Former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Apparently the folks at Politico didn’t get the memo. This Monday, the Northern Virginia-based blog published a blatantly opinionated article attacking private school voucher programs under the guise of being a factual news article.
With a dramatic cover photo of Michelangelo’s God pointing at Albert Einstein at a chalkboard, the article theatrically reports what everyone in the education community has known for years. Namely, some private schools that accept public vouchers teach creationism instead of evolution. Or, as the article puts it in completely objective language, “Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.”
The article is a thinly veiled to sir public outrage against school choice with a theatrical science-versus-religion showdown, but the dichotomy doesn’t hold water. While it’s true that some private schools that accept voucher students teach creationism, the vast majority do not. One January article in Slate tallied the number of private schools that teach creationism at 308. That’s not even 1 percent of the 33,336 private schools in the United States, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
Numbers aside, the question of whether creationism should be taught in the classroom is completely separate from the question of whether taxpayers should fund private voucher programs. A voucher in itself is politically neutral. Just as parents could choose to send their children to private schools that teach creationism with a voucher, they could also choose to send their children to a school that emphasizes evolution.
In fact, the latter is likely already happening in Tennessee and Louisiana, where public schools are allowed to teach creationism alongside evolution. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael McShane explains in an rebuttal to the article in National Review Online, “If creationists are set on taking over school boards or state legislatures, school-choice programs might also work as a release valve for creationists to inflict their teachings on only their own children, and not yours.”
Yet, separating the issues of school choice and creationism must seem impossible to the article’s author, Stephanie Simon. In her science-versus-religion dichotomy, the issue of who is right and who is wrong is remarkably black-and-white. On the right side is the critics who “contend that the growth of voucher programs undermines the bipartisan drive to set uniformly high academic standards across the U.S. through the Common Core.” On the wrong side is voucher proponents’ “strong network of allies in many states” including “sympathetic lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans,” “local advocacy groups,” and “black ministers” — an oddly angelic coalition to demonize.