article called "The Voter's Guide Controversy." Suffice to say that this appendix was created to counter the criticisms of this and other groups.
"This voter's guide focuses on five non-negotiable issues. These were selected because they involve principles that never admit of exceptions and because they are currently being debated in U.S. politics, giving voters the opportunity to influence these issues... Some issues allow for a diversity of opinion, and Catholics are permitted leeway in endorsing or opposing particular policies. This is the case with the questions of when to go to war and when to apply the death penalty. Though the Church urges caution regarding both of these issues, it acknowledges that the state has the right to employ them in some circumstances." (emphasis added)
The guide references two passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. CCC 2309 discusses the strict terms under which a nation could wage just war. It also stresses the importance of prudential judgement on such an issue. CCC 2267 states that in the case of an unquestionably guilty party and when lethal means are the only sure way to "defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor," there could be "recourse to the death penalty." On the other hand, it quotes the Blessed Pope John Paul II in saying that these exceptions are"are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

It also includes a quote from Pope Benedict XVI (when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger)
"While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel and aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." 
And with this, I leave the 5 NNs behind. They will not be my focus for the rest of the series - as I said before, I plan to move forward with discussions on education, taxation, poverty, immigration and the enviroment. All of these fall into the category of "wiggle room." To finish cleanly, I feel compelled to say that this is one of those posts I didn't want to write. I didn't want to disagree with the people making these comments - one of them I call "Daddy," and little girls NEVER want to think anything but the best of dad. But, out of obligation to anyone out there who might be listening, I wanted to put up what I found. And, of course, it was important for me too. I'm doing this to find where I stand - that's the whole point. I know that Dad doesn't mind if I disagree with him. After all, he raised me to question authority. :-)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Vote of 2012: Introduction

Yes, I'm still on this subject. But last time I wrote, I addressed it from a personal, introspective angle. This time, I'd like to offer more information than opinion and stick with a decidedly Roman Catholic Christian perspective.

Thanks to the urging of a very conservative friend (yes, I have those too!), I was pushed into investigating the "issues" again this morning. She pointed out something called "The Five Non-Negotiables" of the Church: Abortion, Euthanasia, Fetal Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, and Same-Sex Marriage. The basic concept is that to go against what the Church thinks on these 5 things is to put your vote in a non-Catholic hat. I'm sure there are those that would take issue with that, but it's not a judgement. You may certainly disagree with the Church on these ideas, but the fact remains: You may be a Catholic, but if you agree with any of the five, you are not voting like a Catholic.

Luckily for me, I agree. In fact, I made certain I was on that band wagon before I began my journey to become a Catholic in August 2009. I would not have even set foot on this road without being in agreement with these basic concepts - to do otherwise would be, I believed, hypocritical. Obviously, the first 4 Non-Negotiables stem from the same root: the belief that life, and therefore for personal rights, begins at conception and ends with natural death. They are, all four, logical inferences that follow from the concept that were are "created equal" and "endowed with certain unalienable rights by our creator," from the very moment that science tells us that life begins  until our bodies succumb naturally to death.

The fifth Non-Negotiable is hard for me still. I have come to believe that Marriage is the beginning of Family, in the same way that Seed is the beginning of Plant: a seed that cannot ever become a plant is, by definition, not a seed. Still, it's difficult for me to deny a homosexual person the right to a civil union, since that is not a "marriage."* Even if a civil union is permitted, there is little advantage to this aside from cheaper health insurance and simple tax returns. I don't think this is what advocates for homosexual marraige are after. A compromise, in this case, would not satisfy either side.

In my motivated researching frenzy this morning, I found this site. The overarching site has a very Conservative Catholic perspective, of which I am not too fond, but this particular document takes it's cues directly from the appropriate Papal Encyclicals, and makes major efforts to point out the subjects that are "non-negotiable" and the issues that are a matter of "prudent judgement." In other words, it tells you where Catholics can disagree without compromising what the Church sees as Christ's teachings.

While reading through this publication, I discovered several points that I am going to elaborate on. These are issues of interest for me, specifically because of the things that matter most for my life. I would encourage you to look through the document and find what matters to you. As I told my friend who originally sent me on my research rant,

"I'm researching like crazy, and for the first time in a while it's exciting me instead of frustrating me. It's so encouraging to read Catholic documents and find that I either already agree with the teaching, or that it easily refines some conflicting thoughts I had on a subject. In other words, Jesus for president!"
My future posts, inspired by this personal study, will (hopefully) include:
  • Education
  • Taxation
  • Poverty
  • Immigration
  • The Enviroment

Thanks, reader. Just knowing that you'll read this always makes me work harder to make sure I stand on solid ground.

*Note: Clarification on the subject of Marriage and Family: Just as I am against same-sex marriage, I am equally against married couples that choose to remain persistently childless, separation/divorce and pre-marital cohabitation. Many close friends and family fall into these categories, and in fact I have been in two (nearly three) of these situations myself. Don't confuse my beliefs with a holier than thou approach, for as St. Paul said, "I am chief among sinners." This is the great equalizer - sin brings me to the level of those I am so different from. It reminds me that I can never be superior to any man or woman. We all fall short.


I got a lot of comments on this blog about the 5 non-negotiables. Readers wanted to know who picked them and why. They had some legit complaints, and I researched their answers and wrote The Vote of 2012: An Aside to answer their concerns.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Political Race: Where's the Pit?

With the presidential race to deceive-faster-than-your-opponent coming up, there has been heightened pressure for me to figure out what I think about the issues. America is always zooming forward in the great race or democracy, but I'm just looking for a pit stop before I blow out all my tires. With two children under 3 and no job outside the home, the issues for me are potty training and boogers. Somehow, none of the candidates seemed to want to discuss. Clearly, they are hiding something from us. Scandal.

In my attempt to be well-educated about what matters to me, I began to distinguish (between diaper changes and requests for more markers from the cabinet) the issues that make a difference to me. Abortion/birth control, of course, but I've discussed that until I'm blue in the face. Foreign policy is an issue, but since I've spent the last 10 years in a relationship with someone who's been in and out of Iraq 3 times, it's a sore and often-avoided issue for me. And for now, it remains that way. A little too much scar tissue to go diving in with a scalpel, if you will. What else? There's so many things that I should have an opinion on, but don't. Here are my current musings on a few things.

Healthcare: Everybody is the equal! That's good, right?

Healthcare seems to matter a lot to me, but I am still quite conflicted about this one - as a military spouse I've always received as much care as I need, but because of the socialized nature of Military medicine, it has rarely been of any quality to speak of. Military Medicine: where everyone sees the same docs at the same facility and has the same, equal access to drugs. I believe that I know, just a little, what socialized medicine in America may look like, and it ain't pretty.

Take last summer, when I was given a prescription from my OBGYN during the latter stages of pregnancy. The wait for the pharmacy in the hospital? 2.5 hours (every day). The wait at the on-post pharmacy? 1.5, mostly outside (I was appalled when I saw elderly veterans standing outside the pharmacy in line in 110 degrees Texas Summer). So, I begged my doctor to write a script that I could take to CVS. She looked at me like I was insane. Why would I want to pay for free medicine? But 7 months pregnant with a 2 year old makes a drive up pharmacy look pretty good, and after all, my co-pay was a whopping $3.

How does this inform what I think of the proposed health care reform? I think (though I'm not yet sure) that it means I support the idea that free trade is the only way to regulate a very screwed up system. The pharmaceutical companies have such amazing monopolies on life-giving medications and yet are pushing unnecessary drugs down the throat of the public (longer eyelashes? seriously?), and the only explanation I've come across that makes any sense is that free trade has not been allowed to do it's cut-throat only-the-strong-survive kung-fu action because of government involvement (regulation, subsidies, incentives, research funding). Look - when I needed to go to the pharmacy, I made it happen at the place that met my needs. And I was willing to spend more of my hard earned money to do it. Maybe this is a microcosm. And this doesn't even cover what it's like to see the same doctors. Or what happens if you have an issue that's difficult to solve. Or the gaggle cuss that is "specialty" medicine. For the record, this isn't any one person's fault - some of the docs I've seen are miracle workers. I just think that this is the natural conclusion of the "everybody is equal and deserves the best" mentality. Didn't you guys watch "The Incredibles?" The moral of that story: When everyone is super, no one is super at all. And here comes the evil genius's destructive super-robot. Oh crap.

I also see an appalling waste caused by this type of universally-provided medicine. Guess what folks? That $3 prescription I paid for is actually worth $50. And someone is paying it. Among military dependants, there's a total flippancy about spending money on medicine. Feeling a little sad? Some providers will give you a month's worth of zoloft ($80-$90) without a trip to see even a counselor. Not sure what birth control you want to use? Give Mirena a try - you can always take it out and toss it if it doesn't work for you. And waste the $350 the little device costs. It makes me so mad when people think, "If I'm not paying it, what does it matter?" It's that attitude that must change to get us out of this hole we dug.

Immigration Policy: "It's proud, I am"

As a fourth generation immigrant, I care about immigration. The Irish (my main heritage) were hated as dirty immigrants who stole jobs and put "good Americans" out on their buts for a long time. "Native Americans" of the 1800s hated those Ellis Island pigs. Sound familiar? And guess what? Aside from the 1/16th of my blood that is American Indian, they were ALL immigrants at one time. Some of them would not have been legal under today's laws.

Now, we all know that I'm a fan of all things legal so I am certainly not promoting illegal immigration. And it's not impossible to become an American, either. I have known many many people who joined the military as a fool-proof way of becoming American. That some hard-earned long months, doing a minimum 2 year stint serving the country you want to belong to. I'd like to shake that hand, my friend.  So changing immigration laws isn't necessarily the answer. I would just like to see a change in attitude, honestly.

Gerald O'Hara. So one of my personal heroes
is fictional. So what?
A grateful tip of the hat to Lady Liberty and the thousands of tired masses she welcomed would be a nice start. Not being hateful for having to "press one for English" would be a holistic thought as well. After all, why do we speak English in the first place? 7th grade history, folks. In this part of the country, I should be speaking Spanish. If not French. If this country speaks Spanish as their first language in 10 years, I guess I'll be learning Spanish to keep up, not complaining in racial slurs. 63% of my fellow San Antonioians are hispanic, only 28% are white, and a shocking 6% are African American. But back home, the city of my birth has gone from 14 to 17% hispanic over the course of the last 9 years. And I am ashamed to admit that I've heard so many of the white majority in that area say "The hispanics are taking over." Shame on you for thinking that's a bad thing in the first place. But for being that out of touch with what is actually going on? Think for yourselves, people. You're still sitting pretty at 47% white back at home. Relax. Come visit the River City and be appreciative for a family-oriented, friendly, art-infused, religiously-sound culture that I am overjoyed to be submerged in. They can take over if they want to. My Irish ancestors did just that - mixed and fought and worked their tails off when "No Irish need apply."

"It's proud I am to be Irish," to quote the fictious yet friggin awesome Gerald O'Hara (Gone with the Wind) and so I welcome those huddled masses - no matter how they come. I think our attitude informs our legislation. And I'm afraid we've got it all wrong.

Standing against those I love?

In discussing all this, I've made a real discovery about myself. It's very difficult for me to take a stand that is different from my family and friends. It's a pretty simple formula really. (What I think) / (What you think) x (How much I care about you) = (Gagglecuss of emotion). I really just want everyone to get along. I know that you wouldn't guess that from this blog, but it's true. This little blog world is the vacuum in which I can have an opinion that is contrary to that of my best friend or my husband or my kid's godfather (Hi Jimmy!). But what I've learned is that I HATE IT. I spend more time trying to reconcile what you think to what I think than develop what I think at all. Because I love you. Yes you. I guess it's a good thing that my love overwhelms my opinion, but not if it makes me a fence-sitter. The trick is to find out what I think, and love you even if you don't agree with me.

Even these letters know that not everyone can be right.
Having political opinions is relatively new territory for me. I spent a lot of my life purposely not being opinionated. "You're probably right, I'm sorry," was my MO. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, a very popular idea, just turned out to be (for me) a load of bunk. In the end, I can't help but come to the conclusion that we simply cannot all be right. Mutually impossible. Yet it still shocks my system a bit when I find myself believing that someone is wrong.

And I have VERY high standards for having a solid stance on anything. My opinion must be well-researched from multiple reputable sources (on both sides of the issue, and hopefully from at least one non-biased source). It cannot be hearsay or pseudo-knowledge. It must challenge authority at all costs, but still acknowledge the value of the accumulative, longsuffering knowledge that authority often carries by it's very nature. It must be humane and empathetic, but convicted. And above all, it must always be ready to be proven wrong if presented with a more compelling argument. Geez. With a list like that, no wonder I'm a fence-sitter. I'm exhausted from just typing it.

So politics makes me feel like I'm running a marathon. In the end, though, I'm glad I'm like this. I wish more people were. It's the folly of my life - high standards for all, and the highest for myself. But I refuse to compromise. I'll just continue to labor under the yolk of my own ridiculousness. Hee-haw.