“It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
― J. K. Rowling
“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre
In the wide literary gap between Harry Potter and Jean-Paul Sartre we can find a common theme on the issue of choice. Choosing things is such a natural part of being human that we take it for granted. At an early age we express our wants and needs simply (“I want that!”), but later we figure out strategies to get what we desire. Most of us consider the freedom to choose as a good thing, but the idea of choice has a dark side.
If we are our choices as Sartre taught, then we can be shaped by those seeking to limit our range of choices. Beyond the “Thou shalt nots” and the laws that protect our human rights, we are constantly challenged by rules and regulations imposed on us by those who want to substitute their choices for ours.
People who try to dominate others through restrictions on choice rarely put it that bluntly. Usually they cloak it as helping the less fortunate or fighting for some common good. But regardless of the smiley-faced emoji they use to punctuate their edicts, the result is reducing choices for others to some “acceptable” range. Just as our choices show us what we really are, using the regulatory state to limit other people’s choices shows them for what they truly are.
Nowhere does the impulse to control others by limiting choice manifest itself more malignantly than in the public school system. Despite the unsupportable notion that any system can be all things to all people, public school zealots fight any attempt to bring choice to a system that continually fails to meet the basic education needs of millions of children. Worse, they believe there is no aspect of our local public schools that should be beyond the purview of that least-subtle instrument of coercion, the federal government.
Last week the Friedman Foundation hosted a school choice seminar in Boston. The material presented to legislators and supporters of choice in education was both uplifting (there is hope for the future) and terribly depressing (past trends and the current snapshot of our public school system present a grim picture).
School costs significantly outpace inflation while test scores remain low and flat. Violence is rampant in many public schools, both student-on-student and student-on-staff. Colleges add more remedial courses and businesses struggle to find employees with acceptable basic skills, yet we continue to hand diplomas to students unprepared of life beyond the school house door (not to mention those who don’t even make it that far). If this were a business, it would have gone bankrupt long ago.
Of course, schools that are run like businesses, from storefront operations to prestigious preps, are doing quite well. And homeschooled kids continue to outperform their public school contemporaries in almost every category.
Despite – or because of – the documented success of private schooling options, the voices of the limited-choice status quo grow louder and shriller. Our school choice tax-credit scholarship law remains in their sights, even though it is voluntary, revenue neutral, and does nothing to your local district’s funding that wouldn’t happen if the family next door moved to Idaho or were wealthy enough to send their child to a private school without a tax-credit scholarship. Every win for freedom of choice must be protected through vigilance and action.
Last week also brought humorous news about choice in our schools. Some multi-degreed academics at the University of Vermont (UVM) discovered that kids don’t always eat their vegetables. The study (yes, they needed a study) was published in “Public Health Reports.” Our First Lady should read it since she was a driving force behind a federal law that has managed to decrease student consumption of fruits and vegetables and increase school lunch program waste.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandates serving more fruits and vegetables to kids in the lunch line. “Serving” means “making kids take food they don’t intend to eat,” with the all-to-predictable “unintended” consequences.
The law is coming up for renewal soon, and who in DC is going to vote against “healthy, hunger-free kids” despite evidence of the program’s utter ineffectiveness? If the Feds passed a Lead a Horse to Water Act, our previously healthy horse population would soon be dying of thirst.
And still the law would be reauthorized. Some people just can’t abide freedom of choice.
Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org