The Power of Choice


At one time, public education held the promise of providing a common good for the people it served. Schools reflected the values and beliefs of the local community.  For the most part; home, schools, places of worship, and local government spoke a common language. Families sent their young ones off to others trusting that the school, (in parentis loco) would provide a quality education that prepares young people to become productive citizens of the greater society.

While some have always chosen private options, the majority of families still access the public schooling option as a viable on-ramp to what they believe offers a well rounded educational experience for their children.  While not a pure monopoly, the public school paradigm is a tough one to substitute. It is accepted by most as the common good option of choice, except when it’s not working for them. What other choices do they have?

It never ceases to amaze me how the word, “choice” evokes a multitude of emotions and has many different meanings depending upon the situation.

Studies conducted by child and adolescent psychologists tell us that offering choice is vital to the healthy development of children.  Educational articles on how to offer more choice in the classroom are published, tweeted and retweeted on a regular basis. Businesses vie with one another to offer their customers choice. The law has settled that choice in matters of personal decisions, such as abortion, is a fundamental right of an individual.  History has shown us that true freedom depends upon choice. When choice is taken away, freedom is lost. So, choice is a good thing right?  It depends.

It appears that many who believe in the choice options listed above do not adhere to the same choice principles when it comes to education. Specifically, there are those who decry any efforts to offer educational choice to the millions of children and young people who desperately need it. The National Teachers Association and a plethora of other public school advocates consistently rebuke and shame anyone who dares to think differently about public education. Those who promote choice in education are assigned the most unflattering labels. Tragically, those who seek or exercise school choice are stereotyped and targeted unfairly.

Those who believe that choice as applied to schooling should also be a fundamental right, are mocked as religious fanatics, subversive and even dangerous extortionists. There is no doubt that some of these types may be in the mix, but they are the exception, not the rule. Even within mainstream schooling, there are terrible tragedies that occur. None should happen anywhere, but unfortunately they do. This is not a valid argument against school choice.

The monopoly of public schooling is gradually shifting. It served a purpose for our industrial age but is sorely unprepared for innovation. It’s premise, design and structure are factory like which places it at odds with most current career and job requirements. It still teaches and tests for a bygone era, not skill sets for this century and beyond. It simply can’t stay far enough ahead of the curve to be relevant enough to this or the next generation. Only book publishers and the out of touch bureaucrats cash in on the belief that it still can. 

Knowing stuff is nice, but not necessarily valuable. With a little effort one can locate and access needed information.Teachers are great at bringing information to kids and in multiple formats. Many use technology in some form to assist with information getting. But the bottom line is mastering the grade level curriculum in a given period of time. Student work hanging on the walls of a classroom are good examples of this. One might notice variations, but on a set theme. There is little room for deviation. Individuality is not the point, conformity is.

What is not taught or tested is creative thinking that promotes innovation. Thinking out of the box and finding different ways to solve problems is not typically in the regular school curriculum. Allowing ample time for trial and error, or persisting at a difficult task for as long as it takes, are not highly valued in the classroom. We don’t regularly do this in schools even though some insist we do.  The format and schedule don’t allow for it.

Standards testing looms over schools like a dark cloud of inevitability pushing creativity to the back burner or maybe the last week of school.  

For these reasons and a multitude of important others, parents, students and even teachers want options. Many are accessing them by way of innovative charter schools, homeschooling and the self-directed learning path.  (See Kerry McDonald’s website.) Here

Can we please stop demonizing those who want to seek their educational journey differently? Simply stated, the more educational options, the better the playing field for all young people.

The Power of Choice is liberating.