Education

Tax Dollars Are Used to Teach All Sorts of Stupid Shit, But It's News When Vouchers Are Involved

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Politico has a story hitting the webz that's all about how publicly funded school voucher programs allow students at "hundreds" of religious schools to learn stupid stuff like "young Earth creationism."

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.

Hundreds of religious schools! A billion dollars! Note the slippage from billions to hundreds at the very top of the story. Forget also that we spent about $638 billion on K-12 expenditures in 2009-2010, so $1 billion is practically a rounding error. If you led with the fact that perhaps thousands of students were being taught unscientific theories in schools aided by tax dollars, well, that's just not that big a deal, is it?

I don't believe in creationism—and I'm enough of a smarter-than-thou secularist to know that evolution will proceed apace regardless of the 78 percent of Americans who think that "God created humans in their present form" or "Humans evolved, with God guiding." In fact, according to Gallup surveys, just 15 percent of agree that "Humans evolved, but God had not part in the process." Cheer up, Darwinites, that's up from just 9 percent back in 1982.

As the parent of two children who attend public schools (and as a taxpayer who has contributed to public schools my entire working life), I have long understood that schools funded with tax dollars teach all sorts of stuff that is objectionable, useless (sports programs!), and flat-out wrong. I also know that in both direct and indirect ways tax dollars support religious schools whose theology I find objectionable, useless, and flat-out wrong. This sort of support is not limited to K-12 education, as Pell grants and guaranteed student loans are widely used at religious colleges.

At the same time, there's no question in my mind that school vouchers are not simply constitutionally sound but preferable to a traditional top-down, centralized school system. Whatever else you can say about school vouchers and other forms of school choice (such as charter schools), they expand opportunites for parents and students whose children are otherwise screwed. There is much research documenting that vouchers improve student outcomes and little that says vouchers diminish student outcomes. Stephanie Simon, the author of Politico's story about creationism and vouchers, quoted a Brookings scholar in a piece last year saying, "There's no evidence that people are being harmed" via voucher programs.

We live in a pluralistic society, one in which many different types of people believe many different types of things. Ideally, none of us would be forced to subsidize lifestyles, schools, or decisions with which we disagree. Certainly it would be better to separate school and the state, if only because as Marx, Hayek, and anyone with half a brain understands, compulsory education tends to reinforce the status quo and maintain the existing social order rather than create critical thinkers.

But until we agree to get the state out of the education business, I can't get worked up over "hundrdeds of religious schools"—there are about 100,000 public schools in the country—using tax dollars to teach stupid stuff.

Meet a typical voucher student in this 2009 Reason TV video about the D.C. voucher program that was kneecapped by President Obama, who sends his kids to private school:

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  1. Politico has a story hitting the webz that’s all about how publicly funded school voucher programs allow students at “hundreds” of religious schools to learn stupid stuff like “young Earth creationism.”

    Yes, people believe stupid things and educate their children likewise sometimes. So long as they’re not hurting anyone that’s their prerogative, end of story.

    1. It would be easy enough to make sure that only accreddited schools can receive vouchers, and make evolution (-creationism) part of the accredditation requirements.

      1. Actually, that wouldnt be easy to do at all.

        1. Why not? You can be a religious school, and you can get vouchers, just as long as you’re adhering to the statewide curriculum standards.

          1. How is saying “You can have access to this money as long as you don’t teach your religion” going to pass constitutional muster?

            1. Easy. I went to a private Catholic school for two years. They accepted non-Catholic students. The non-catholic students simply didn’t go to the catechism classes. The other classes taught the usual stuff, including evolution, just like the public schools.

              Fortunately, the Catholic church doesn’t have a beef with evolution. But schools that (effectively) refuse to teach biology shouldn’t be getting money from the government. If you can’t separate your religion from the curriculum your teaching on the public dime, you shouldn’t get on the public dime.

              1. You get, presuming you read the article, that some school don’t teach evolution or teach it only to contrast with their “truth,” right?

                If the state requires that evolution be taught as the truth, those schools can’t get vouchers because of their religious beliefs. It’s nothing but subterfuge, unless you allow some other body — and Christian private schools often belong to one — to provide that accreditation.

                1. I have no problem denying voucher money to schools that refuse to teach evolution as the accepted scientific theory.

                  If the schools want to teach evolution during school hours, and then have an after-school creationism class, they should be free to do so. But as long as they are getting public financing, they should adhere to the minimum curriculum.

                  1. “I have no problem denying voucher money to schools that refuse to teach evolution as the accepted scientific theory.”

                    You do realize that amounts to estlablishing evolution as dogma, i.e. a government endorsement of a certain metaphysical viewpoint?

                    1. It’s not a metaphysical viewpoint. It’s a scientific fact. Teaching kids creationism isn’t “education”. It is religious indoctrination.

                    2. The distinction is not that clear outside of antiseptic intellectual discussions.

              2. But schools that (effectively) refuse to teach biology shouldn’t be getting money from the government.

          2. Right, as long as they teach the right things, like how AGW is totally a thing and only evil billionaires cause people to not get everything they want. We should definitely let the Top Men decide what’s right to teach.

            1. Are you saying there should be no minimum standards for what schools can get public financing via vouchers?

              What if Muslims want to use their vouchers to send their kids to a Madrassa where all they do is learn Koran verses and beat their heads against the ground all day?

              1. Muslims can do that now. Why should they have to pay for your view of school and for their own if they want a different one?

                1. Because I’m paying for it. If I’m going to be forced to pay for their kids educations, I want their kids to have the basic knowledge to allow them to be something other than a suicide bomber.

          3. Did you see the numbers Gillespie quotes? How you gonna get support to restrict it that way? It wont be easy.

      2. Sure we could, but I don’t see any reason why we should. An understanding of biological evolution is not even tangentially related to good citizenship or most occupations; it is simply irrelevant to the public function of education.

        1. An understanding of biological evolution is foundational to a decent education in biology.

          Teaching your kids creationism is virtually child abuse in that it prevents them from later having the skills they need to pursue a career of their choice. It’s just as bad as not learning to speak English.

          1. When’s the last time you needed knowledge of mitosis or mutation in your job? When’s the last time you needed English?

            1. Just because I don’t need to know mitosis now, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to know about it at age 17, when I’m deciding whether I want to go to med school or study engineering.

              If you don’t teach kids basic biology, you’re denying them the opportunity to pursue career paths in biological sciences.

              1. Which is exactly the same as not knowing English in America.

              2. If you don’t teach kids basic biology, you’re denying them the opportunity to pursue career paths in biological sciences.

                I was unaware that the university system stopped teaching foundational biology courses, or that libraries had been stripped of their evolution book offerings.

                1. Like you would pass a first year biology class starting from the belief that the Earth is 6000 years old.

                  Teaching kids creationism is dooming them to fail in first-year biology.

          2. Teaching your kids creationism is virtually child abuse

            It really isn’t, no more than teaching a kid socialist economics on a kibbutzim is. It may be wrong or even detrimental to future success, but supplying inaccurate information when the person themselves is unaware of its inaccuracy is not abuse of any kind, much less child abuse.

      3. Actually this is a good concept and I think that is the way it should actually work.

  2. “…and I’m enough of a smarter-than-thou secularist to know that evolution will proceed apace regardless of the 78 percent of Americans who think that “God created humans in their present form” or “Humans evolved, with God guiding.”

    Speaking of statistical slippage, why is it necessary to lump creationists with religious people who think evolution is the creative process?

    1. Indeed. Broadly phrased enough, such would preclude theists from being able to accept empirical observations by definition.

      “Gravity is a force which has nothing to do with God”

      Idiot: “No, because gravity doesn’t exist!”

      Theist: “No, because God created the universe and its laws.”

      Headline: BREAKING — Religious Don’t Believe In Law of Gravity

      1. It conveniently puts those religions, like Catholicism, which are generally rather good with scientific inquiry, on the “anti-science” side. It is dogmatic atheist viewpoint.

        1. Galileo and Copernicus object to your characterization.

          1. I figured guys that smart would understand verb tenses.

            1. Whats the statute of limitations on scientific dickery?

          2. Galileo was friends with the Pope.

            He got into trouble for going against the then scientific consensus in a particularly dickish way. Also, until Kepler, Copernican theory could not predict observable planetary motion better then the Ptolemaic theory.

            1. And yet, Copernicus was right and Ptolemy was wrong.

              1. On the larger question, yes, but at the time it was far from obvious and the Copernican theory had some serious flaws.

                1. Or that the people who most wanted Galileo silenced were his fellow scientists, not the Church.

                  1. Of course, but the scientists didnt have the power to do it.

            2. Galileo made the mistake of calling out everyone important enough to have an important patron who disagreed with him by name. You can imagine that calling Medicis and Borgias idiots by association might get you in trouble in 17th century Italy.

          3. “Generally” is a hard word to understand.

            For illiterates.

  3. …they expand opportunites for parents and students whose children are otherwise screwed.

    The expand opportunities for parents and, um, students with children (?) to be taught things that right-thinking deciders don’t approve of. IT TAKES A VILLAGE.

  4. “I have long understood that schools funded with tax dollars teach all sorts of stuff that is objectionable, useless (sports programs!),…”

    The philosophy of my private school administrators was that “a sound mind in a sound body” was a guiding principle of a good education and a good life, but apparently, that’s useless.

    1. I have to surmise, based on numerous posts, that the jocks were really, really mean to Gillespie. Whether you like team sports or not, it takes an exceptionally narrow worldview to believe they are useless.

      1. Really? I can see a strong argument for having all of those needs met by community associations who are not schools. PE and sports are just more of the Prussian model. Why can’t the YMCA run high school baseball leagues the same as they run t-ball leagues?

        1. That doesn’t make team sports useless, does it?

          I can see a strong argument for having the whole fucking school being provided by something other than a public school, but that doesn’t make the subject matter is useless.

          1. It does in the context of having finite time and dollars to spend educating children at school. I think there is an argument (I’m not necessarily making it as I enjoyed running cross country and track at school) that it does nothing to contribute to the mission of educating children.

            1. There’s an argument for just about anything. That doesn’t mean that there’s a cogent, defensible argument for it.

              Hell, what percentage of people use algebra, knowledge of mitosis, or the significance of the Battle of Midway in their day-to-day lives? When’s the last time you needed to know that guanine and cytosine are base pairs in DNA? What percentage of people work as part of a team in their day-to-day lives?

              There’s more to education than academics.

              And, no, finite time and dollars don’t make things “useless,” they make them less desirable than the alternatives. In that vein, algebra has less real world value than a class in plumbing or wiring for most people, imo.

        2. That’s a different argument than characterizing sports programs as “useless”.

    2. “a sound mind in a sound body” was a guiding principle of a good education

      A sound body doesn’t require 6 and 7 figure expenditures on competitive sports.

      1. That’s a different argument than characterizing sports programs as “useless,” though, isn’t it?

        Maybe too much money is spent and maybe public schools aren’t the proper venue but, even granting both of those, you don’t get to “useless.”

  5. This is completely idiotic. The BOR restricts the federal government. That means if the Feds are going to do something, they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion. It is a protected class. For example, the Feds could never pass a law that said no one who receives Social Security can use the money to donate to a church. Same logic applies here. If you are going to give vouchers, you have to give them to everyone. You can’t say “well you can only use them towards schools that don’t teach religion”.

    Politico being completely silly and ignorant don’t understand that.

    1. It comes from the current progressive idea that freedom of religion is only valid inside a house of worship. A voucher is not the State endorsing a religion, it is the parent’s endorsing a religious oriented education for their child.

      1. That is exactly what this is about. If parents in California were using vouchers to send their kids to schools that taught really damaging nonsense like “holistic medicine”, Politico would think it was great.

        They only hate this because Progs want to destroy religion in this country.

        1. You kids will meditate in school!

          California,
          Uber alles!

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fG8UuZ0NZGY

    2. There seems to be a couple of weird interpretations behind all of it.

      1) Ignore free exercise! The only religious right in the First Amendment is freedom from establishment.

      2) Freedom from establishment only runs one way: it stops religious people from using the government to impose their beliefs on others, but, apparently, it does nothing to stop the government from imposing beliefs on religious people.

      Just keep those two important ideas in mind, and you’ll understand what they’re talking about when they talk about “freedom of religion”.

      1. In a nutshell, they confuse freedom of religion with freedom from religion.

        1. Exactly.

          Like I said below, I don’t think it even occurs to some people in this thread…

          The government should not be allowed to tax religious people, over their objections, and use the money to teach children (sometimes religious people’s children) things that are contrary to religious people’s beliefs. That is just as much an establishment violation as teaching creationism to nonbelievers. And why wouldn’t it be?

          The urge many Christian fundamentalist feel in trying to make public schools teach creationism in public schools comes from the same place as the urge so many atheists feel to resist creationism being taught in public schools. Americans think that because they’re forced to pay for something, taxation means they get representation.

          You force me to pay for you teaching evolution? We’re going to try to teach kids creationism. The urge they have to try to make kids pray in public schools come from the same place. You can teach your beliefs on religion; why can’t we teach ours?

          The only difference between forcing atheist children to hear about creationism and forcing fundamentalist children to hear about evolution–is that evolution has a scientific basis and creationism isn’t really science. But what does that have to do with the First Amendment?

          Since when does the First Amendment only protect religious beliefs if the religious beliefs in question have a scientific basis?

          1. Ever see any of those “senior communities” advertised? Those are the ones where you can’t buy a condo there unless you’re over the age of 55.

            The reason you can’t buy a condo there isn’t because they hate the noise children make; it’s because the local government gave the developer a pass on having to pay fees to the school district when they swore that they would never sell a unit to anyone under the age of 55.

            That’s the way it should be for everybody. Whatever amount of money your property taxes (through rent or whatever) go to pay for public schools, you shouldn’t have to pay that if you’re not sending children to the local public school.

            Yeah, that’s a very complicated way to run things, and vouchers do a pretty good job of approximating that, anyway, for religious people who are homeschooling or sending their kids to religious schools.

            1. you shouldn’t have to pay that if you’re not sending children to the local public school

              But SOCIAL! COMMUNITY!!11!

              I don’t have kids. Can I spend my vouchers on vodka and cigarettes?

    3. I don’t really agree. The religious schools can be free to accept vouchers, just as long as they don’t use the money to teach religious indoctrination. They have to teach the standard curriculum required by the state.
      If they want to have an after-school class that teaches creationism, they can do that with their own money.

      1. You understand that money is fungible, right?

      2. “The religious schools can be free to accept vouchers, just as long as they don’t use the money to teach religious indoctrination.”

        I don’t understand why reimbursing property tax payers with vouchers means they shouldn’t be free to teach their children whatever they want with that voucher.

        Why is it okay to use religious taxpayers’ money to teach evolution?

        Why is it wrong to remedy that situation with vouchers–but perfectly acceptable to violate the establishment rights of religious people by using their money to teach evolution?

        1. People who don’t have kids pay property taxes too. People who get vouchers are generally getting subsidized by the rest of the public.
          It’s not really their own money. It’s a taxpayer funded subsidy.

          1. It’s not really their own money. It’s a taxpayer funded subsidy.

            You’re just trolling, now.

            Public schools are a fucking taxpayer funded subsidy. You get that, right? Right?

            Why in holy hell should I have to pay property taxes for 70 years but not spend any of it on my own kids for 12 of those years?

          2. Do you understand that this is the fundamental gripe of the fundamentalists?

            This is why the pilgrims left England and came to America–so their taxes wouldn’t go to support the Church of England and the horrible things they were supposedly doing and telling people.

            Like I said above, school districts give developers a pass on fees when they accept the legal obligation to never sell to anyone under 55.

            It’s not a mystery how much money the school district gets or where that money comes from, and if you ever go to a school board meeting, you’ll find a lot of people there who think they have a right to decide what’s going on at the school–because they’re paying for it with their taxes.

            Regardless, I hope you see the point that teaching evolution to fundamentalist kids is an establishment violation just like teaching creationism is to atheist kids.

            If we’re going to say the solution is that we’re going to keep teaching evolution but not creationism and that’s okay because fundamentalist parents can take their kids out of school, then it must be also necessary to refund those fundamentalist parents whatever they’re paying to the school district, too…

            We wouldn’t tax atheists to teach creationism in religious schools, now, and say, “Well, that’s okay becasue they don’t have to send their children there”, would we?

            1. Establishment rights for me but not for thee?

            2. What about the kid’s right to get a decent education? What happens when that kid gets ot his teen years and doesn’t want to be raised in a fundamentalist Christian sect anymore? What if he decides he wants to study evolution and be a biologist?

              Sucks to be him?

              1. There are thousands of practicing doctors who grew up creationist and were educated in religious schools. There isn’t anybody out there who can’t study whatever they want in college because of what they missed in a high school science class.

                Meanwhile, what are you suggesting, that religious parents shouldn’t be free to teach their children what they think is best?

  6. How many billions of dollars are religious people forced to pay to have evolution taught in public schools–even though the religious people are sending their own children to private schools or homeschooling?

  7. I bet they woukd agree to use private funds instead if public funds to teach creationism if abortion providers like planned parenthood stopped getting public funds that they have to pay into even though it violates their belief system.

    1. Remember JB, it is totally okay for the Feds to force nuns to pay for birth control. But someone in Georgia using a voucher to send their kid to a school that teaches creationism is a complete outrage.

      The government can force you to spend money against your conscience. But when the government gives you money, you can’t spend the government’s money in any way the government doesn’t approve of.

      See how it works.

      1. Just like I said on am links. Give us the choice of what to fund and what not to fund and watch the left crumble.

        1. Give everyone the choice of what to fund and what not to fund, and watch government, not just left-leaning government, be replaced by private enterprises.

  8. As the parent of two children who attend public schools (and as a taxpayer who has contributed to public schools my entire working life)

    “Contributed”? They asked you for your money, and you volunteered to do so? How gracious. They demanded money from me, under the threat of being thrown in a cage.

    1. Or kill you, if you show a modicum of resistance.

  9. In fact, according to Gallup surveys, just 15 percent of agree that “Humans evolved, but God had not part in the process.” Cheer up, Darwinites, that’s up from just 9 percent back in 1982.

    Wait, what? Aren’t those that believe in natural selection with some guidance from god ALSO Darwinites, by definition? Or who made YOU god to decide how pure should a Darwinian be?

    Besides, who told you those of us that trust Natural Selection is the proven theory that explains evolution should consider ourselves “Darwinites”? Why not “Russelites”? Didn’t Alfred Russel Wallace arrive at the exact same conclusions as Darwin?

    1. Wallace reached slightly different conclusions about evolution than Darwin.

      Darwin wrote a famous book about it, Russell didn’t. So Darwin got his name plastered on the theory.

      Life ain’t fair.

      1. Re: prolefeed,

        Darwin wrote a famous book about it, Russell didn’t.

        I guess you missed the point. “Darwinism” is actually a pejorative term invented by anti-evolution ideologues, implying that natural selection is not a process but a philosophical and ethical stance wholly invented by Darwin, which is why I mention that Wallace arrived at the same conclusions as Darwin.

  10. Well, OBVIOUSLY school vouchers are just a sneaky attempt by Christian conservatives to get taxpayer money to teach creationism in schools!

    I mean, nobody else has any reason to want to send their kids to a private school, do they?

    1. “I mean, nobody else has any reason to want to send their kids to a private school, do they?”

      The uneducated send their children to private schools because the Koch brothers tell them to.

      Oh, and because they’re racist. Don’t forget becasue they’re racist!

  11. At the same time, there’s no question in my mind that school vouchers are not simply constitutionally sound but preferable to a traditional top-down, centralized school system.

    Ha! Forget about the debate about placing children, using vouchers, in private schools that teach controversial theories on biology or cosmology. No, things will get far uglier as proggie Statists and teacher unions object to using vouchers to place kids in schools with alternative teaching methods that might be much more advanced than the obsolete methods used on the current jails-for-children.

    1. Things will get far uglier as proggie statists and teachers unions object to using vouchers to place kids in schools that doesn’t teach children about how unfair and mean capitalism is and how unions saved us all from the Great Depression. or whatever.

      Having gone to high school in Canada, I can tell you that Isn’t-Single-Payer-Awesome is part of the required curriculum.

  12. I’ve got no problem with athletics programs. If my kids are spending most of their daylight hours at school, I’d like at least some of that time devoted to some kind of physical activity. Besides which, I never had access to gym equipment (from volleyball nets to free weights) before middle school, so I can say from experience I definitely benefited from athletic programs throughout my public school career.

    Is Nick’s objection that money is being spent on high school football and so forth? Or is it that time is being devoted to sports? Would he prefer no phys ed at all, or just to take that time and use it for recess? Or early dismissal?

    1. I don’t get it either. I understand the objection to public schools in general. But why the various Reason writers feel the need to transfer the objection to public schools into an objection to sports programs is beyond me. Most private schools offer sports programs. Why? Because kids and parents like them and view sports as an important part of education and growing up. I would want my kid’s school to have a sports program too. If we are going to have public schools, they should have sports just like they have science and math and English.

      I think the Reason writers are still angry about the jocks beating them up in high school or something.

      1. I suppose there’s a valid objection to your kid being forced to participate at some level during his/her school career (even if it’s just by putting on shorts and smoking outside the gym) but a.) as with most things, complain enough and you can get your snowflake exempted, and b.) welcome to institutionalized schooling, where you get a prix fixe menu, not a buffet.

        1. Your kid is forced to learn algebra and take music class too. How is that any different than being forced to go to gym class?

          1. Like the government itself, the school that tries to teach everything, probably teaches nothing well.

      2. I either read or saw a video or something where Chompsky was saying that High School football was created to prepare kids for military service. It taught them to not question orders. And tge cheerleader squads were created to teach girls to cheer for war. I’m sure in Chomsky fashion he finished it up with his “everyone in the know, knows this”. What a riot.

      3. A couple of things to think about:

        (1) Private schools with sports programs are pretty directly accountable to the people actually funding the school to how much they take from academic to fund sports.

        (2) Public school sports programs can and do suck vast sums of money out of the school system. They also can inculcate the idea that academics are of equal or lesser importance than sports.

        And accountability to those funding all this? Don’t make me laugh.

        1. “And accountability to those funding all this? Don’t make me laugh.”

          Well, lack of accountability is an argument against public schools in general. It is not rally an argument against sports programs in general, or competitive sports programs in particular.

  13. Also, marginally OT in regards to the “flat-out wrong” bit: One of the things objected to in the Virginia history books from that article was the statement that black soldiers fought for the Confederacy. The article implies that that’s a claim only recently made by “Confederate heritage” groups; Frederick Douglass would beg to differ. He makes reference to black soldiers fighting on the Confederate side in several different accounts. There was at least one freedmen’s regiment from Louisiana, and, especially later in the war, the Confederacy started to arm slaves.

    Nobody claims that there was full-throated support for the Confederacy in general across the population of black Southerners. Most if not all of the black soldiers on the Southern side were either under duress or making difficult personal security calculations rather than fighting for the love of Dixie. But to claim that they didn’t exist is false.

    As a native of the DMV, this is still very much a topic of great controversy, and, largely for political reasons, “experts” in the area are highly motivated to cast both the Civil War itself and any history surrounding it in terms of racial strife. Anything that interferes with casting the Civil War as a purely states-rights issue or as solely about racism in general and slavery in particular is fought tooth-and-nail.

    1. I am a bit of but not a complete civil war geek. I have always been under the impression that a small number of blacks did fight for the Confederacy.

      Moreover, the fact that whether to allow blacks to fight at all was an issue for the Confederacy says that there were blacks who were willing to fight. Otherwise, no one would have ever pushed for the idea in the first place.

      1. Yeah, I mean, understandably, not everybody was a big fan of the idea, but by 1865 there aren’t exactly throngs of able-bodied young white men left to enlist, and conscription wasn’t exactly alien to militaries of the time.

        I think the numbers that are generally agreed on are something like 5000 total, so we’re not talking about legions of black soldiers sportin’ the Stars and Bars, but they were there.

    2. Most if not all of the black soldiers on the Southern side were either under duress or making difficult personal security calculations rather than fighting for the love of Dixie.

      That would make a very interesting film, really.

      What do you do as a slave on a southern plantation when your white master asks you to enlist in the confederate army?
      Refuse?

      What happens when you’re out fighting and you have the opportunity to desert, but your wife and kids are back home on the plantation?

      What happens when you come up against a black regiment fighting on the other side.

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