Time was, this phrase aroused passions like no other as the culture wars raged throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Time has passed through the aughts into the teens of a new century, and the phrase still arouses great passions although in an entirely different theater of the culture wars.
In education, choice means parents have multiple options for the enrollment of their school-age children. It is not the existence of choices that is controversial. Parents have always had a choice. Private schools have existed since the immigration of European colonists. Public schools began when townspeople banded together to hire a teacher for the village children. Parochial schools began when the Catholic Church grew concerned that Catholic children would not grow up in the Catholic faith.
Public schools grew into larger systems supported by citizens through school taxes. As such, it was the free option parents had. But there were always choices.
The controversy comes because now some advocate to take the public tax dollars and distribute them among all the options, traditional public, charter, private, parochial, online, and home schools.
The controversy is heated because there are many dogs in the fight over the bones that have not increased. More dogs, same number of bones, the competition is fierce.
Each side, there are many, has supporting arguments, moral principles, constitutional appeals, and valid philosophies. But in the end, we are fighting over a limited supply of public dollars.
How do we use those dollars to get the most value for the most children?
Or should we even bother with that utilitarian argument?
The desire for school choice, no matter how carefully constructed upon a utilitarian philosophy, has nothing to do with that.
Choice is individualism. I decide what is best for my children. While not utilitarian, it is very, oh so essentially, American.
My child, my rights, my choice.
You will not get an argument over a parent’s right to determine what is best for their child from me. Although I am privileged over the course of 10 months to spend more time with their child in my classroom than the parent does at home, at the end of the year, I am done. I fade away. Lots of teachers over thirteen years of schooling; only two parents.
I didn’t carry the child for nine months in my body. I didn’t feel its heartbeat and recoil from its kicks. I didn’t go through the agony of bringing the child into the world and then loving its being more than my own. Making sacrifices through the early years to raise a child the best I could.
So, yes, parents, it is your choice. However, I would like you to make a good one. A little over 100 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration came into being to police a marketplace of tonics and pharmaceuticals that too often offered bad choices.
Bad choices that ruined life and health and blighted the lives of persons who couldn’t sort through the hype and the truth.
Education is crucial for the young. Everyone agrees on that. We also know from the last 20 years that many of the choices parents are offered are not good ones.
We know the devastation caused to children when schools abruptly close in the middle of the year. Learning is an organic process that only succeeds in a stable environment.
The FDA established a process by which trials, testing, and proof of efficacy without dangerous side effects is necessary before a drug is allowed to go on the market.
Isn’t time we established a similar watchdog for education?
That’s a choice we all should make.