A letter to the editor I wrote recently on the virtues of school choice prompted some surprising feedback. My simple question—“When parents choose to patronize a school that better serves their child, why should we keep funneling billions of dollars to prop up a failing system that is serving no one well?”—elicited a lot more responses than I initially expected to receive from a mostly rhetorical question.
Readers wrote to me to declare adamantly that public schools are serving students well, and they insisted unions are not the enemy; unions are full of selfless individuals who only care about the kids. A couple people said school-choice programs are bad because not everyone will get to go to the school of his or her first choosing, which is the same as saying if not everyone gets to go to Harvard, we shouldn’t have higher education at all.
As nice as it is for these people to care as much as they apparently do about other people’s children, it’s arrogant for them to think they know what’s best for another parent’s child. And trying to control where and how a child who is not your own is educated makes me wonder: Why do you care so much about the children of others? Don’t you have anything better to do?
“Why are public-school advocates so intent on keeping people in schools who don’t want to be there?” is similar to a question I’ve also had for people who are staunchly opposed to secession. Murmurings of state and district secession in places such as Texas, Colorado, Virginia, California, and elsewhere gain momentum now and then. As Brion McClanahan pointed out in a 2012 American Conservative article, withdrawal from the Union is “overkill,” but, nonetheless, “Secession and interposition—nullification—are healthy discussions to have in a federal republic.”
The mere threat of secession “can, and has, spurred the central government to reform,” McClanahan wrote, continuing:
The American people are not ready for secession. The states, the economy, and the people are too dependent on the central authority. If nothing else, Hamiltonianism has accomplished slavish loyalty to the system. Yet, perhaps following the lead of John Dickinson of Delaware would be appropriate at this critical juncture in American history. Americans as a whole recognize that the debt is excessive, America is virtually bankrupt, and the central authority is out of control. Secession is a manifestation of the fear that the situation will not improve.
So, too, with education. Many Americans recognize our public-education system is a giant, corrupt, very expensive experiment gone wrong. Increased spending has not resulted in improved student achievement. Students are graduating from high school ill-prepared for college or career, and parents are tired of being forced to send their children to the failing school they’re told they must attend because it corresponds with their ZIP code.
Why not allow these families to secede from the public-education monopoly? Why not respect the fact that we live in a diverse nation, in which the outlooks and goals of our population are as different as the people who hold them?
It doesn’t really take a village to raise a child, and those people who insist on imposing their own viewpoints on the rest of us would do everyone a favor if they would just chill already. “Live and let live” has its limits, but when it comes to education, such an attitude would go a long way in ensuring those who truly care about the child (parents) are in charge, and those who have an ulterior motive (politicians and teachers unions) are cut out.
The public-education establishment’s my-way-or-the-highway mantra—this one-size-fits-all education system is working for a lot of kids, so it will probably work for your child as well— is the equivalent of a fashion designer saying, “Red is my favorite color, so we will only sell clothing in the hue I like, and you’ll buy whatever I sell.”
Not many people would favor such limitations and would shop elsewhere.
The problem with our current education system is there is only one fashion designer, so to speak, and those who dare to suggest letting a few others have a go at the sewing machine have the “bigot” label slapped on them faster than you can say “high-stakes standardized testing.”
Public education is not serving our nation’s students well, and even if some people think it is, that doesn’t mean they have the right to force everyone else to do what they think is best. Minding one’s own business is relaxing, but the fact that so many people in the education establishment so feverishly make other people’s business their own suggests there’s more at stake here than simply educating a child.
Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at the Heartland Institute.