by Catherine Van Arnam:
“Everybody does it” has never been much of a logical argument, but it’s one that proponents of establishment government school quite heavily rely. The ideal of a walkable neighborhood school has been cast as an idyllic vision of public education for so long, it’s hard to shake off the stupor and see the reality of our state of government education, much less envision a brighter future.
In Texas there are almost 1,000 schools that have been deemed, by the invested state’s own measure, to be “failing.” Why not just close them? That would happen immediately if there were a free market in education. If a local restaurant fails their customers, the customers don’t come back. Ay, there’s the rub. Those customers have a choice. In much of Texas, and America, there is no alternative.
Even an excellent school may have aspects that any percentage of those mandated to attend may disagree. A highly-rated local elementary school decided to implement a values-promoting, school-wide “Leader in Me” program. Parents were not permitted to opt out. “I can’t imagine how you could,” the Principal told me. Maybe the school district couldn’t imagine why a parent would want to opt out. How could a parent’s values be different than what school administrators decided would be best for children?
Maybe the school district couldn’t imagine either why any parent would object to a neglect of history, geography, science, and instead place an emphasis on environmentalism and an untouched nature. What parent could oppose the Think Through Math program used, a thinly veiled Common Core curriculum. Often a school’s PTA will pay for field trips and plant gardens, but how many parents realize they’re also supporting a lobby group, as the PTA mobilizes every legislative session to support progressive policies, from nutrition to Common Core.
The fellow that came to inspect our home for insects looked aged beyond his years, and he shared with me how focused he has been on scraping up any money he could earn to send his child to private school. The tech in my dentist’s office lept out of his seat when I told him about a new charter school opening, immediately calculating commuting distance and despairing over low lottery odds. His family had just decided to homeschool. Another parent applied to a charter school online moments after I mentioned the alternative to her, and reported back sadly the dizzyingly high waitlist numbers for her children.
Those people are already paying for school, though. We all are! Every taxpaying individual, small and large corporation, is supporting the status quo in education. We’ve all been shepherded into complicity – supporting this educational industry that does not emphasize excellence and individual achievement, but rather expanding the number of government employees that it can sustain.
It’s wonderful for neighbors to walk their children to school together. It’s hard to imagine a slightly different system. Where like-minded neighbors come together by choice, selecting from a mix of educational options, funded by vouchers or tax-funded charters.
It’s even harder to envision the shackles of education establishment-driven taxes unclasped. A whole community freed from what is typically the biggest cause of high taxes. Charity money freed from government coffers, family profits able to go directly towards educational choices that fit that family. Most importantly, curriculum no longer set by slow-moving government bureaucrats, but instead by individuals and corporations focused on providing what each student needs. Where they fail, bad choices will cease to exist. From distance learning, classical education, religious instruction, to unschooling, an inspiring array of choice is possible, and currently so far past our grasp.
Everybody does not need to become an advocate for school choice in their family or community. Anyone who is passionate about the potential that education can unleash in young Americans, or cares how their escalating taxes are being apportioned, may want to pay attention.
There is a battle underway to smear those who want to slightly loosen the shackles of mediocre and failed government schools. It can be won simply by the slightest awareness: of the shackles.
Catherine Van Arnam is a dilettante who with her husband recently decided to at least raise her children right, so they moved to Texas.