Marshall Fritz has just passed away from pancreatic cancer, I just learned. The founder of the Separation of School and State Alliance, Fritz advocated a truly free market in education, criticizing conservative voucher proposals for risking government control over now-private education.
I first met Fritz back in 1997. I had written one of Fritz’s acquaintances a letter about education, and the recipient had forwarded the letter to Fritz. He wrote to me: “I’m going to be in Denver shortly tomorrow, Tuesday… I was *very* excited reading your letter. Do give me a call, please; my name is Marshall Fritz… We’re with the Seperation of School and State; you’re insights on the voucher are right on target.”
I happened to take some notes of our conversation, and they reveal that even then we differed dramatically in our basic ideas even as we agreed on the politics of education. Fritz was a Catholic libertarian, while I was an atheistic libertarian who eventually grew apart from libertarianism as well. I wrote, “Fritz seems to reify evil. He talks about how, ‘If there’s evil, there must be the opposite of evil, or, God’.”
“Fritz argues that the liberals will take over the vouchers within a few years.”
“You can de-claw a lion, and it’s still a lion. You can de-fang a tiger, and it’s still a tiger. But what do you have if you take God out of morality?” I forget the particular beasts involved in the analogy, but that’s the idea. Fritz means this as a rhetorical question, to mean, “Morality is nothing without god.” I, on the other hand, am tempted to answer his question, “It’s a good start.”
Fritz seemed keen on making Catholicism more evangelical. He told this joke: “What do you get when you cross a Catholic with a Jehova’s Witness? Somebody who rings the door bell but then has nothing to say.”
He gave me some writing advice (which I occasionally take): sentences that begin with “you” should be in a two-to-one ration to sentences that begin with “I.”
This line is hilarious, given the post-9/11 hysteria: “He lost his wallet and was talking himself onto planes with his picture in his newsletter.”
“He bought flowers – 3 supermarket boquets – for Tancredo’s wife.” I don’t recall if this was the first time I met Tom Tancredo, but it was definitely the only time I’ve been to his house.
We went to the offices of the Colorado Education Association (why I have no idea). Here’s what I wrote about that:
My notes on the CEA meeting: 1) He was pretty harsh with Ms. Davis. She said, “we can always improve.” He said, “well, our position is that socialism by its very nature cannot be reformed but can only get worse,” or some such. 2) The main lady said standards are needed; his main objection is that standards would be too low to be meaningful.
I quoted one of the CEA representatives about Fritz, “He’s a nice person, though I disagree with everything he says.”
Fritz came back to Denver in 1998, and I picked him up at the airport. I sat in on an interview between Fritz and Janet Bingham of the Denver Post. Her article reads:
Get government out of education, pitchman says
The Denver Post – Wednesday, June 24, 1998
Janet Bingham, Denver Post Education Writer
Marshall Fritz is a salesman. His pitch: Get the government completely out of education.
He wants to end compulsory education and end all government taxation and support for schools.
The result – which even supporters say is a long shot at best – would be the replacement of all tax-supported education, including vouchers, with privately supported schools or home schools.
Government-run schools, he contends, don’t work because the “politically strong” are able to impose their views of what education should be on the “politcally weak” – whether they be traditional Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hispanics or any other group. …
Fritz… claims that more than 3,800 educators, parents, clergy and policy leaders nationwide have signed his proclamation calling for an end to government compulsion in education funding, attendance, and content. …
Among Coloradans on the list: Tom Tancredo, former president of the Golden-based Independence Institute and Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in the 6th Congressional District; John Andrews, 1990 Republican candidate for governor in Colorado; and Kevin Irvine, 1991 Colorado Teacher of the Year.
A Post editorial of June 28 blasted Fritz:
The California-based Separation of School And State Alliance, with the approval of some Coloradans, would like to see an end to compulsory school attendance and government financing of education.
The Denver Post would not. Education is the highest obligation that government at all levels must face…
Free and compulsory education is the bulwark of a free society and the best insurance that it will stay free. Obviously it is sometimes wasteful, sometimes slapdash and sometimes listless, but it is an established system that can be counted on to give all children a shot at improving their lives. Improving it is an urgent need. Abolishing it is absurd.
The mere fact that Fritz made his agenda a part of the public debate is impressive.
Fritz returned later in 1998 to lead a conference on school and state. The articles I wrote about the event were the first I published through FreeColorado.com (then the Colorado Freedom Report at www.co-freedom.com).
Earlier this year I wrote to him, “Marshall, I’m very sorry to hear the news. It’s good to hear, though, that you’re keeping your spirits up. Thank you for everything you’ve done to advance liberty.”
He answered on March 17:
I still fondly remember you’re driving me, our discussion on tutoring and freedom, and Haley’s Comet.
And, of course, staying in Tom Tancredo’s home.
Marshall was an eccentric and gregarious man who lived his ideals. While we often disagreed, I’ll miss his optimistic enthusiasm.