Let the Community Decide

Don Tenney ["A Naive Philosophy," Letters, Dec. 16] fails to understand my argument regarding his and other members of the Stunted Growth movement's working to "preserve" open space in Loudoun County. At no time did I state that markets should always "supersede" government functions. My statement was that every action entails costs and benefits, and that as a community we must decide which decisions are made privately and which are made publicly. Given the ability of special interests such as Voters to Stop Sprawl to use the power of government for personal gain, decisions that could be made in the market thus should be.

If Mr. Tenney is correct in his assessment that open space is a desired public good, then there are two approaches by which to achieve this objective. The first, as promoted by Voters to Stop Sprawl, is to use the power of government to seize the property rights of certain individuals by prohibiting them from developing their land. The supposed benefit to the "public" is acquired while the cost is foisted upon few specific landowners, an obviously unfair treatment.

Alternatively, we could decide as a community that open space is a public good for which all citizens are willing to bear the costs in the form of increased taxes and pay the market price for the land. This method achieves two goals. First, every citizen bears the cost of the public good. Second, when citizens are required to pay for such land directly there is a constraint on the government's ability to indiscriminately seize property--an objective openly voiced by Mr. Tenney and Voters to Stop Sprawl. My concern is that, given VSS's failure at competing in the market for land (witnessed by either their inability or lack of willingness to pay what others are willing to pay for use of this land), they usurp the power of government to appropriate these property rights. At what point then, do they cease?

As an aside, Mr. Tenney refers to me as a libertarian, claiming it to be a "naive" philosophy. If he means that I remind him of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason by my desire to restrict the power of government, then I proudly accept that label. Conversely, given the history of the 20th century--especially the past decade, given the proliferation of special interests grubbing at the doors of governments everywhere, and given the empirical work of Public Choice scholars led by Virginia's Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, the onus of proving that one's political philosophy is other than naive lays clearly at the feet of those still promoting expansion of the state under the guise it benefits the "public's" interest.

MARK STECKBECK

Sterling

SOLs Too Narrow a Gauge

Matt Chwalowski ["The Value of SOL Testing," Letters, Dec. 19] seems to have missed the point with regard to the letter written by my husband and me about SOL testing. I agree with Mr. Chwalowski that accountability is necessary. The point is that one multiple-choice test cannot provide reliable, comprehensive accountability. SOL tests should be one piece of the puzzle, not a one-size-fits-all square trying to fit into a circle. To pretend that one test can reflect a student's intelligence, or tell others whether or not she or he should graduate, is shortsighted, dastardly, dogmatic balderdash.

Many researchers are concerned about our educational system's reliance on multiple-choice testing. While it can play a role, multiple-choice questions often have several "correct" options in the eyes of creative thinkers, thereby depressing scores for children who see possibilities only visible to those with open minds. Multiple-choice testing also precludes the use of truly higher order thinking skills.

Mr. Chwalowski makes clear in his letter that he does not like public education. I, on the other hand, am leery of education going down the same road our health care system has. Accountants are now making medical decisions. How long will it be before they are also controlling our children's educations?

KATHRYN KERN-LEVINE

Leesburg

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