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Utah's proposed voucher law subverts our American values

School vouchers are un-American. Vouchers are anti-America. Utah's voucher law subverts American values.

America is a great nation — not because we create good men and women but because we believe all men and women are good. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. ..." The genius of America is not that our people are different but that our people are more like all other people than any nation's people have ever been.

America invented universal public education to celebrate our similarities, to honor the human in all of us. All men and women, no matter who they are or how much they know, can teach us something.

The purpose of education is to help find the goodness in each of us ... and in all of us together. The purpose of education is not to make us good business leaders, good physicians, good parents or good citizens. The purpose of education is to make us good. Period. American ideals hold that all meaningful personal and social skills are built upon a foundation of goodness.

You cannot develop goodness — the most American of all characteristics — if you separate yourself from others. Vouchers build walls instead of bridges. We can and should tolerate people of privilege — those who isolate themselves from the rest of us, live in gated communities, send their children to gated schools, work in gated surroundings. But they do themselves, their children and their society a disservice. We should tolerate privilege, but we should not glorify it.

The voucher movement is driven by anti-social values. If we use public money to support that movement, it will destroy us. And if we make anti-social values socially, politically and economically desirable, we will commit national suicide.

Growth and happiness come from climbing the mountain, not from standing at the top.

Proponents say vouchers will generate more money for public education. Anyone who believes that is not only selfish but naive. Proponents say vouchers will bring competition. That's like telling a football coach: "Give us your 10 best players, their scholarship money and their support systems, and it will make your team better."

Public education can afford to lose a few good students, but it cannot afford to lose their support systems — parents who have the interest, resources and power to change education. They think of themselves as caring parents. If they were both good citizens and good parents, they would focus their influence on improving public schools.

Voucherites say they deserve freedom to choose. But freedom without responsibility is hallucination. Responsible citizen-parents want to improve all schools, not just the ones their children attend. Responsible citizen-parents know quality public education is the foundation of a free society. Responsible parents want their children to learn both the value of and the problems associated with diversity. Responsible parents want their children to experience a society that values variety as well as conformity. Responsible parents want their children to develop the strength of character that comes only from appreciating those who speak different languages and come from different traditions.

Responsible citizen-parents demand smaller classrooms, better equipment, additional schools and stronger public commitment to education. Not vouchers. The most heartless argument is that vouchers give every family opportunities to send children to private schools. Proponents offer $3,000 of tax money. It's a shell game. It's evil. And it's unfair. Imagine a single mother with two children. She works two jobs. The state offers $3,000 to send her child to private school. But she will need a third job to make it work. And which of her two children will she choose?

Voucher proponents argue that private schools are better than public schools. Research does not support that argument. Besides, our responsibility as American citizens is to use our resources, our wisdom and our collective influence to make public schools the very best they can be. Universal public education made America the greatest nation on Earth. Responsible citizenship requires us to elevate public education, not to abandon it for selfish, elitist, anti-social reasons.

Voucher proponents want us to believe a single rising ship will raise the tide ... when we know it's the rising tide that raises all ships. In the long run, education for the few will help neither the few nor the nation.

G. Donald Gale attended public schools in Utah, where he learned from dedicated teachers and inspiring classmates from all walks of life. E-mail: