Think of a bomb. A nice, big fat bomb, maybe one of those black balls like you always see in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, perhaps with a smiley face painted on the side. Imagine that it has about a hundred sticks of dynamite crammed inside of it, and the timer is counting down in big, red digital numbers. Finally, picture that bomb in your lap. Let’s give it a name, shall we? I think “The American Public School System” will suit it just fine. Do you get where I am going with this? The current public school situation, especially here in California, is a high explosive waiting to go off. I’d like to say the solution to disarming this sucker is school vouchers, but nothing is that simple; they can, however, set the dial on the timer back a bit and buy us more time.

Everyone knows the current state of public education in this country; most people lived through it. If you didn’t, you had friends who did. There isn’t enough of anything to go around. Kids are stuck sitting in the aisles for class, doing nightly reading assignments out of photocopied booklets and having to go through hell to get one-on-one attention from the teacher. If you went to public school in Southern California, you’ve experienced this firsthand in some way. It’s not like this everywhere, thank God, but it is prevalent enough that it should cause worry in everyone’s hearts. It’s a bomb in our laps. School vouchers are a way of easing the pressure on the system. Granted, it is not a complete solution, and needs to be coupled with a reformation of public schools, but it’s the first step in solving the problem. Students probably will not switch over in record numbers from public to private, but if three kids from every class change over, it means three fewer books that need to be found, three fewer chairs that need to be scrounged up, and less of the teacher’s attention that needs to be divided.

Questions are often raised about the fairness of the plan. Some argue that students whose parents can afford to send them to private school will receive a better education while those who are still unable to afford it will be left behind in the public school system. First off, not all public schools are bad. A good number of them are first class institutions that just suffer from overcrowding. So, it isn’t fair to make the assumption that just because you are in public school it means the quality of the education you are being offered is less than that of a private school. Second, the fairness argument ignores all the people for whom vouchers would make a difference. It leaves out that important group of people who would take their kids out of the crowded public schools and put them into private institutions if only they had that extra bit of cash for tuition. The argument doesn’t make sense. It assumes too much. Look at it this way: If more kids leave public for private, then class sizes will shrink in public schools. The teachers will be able to focus more on each individual student. The quality of education for everyone will rise.

This can only happen however, if public schools reform along with the voucher program, and to be honest, public schools could learn a lot from the way private schools are run. From what I’ve personally seen and experienced, private schools don’t have a computer or DVD in every classroom. Yet they manage to produce students who score higher on Advanced Placement exams and SATs, who are accepted to more colleges and who generally have a better education than those who come out of public school. How do they do it? What do they have? It’s an easy answer. They have more books, they have smaller class sizes, they offer more college preparatory and Advanced Placement classes, and they have teachers with the freedom to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

There is a slew of other arguments against vouchers: That most private schools are founded by religious organizations or that people don’t want to pay money for someone else’s kid to get a better education. These are tough ones and could be entire articles themselves. However, my short reply: Right now, there are some kids in some private schools who are receiving an education that is inferior to some public schools, yet their parents’ taxes are paying for that better public education for someone else’s kid. It’s something to think about. Plus, it is my experience that people of all religious backgrounds attend parochial schools. They’re there for the education, not for a religious experience.

In the end, vouchers alone won’t stop the bomb. However, if they are used in conjunction with a plan to revamp public education as a whole, everything will turn out for the better and disaster can be avoided. So, think about vouchers, think about what kind of school you might want your kids to go to, and whatever you do, don’t cut the blue wire.

Steven Ruszczycky is a sophomore English and bio-psychology major.