Election 2012: Do Government Programs Produce Government-Friendly Voters?

Election 2012: Do Government Programs Produce Government-Friendly Voters? November 12, 2012

I am pro-government.

There. I just shocked some of you into spewing coffee all over your keyboard. After you clean that up, allow me explain.

God made it clear through countless inspired writers of Scripture that He ordained government. In fact, he added a pretty sobering warning that whoever resists the authority of government, resists God. He also added that, should the two collide, we are to obey God rather than government. Unfortunately, because government is comprised of sinful human beings, we can expect it to drift off course pretty easily.

So I am pro-government. But I also support strong accountability to keep civil government (of all parties) from acting in a way that tramples the rights and freedoms of other God-ordained institutions such as the family, the church, or individual conscience.

Do Government Programs Produce Government-Friendly Voters?

But what happens when the chief means of holding our government accountable (voters)get used to receiving benefits from government systems, programs, and largess? At what point does our dependency on government programs create a conflict of interest for us as voters? Put another way, have government programs become so woven into the fabric of our lives that we’ve lost our perennial resistance to candidates promising to expand government programs? Yes, insert President Obama’s name here.

My point here is not to delve into a case-by-case study of each government program — I’m not even sure the federal government knows how many federal programs it has. But I think a case can be made that we have gotten used to having government, particularly — but not exclusively — the federal government, providing for a growing number of our most basic of needs. Consequently, more of us find it more difficult to vote for the candidate who promises to reform what we know to be unsustainable policies. We’ve gotten used to government providing more of the basic stuff of life.

To try to make my point, I’ll go in a direction few of you are expecting and some may not even appreciate. Schools.

Government education a case in point?

I don’t find it at all surprising that a growing number of voters who attended schools run by the government would be more likely to support more government involvement in their lives. Maybe it’s just me, but if, from an early age, something so basic as your education was provided to you by government employees at no apparent cost to you or your family, wouldn’t that make you more likely to support similar programs?

Would it really be that great of a leap to think government could handle your health care needs? After all, for many students in public (government-run) schools, the government also provides transportation, food via school-lunch programs, and after school care. What’s the big deal with them doling out prescriptions, as well?

I know, some of you are hyper-ventilating now, thinking I’m somehow attacking hard-working teachers or some such nonsense. I’m not. Criticizing a failing system? Absolutely.  I understand education. Been there. Done that. In fact, in the private realm, we have to produce a superior product with a fraction of the funding available to public schools. And we do.

But my perspective is a little different than most precisely because it’s from outside the public-sector. I’ve partnered with countless parents who drove their own children to school every day — often at great expense and inconvenience. They packed their own lunches. And most of these parents were anything but wealthy. They paid their property taxes just like everyone else — then had to find a way to pay tuition, too. They sacrificed greatly to do it.

(Speaking of fairness, as I wrote here, how is that fair? Election consequence: progress on school vouchers came to a nearly complete halt with the re-election of President Obama, a staunch opponent of school-choice .)

I think some of my thoughts on the limits of government were shaped by my own education not depending on the government. My parents worked hard to ensure I got an education consistent with their faith outside of the public system. I worked my way through college without any direct government assistance. Took longer than most. But I suspect that experience contributed to why I see government differently than some, especially when it comes to schools.

I don’t think the federal government should be in the education business anymore than it should be in the automobile industry. Come to think of it, ever since they became more heavily involved in education, our nation’s achievement results have stopped climbing and our status in the world as an academic superpower has disappeared. And the more federal subsidies go to colleges, the higher the tuition.  Anyone but the government would have been fired. But that’s the point. It’s hard to fire the government when its providing for your needs.

Government as first responder

For many in our culture, government is now seen as the first responder to life’s needs.

Students attending a public (government) school can be unwittingly conditioned in one of two ways:

  1. Passive. The simple fact that the government provides for such a significant portion of their life experience can subtly condition them to accept the government’s involvement in other areas of life. Parents can, and often do, push back against this notion, but it takes time and energy to do so — two things in short supply these days with most parents just trying to make ends meet. And it has to get confusing for students who are told by parents to show respect for teachers espousing ideas that parents say are bogus. Awkward.
  2. Active. Curriculum content is often influenced by government funding choices and comes from the top down through California (can’t think of a more government-friendly place) or Texas. The choices are often influenced by the teacher unions (government), and applied by teachers who have been trained by education departments in colleges that lean so far left they’re literally lying down on the job of training free-thinking educators. In other words, for those who attend most public schools, the deck is heavily stacked in favor of accepting more active government involvement in the future of society.

Whoever controls the schools, controls the future because children are the future. Like it or not. Right now, the government controls the schools.

We shouldn’t be surprised if government schools produce more government-friendly voters who embrace government programs their parents and grandparents rejected as unthinkable not so very long ago.

A little free-enterprise in our schools would be helpful right about now. Too bad that elections have consequences.

Ah, well. Let’s get back to work. Our children are counting on us.

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  • Joe Canner

    I don’t doubt that government programs have the effect of encouraging people to vote for the party that is more likely to maintain or expand those programs. But is that any different from voting for the party that is most likely to lower my taxes? Moreover, what’s the likelihood that lowering taxes will magically result in the private sector taking care of things formerly handled by the government?

    As for education, I don’t doubt that private schools can do a better job for less money educating certain types of students. But do you really think they could do that kind of job with all students? Where would we find large quantities of qualified teachers willing to work for $20,000/year? What about students with special needs? What about creating and maintaining the necessary facilities (technology, labs, shops, athletics, etc.) to educate many different kinds of students? Most public school systems pay $10-$15K per student per year, far less than the average private school (with the exception of the handful of Christian schools that live on a shoestring budget because the staff consider their work to be a ministry).

    • “But do you really think they could do that kind of job with all students?” In a word? Yes.

      As an interesting data point, the number of students labeled as special needs has doubled. With each label comes a significant increase in funding. However, research has shown that the increase has come from expanding the diagnosis and not from uncovering students with severe issues. In other words, the data suggests that the definition of special needs is being defined upward – and with it, increased funding.

      • Joe Canner

        I would be interested to see a little more fleshing out of your one-word answer. I’m sure a complete answer is beyond the scope of this format, but your answer was not very persuasive. Perhaps you can point me elsewhere?

        I would not be surprised to find that there some gaming of the system to get funding for special needs students. However, that does not mean they do not exist, nor does it mean that non-public solutions can ignore them. Here in Maryland (which has one of the best public school systems in the country and which spends more per student than most places in the country) parents of special needs student still have to fight tooth and nail to either obtain services in their local school or to get funding to put their child in a private school that focuses on kids with special needs.

        I would be interested to see the research on disability diagnosis you refer to. Many cases have gone undiagnosed in the past because the symptoms suggested behavior problems or because the parents didn’t bother to advocate for their children. It is also a well known fact that autism cases are increasing. There is also an increased recognition that mild cases of learning disability require special services. As I said before, I’m sure there is some gaming of the system, but it is very cynical to assume that this is the only reason why special needs funding has increased.

    • Jennifer

      I think that it would benefit everyone in the education system to really think about what great education would look like. In my very humble view I think that great education would focus primarily on teaching children how to think and teaching them how to behave in a civilized society. This should not cost a lot of money. Throw out the computers and smartboards in the early grades! just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we have to use it. it will all be changed by the time they are in high school anyway! I know that there are many children with learning disabilities (I have one) and mental disorders (he has that, too). But the pressure on schools to make learning as near to perfect for each child does, in my view, a disservice to many children who suffer from minor learning disabilities and mental disorders. I worry that it gives them two messages: 1) You are not capable of muddling through and figuring this out on your own ; 2) Life will adapt to you, you don’t need to adapt to life. While I am completely in favour of providing those children who really can’t do it on their own with special resources, I think we need to examine our base beliefs about good education.

  • DougS

    What happens when voters get used to receiving benefits from government system? Benjamin Franklin answered it best:
    “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

    Another quote by Ben sums up why people need more government involvement in their lives.
    “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

    • Doug, I share your concern in that regard, but we need to be able able to offer alternative paths that succeed where government-run options fail. Any thoughts there?

      • DougS

        Not to be a negative Nellie, but alternative paths are often met with resistance from the government to keep others off of their turf. Food donations are rejected because they don’t meet gov’t nutrition standards, home-schoolers have to jump through hoops for their child to be considered educated. I can answer with alternatives like churches and communities pitching in, but it still seems like a major uphill battle.

        It seems like the only thing we still have control over is our family. Setting good examples for our children seems to be the best way to counter the direction the country is headed (or is it already there).

  • Jennifer

    You could always use your neighbours to the North as a case study. We’ve had a government run public education system for a very long time. 95% of parents send their children to public schools. We also have many social programs in place to help the sick, elderly and unemployed. And yet for the past three elections we’ve voted to elect a conservative government that has made significant spending cuts to social programs, police and military budgets, healthcare services, etc. They have also reduced taxes. The conservatives ran a minority government until 2011 when they were elected by majority (we have three main parties, so it gets tricky). Until the recent economic downturn they were reducing our federal deficit annually and operating at a surplus. Stimulus programs to keep our economy stable(ish) during the past few years have put us back in the red at least temporarily. I think that Moody thinks Prime Minister Harper’s austerity measures have gone a bit too far, but even a born and bred Liberal/NDP like myself understands that we need to be able to sustain our social programs. I’d rather not be spending half of my taxes on interest payments! Historically we tend to yo-yo between liberal and conservative governments. I’m not sure that benefiting from social programs strongly determines our vote.

    • Jennifer,

      I think we would have different standards for what would be conservative. Canada would be good case study to support my argument, IMHO. I just can’t help but notice the rise of government programs coinciding with the rise of government involvement in many ways, including education.

      • Jennifer

        “Conservative” is merely the name of the party that is currently in power in our country. The Conservative party is portrayed in our country as the one that “doesn’t care about the little people” and is “pro big business”. Voting for them is a vote against increased social spending regardless of whether they are as conservative as the republican party in the United States. In all cases that I can remember, social programs have been cut when the Conservative party was in power. We are currently being inundated with headlines that read “Harper budget slashes spending, cuts services”, “Conservative budget slashes healthcare, pensions”, and “Stephen Harper’s Razing of Canada’s Social Programs”. He is pulling the government out of many programs and downsizing and streamlining others. How else could he have put the federal budget into a surplus position (1997-2008) while still cutting taxes?

        Of course an increase in government programs coincides with a rise in government involvement. It’s like saying a glass gets fuller the more water you put in it. Whether or not you should turn on the taps in the first place is a different question.

        I entirely agree with you that the education system can sway the values and outlooks of students that are enrolled in it. Maybe (and I say this as a JOKE), if our schools were better we might produce students who could connect the dots and realize that they have benefited from social spending and vote for this lovely situation to continue:) I just honestly don’t see this happening here. I think this is due in part because Canadians – despite our social programs (which aren’t nearly as free and easy as portrayed by the American media) – are a practical bunch. Even our elections are short and sweet. We allow each party 21 million dollars to spend and six weeks to cut to the chase and convince us to vote for them.

        • Jennifer

          To clarify my comment about schools being able to sway values and outlooks: Children = particularly very young ones – are influenced by the thoughts and actions of those they are close to. Any given teacher, however, may teach the same curriculum differently and put their focus on different elements of the curriculum depending on their personal values and beliefs. The public school system usually contains teachers with a wide range of “leanings”.

  • Luke Kruse

    Bill, came across your blog via a former student’s facebook. Glad to see you are writing. I always appreciated the intellect and heart for truth you had while working with you at CCA.

    As a Christian working in the public schools, I acknowledge things are not perfect and there is room for reform in certain areas. However, I think that overall the majority of public schools do well in their task – educating students in the basic skills necessary for college or career. I assure you that our job is to teach the academic standards prescribed by the state of Ohio, not to moralize students with leftist ideology or dogmatic thinking. Of course “nothing is neutral,” and a teacher’s beliefs are bound to come through, but that is not the purpose of what we do. Public school teacher are not a uniform group – we are liberal, conservative, protestant, catholic, secular, etc. So is the real world and students will be exposed to these viewpoints regardless.

    Also, christian schools are a great fit for many students and I respect what they do. If a parent feels their child needs to be taught from a Christian worldview, then by all means they should. If they can’t afford it, homeschooling is an option.

    Are students in public schools more likely to turn out accepting a larger government role? Maybe, but not necessarily. Do people that drive to private school on public roads or get their homeschooling books from public libraries necessarily support Marxism? Of course not.

    My problem with the voucher movement, which you touched on also, is twofold:

    1) Vouchers are government (tax) money. If a private or parochial school takes public funding, they have been compromised and are now a “public” school. They should have to accept all students regardless of disability, intelligence, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Public schools spend millions educating the poor, disabled and low-intelligence students that private schools wont touch.

    2) Vouchers go against the traditional support of schools in American society. We have funded public schools since the Colonies. There is a distinction between public and private in education that should be upheld.

    Look forward to hearing your response and checking in on your blog from time to time!

    – Luke

    • Luke, Glad to hear from you. You are an excellent example of hard-working teachers in the public system. I would, however, completely disagree with you on the state of education in our country. Certainly, here in our county locally in Ohio, things are a bit different. The numbers tell a different story nationally, . NAEO scores have remained flat for thrity years. SAT scores are static. We have remained at astandstill while much ofthe world has moved forward.

      Public school teachers are not a uniform group although they do lean left. That may also be true of private school tecahers as awhole, though. I’m not sure I follow your anaolgy about home-school parents supporting communisim by getting books from the library. Can you explain? 🙂 Thanks.

      Re: vouchers. Vouchers are the people’s money that the governmetn taxed to use for the education of their chidlren. Parents who choose not to use the government schools should be reimbursed in some way that permits them to use those funds for their children’s education. How is it fair that some parents have to pay twice?

      Re: tradition. If you’re going to appeal to the way school was as your defense, then you should return the rightful place of religion and morality in schools as described so clearly by the Nortthwest Ordinance which said schools should be established (here in what would become Ohio) for the teaching of religion and morality.

      Text: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged”

      I suspect there would be very little call for vouchers if the schools still embraced the character values that they once did.

      Spoken in love. No question there is much to be done on all fronts, including Christian, private, and home-schooling to improve the education in this nation.

  • Luke Kruse

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Bill.
    In response to the library example, I was simply using that as an example of a government funded entity that people use that does not necessarily make them more likely to be government-dependent. I don’t necessarily think that going to public school greatly increases one’s level of dependence on government when they reach adulthood – I think that is more demographic or family influenced.
    I’m glad you acknowledge that not all public schools are the same. Certainly many systems in Geauga and Lake counties have excellent school systems compared to Cleveland, Euclid, etc. Public schools tend to reflect their communities. My school (Middlefield-area) is more conservative and there are many Christians on staff. I do find it frustrating when people dismiss the entire system because of the extreme examples.
    One thing with the vouchers, I guess I disagree fundamentally about taxes. Once our taxes are paid (render unto Caesar what is Caeser’s) it is no longer “our” money. It is the governments. If a parochial school takes that money they should have to accept all students – just like public schools. I strongly believe it compromises the integrity of the parochial school to take government money and not accept all students. How do you get around this?
    Point understood on the religious tradition of public schools. I understand the history there and would just say that America is a much different place than it was even 50 years ago when it comes to such matters.

    • Luke, Would it surprise you to learn that public schools expel more students per capita than private schools?

  • Jay Saldana

    I hate to say it, but you people are so “white”. Did you not learn a thing from the last election. You are so convicted in the “Southern Strategy Evangelical Conservatives as victims of the Liberals mentality” read white people trying to squeeze through the eye of a needle. Lets expand our horizons to where the real money is: For largess voters, let’s start with 4 billion in tax breaks to the oil industry that is running record profits. Or the subsidized, guaranteed type loans made to corporate raiders like Bain. (buy a company, get small business guaranteed loans, charge millions in “consulting” to fix company, bankrupt the company becasue of debt, kill off retirement, and pensions, walk away millions richer) that is good for 700 million a year. Look, we got 6 billion without breaking a sweat. Now all those educational program, including pell grants can fit into that with money left over.
    See that was not hard. You won’t have to voucher, which helps mostly vendors and the upper middle class, and look at improving schools for everyone. Who knows maybe we can give up trying to make the rest of America like Alabama and Mississippi where the separation of white evangelicals from minorities in private schools has made those states an educational dead space. Of course, Bill, you continuing to parrot the principals of the Southern Strategy should not be considered your agreement with those principals. It is all an accident. But you know a person who is used to dealing with nuance as a theologian might be should have picked that up. I am sure you just over looked it.
    Have a God filled day,


    • Jay,

      Thanks for welcoming me back from trip with style! I look forward to one day sitting down with you and talking more over a cup of coffee. Why, may I ask, does the color of anyone’s skin come into play here?

      One thing I loved about Guam is that such things as skin color are largely irrelevant. What a relief.

    • DougS

      Wow, I thought I had clicked on MSNBC by mistake. You forgot to mention Halliburton.

  • Rick

    It’s funny to watch the rhetorical shifts in discussions like this. One person can refer to public schools as “government-run education.” Another person can refer to them as “built by the local community, accountable to the local community.” They are both right, you know. And each of them reveals a worldview.

    • True as to what it reveals. But the accountability is fading…

      • Rick

        Care to elaborate on your short, snarky blanket statement? I suppose a school that has no local board is not accountable, but, uh, I think every school has a school board, no?

        And back to rhetoric — evangelical rhetoric is unfailingly bleak, narrow, pessimistic. “Accountability is fading….”, with no explanation, reveals a deep negativity about public institutions. It’s like “Debbie Downer tries to be salt and light, and doesn’t understand why people get annoyed.”

        • Jennifer

          I’m not Bill (“Phew”, says Bill). And I don’t live in the United States so my views on the government run education system may well be more reflective of the system in Canada then in the United States. That said….
          Regarding accountability, I’d like to use the metaphor of a game I watched on the TV show Survivor. In this game the competitors would drop a ball into the top of a run. The ball would roll along a twisty path before dropping out at the bottom. The player would then catch the ball before it hit the ground and put it back in at the top. But then another ball was added, and another, and soon there were many balls racing down the run and dropping out the bottom. It didn’t take long before people started missing the balls and dropping out of the game. I see the education system as taking this game to the next level. Now we have different coloured balls (different programs) and different people responsible for each colour. And with so many balls we need even more people to keep track of them – 2? 3? 100? – for each colour. Confusion and fighting over who is responsible for which ball gets added to the mix. And now we add supervisors to make sure that those people are doing their jobs well because it’s all getting complicated.. Balls are starting to drop into the dirt. And now we add parents who want yellow stripes on the blue ball because that’s best for their child. And the students – who are learning to advocate for themselves – start painting the balls like rainbows. And the Board of Education tries to decide how best to operate this whole mess while also keeping in mind the upcoming elections. So when studies are done that show that black balls are just great the school trusties feel they have to add those balls, too, because they are obviously necessary to everyone’s success and because voters really like them… And it is understood that in theory the school system is accountable to the taxpayers but no one person really knows how it all works together (because it doesn’t really) and the taxpayers are tired after working long hours to pay all those taxes and just want to go home to watch Survivor without trying to figure it all out.

        • Rick, Not intending snarky, just brevity. From years of working with people in education, many think that they have fewer options as local leaders since so much of their circumstances are handed down from state and federal levels or restricted by public-sector unions.

  • Jennifer

    I’ve been thinking a bit more about this question, Bill. It seems to me that government programs, over time, can produce a DEPENDANCE on government as we shift away from other options. I think where we have run into real trouble is that this shift towards dependance on the government has occurred at the same time as we are experiencing a shift away from family and community. And by this I mean a shift away from the large families where everyone from Great Grandparents to babies lived and worked together in a communities where people lended a hand to each other for farming, barn-raising, etc. While more and more of have jobs outside the home, there are fewer of us who ARE home. And while I am certainly not suggesting that women should stay home barefoot and pregnant, the reality of this situation is that we are left with fewer “people” resources available to us.

    • Well said, Jennifer. I agree completely. It’s the subtle shift of culture at the margins that we seldom notice until a “crisis” of some sort gets our attention.

      • Jennifer

        So…. What do we do now? How do we decrease our dependance on government and at the same time support those who no longer have the same level of family and community support they may have benefitted from in the past?

        • And that is the question I am devoting much of my time too in the coming years. I think the government systems are unsustainable; therefore, we would be wise to cultivate viable alternatives before they collapse.