This week is National School Choice Week. Given that virtually every cause or disposition seems to have become the recipient of its own week or vapid resolution, skepticism impels us to pause and consider whether there is anything of substance to this one. Educationally, the nations of the world seem to either count the children within their borders as if they were serfs, or where the state is destitute, as burdens for which no educational remedies can be provided. It is a curiosity as to which of these is the worse scenario: the one in which a great deal happens that is passed off as education and a preparation for citizenship, or the one in which the citizens hardly recognize themselves as such so great is their freedom and their deprivation. In the West, it has been a long conversation – from Plato through Marx and Dewey on to the current day about how the relationship between governors and the progeny of the governed should be arranged.
This conversation has been dominated by questions more often than by answers, which is to say that it has been both important and genuine. For instance, do governments have an interest in education or only in indoctrination? How does education distinguish itself from cultural integration and vocational training? Is it distinct from wisdom? Can people be educated to become wise? Has government anywhere at any time demonstrated that it possessed sufficient competence to be given this responsibility? Can a person lay claim to education as a matter of right? If so, how? How can a person have a right to something that cannot be given and which requires not only their own will, but the efforts and good will of others? Can a government compel or coerce others to give one an education? Can it compel someone to become educated?
Like all good and salutary conversations, it is probably best that this one be perpetually had. Naturally enough, in a free society, it would. It is only when a regime claims to have found the ultimate answer or the final solution that such conversations are brought to premature and abrupt conclusions. One way to end that conversation without answering any of its constituent questions is to replace education with government schooling. This is almost undoubtedly the largest and most dangerous fraud ever perpetrated against man. After all, if some malevolent of factional interest takes over the military, they control the military; the government, the government; business, business; but with education, a regime can control everything. It is the dream of the tyrant and bureaucrat rolled into one, the totalitarian nightmare in which the people yearn for their chains having been convinced not only of their rightness and essential goodness, but their actual indispensability. So it is in the world at large: in the small things people are free while in the large, they are rather oblivious. A power outside of ourselves and those who have borne us chooses our cage and names the song we shall sing while we content ourselves whiling away the hours piecing together nests from scraps and dung. We sing away until mortality’s final act unburdens us from what was a blissful ignorance of the fact that a “free, compulsory, and universal education” was really a thousand contradictions, unanswered questions, and deceits bound up in just five words presented as the gifts of bondage.
Fortunately for all of us, a relative handful become conscious of this and push back and even commit the better part of their lives and their mental energies to seeing this dystopian vision torn asunder. Such individuals rarely if ever enjoy the luxury of being in the majority, and while those who work for the system are legion, the minority agitate against it on behalf of a population too young, too impressionable, and too naïve to know the full danger of the situation they stand to inherit. Such individuals do this because they feel duty bound to see that the best is done and secured for their children. These are the individuals who are at the head of movements demanding educational choice. This involvement shakes off apathy, revitalizes the old conversation, and awakens from deepest slumber all the old questions that challenge authority. “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt. “With freedom comes responsibility.” For these parents, that responsibility manifests itself by a refusal to put their children on a curb each morning and entrust that the government will shoulder the bulk of their parental burdens with someone else’s standardized best interests. They willingly and eagerly accept that they will have to make “sacrifices” such as packing a lunch, dropping their child off at school, helping with homework, engaging in civil conversations, being or becoming well read, and maintaining a home that is conducive to the type of learning they believe will one day result in an education.
Such individuals are emboldened by the knowledge that though they remain a minority, their ranks are growing not only more numerous, but also more acutely aware. With regards to charter schools, which are but one expression of educational freedom, only one existed anywhere as recently as 1992. There are now estimated to be 6,440 such schools. Homeschooling too is becoming increasingly prevalent, and today well over two million children are educated within the home. As standards have declined at district schools, people are learning how to rely upon themselves again. It is hard to complain about the phenomenon of self-reliance if one understands the motivations and ethos of republican government.
These parents have found a way to become a part of an eternal conversation because doing so is essential to who their children will become. Fortunately for schools like Ridgeview, they are seeking out schools they can support with the full knowledge that the conversation continues in a myriad of ways. Ridgeview’s preferred setting for this conversation is for parents and students to visit classrooms, read classic texts, and engage in the life of the mind. School choice means not abrogating one’s duty to their child by delegating it entirely to someone else regardless of how qualified they claim to be. It means working in cooperation with someone else YOU HAVE CHOSEN to ensure that your child is the recipient of a proper education.
It does not mean rejecting the world even if it means rejecting the answers that have bound us to teacher unions, teacher colleges, educational degrees, mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy, moral relativism, and all the bogus progress and claptrap of the last hundred years. There are millions who would pay dearly for what our students have daily, and we should strive to be such an inspiration to them that they will not have to pay dearly for this opportunity. We must leave the next generation with the understanding that we have not solved the problem, that the great conversation is never complete, and that they must be prepared to do over again for the next generation what was done for theirs. Like Miranda in Shakespeare’s Tempest, they may come to believe that the conversation can be safely retired or that experts have arrived with a solution. “O, wonder! / How many goodly creatures are there here!” said Miranda upon seeing the company of shipwrecked nobles. “O brave new world, / That has such people in’t!” To this her father, Prospero, replies contemplatively, “Tis new to thee.” We cannot save them from the world and should not want to. As Tolkien wrote, “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” Through a proper education, we can inoculate them against the worst aspects of themselves, persuade them not to relinquish their parental rights and obligations, and if we are very fortunate, teach them how to distinguish a group of shipwrecked nobles from a lot of so-called educational experts.