Let's Talk About Choice

Confusing SignThere’s been a real emphasis recently on parent choice in regard to public schooling. Apparently, parents know better than anyone what’s best for their child and what sort of education is most appropriate for their individual needs.

Of the many pro-voucher arguments out there, this seems to be the one state leadership has decided on as their primary talking point. I must confess, I’m a bit bewildered when they became such fans.

When parents began opting out of standardized testing because they didn’t think it was best for their children, state leaders didn’t seem too excited about parent choice. Many were annoyed, others apathetic. The overall tone seemed to indicate that these stupid parents were just causing trouble – probably because they’d been led astray by radical bloggers and corrupt superintendents. I certainly don’t recall many legislators applauding for these wise parents and their use of choice.

When parents protested that their third grade children were being brutalized by high-stakes reading tests, facing retention and large scarlet ‘F’s on their chests as a result, state leaders absolutely loathed parent choice. A feisty group of elected representatives finally managed to change the rules enough that parents at least have SOME voice in whether it would be ‘best for their child’ to move on to fourth grade, and Governor Fallin VETOED it - because what do parents know about standards and accountability and children? 

The veto was overridden, but at the cost of a ‘sunset provision’ on parental involvement – meaning the same people crying for ‘parent choice’ for their chosen sliver of the population are still itching to eliminate it for the rest. 

My son would have benefited greatly from getting out of the six-hour day, the old-school academic core-you-to-death structure in which he was bound, but state law said no. Every child, regardless of ability, interest, background, or potential, has to have X-number of required butt-in-seat hours and be crammed full of the same tired basics that state leadership has mandated as sacred and holy for all kids, for all time. 

I wanted desperately to give him something more practical, outdoors, or vo-tech heavy MUCH earlier in his schooling, but I didn’t have that choice. NO parent has that choice. The state knows what’s best, and we don’t – that’s why they make the laws and set the harsh penalties if I don’t force my kid through them, no matter how bad for him or her it might be. 

The anti-vaxxers have gained a little leeway in Oklahoma, but by and large have very little choice whether or not their child will be immunized before heading off to school. Why don’t we give these parents choice? Freedom to do what’s best for their kids, who might have different needs?

Seat-belt laws are about as anti-choice as it gets. They are the ultimate statement of belief that too many parents don’t have the first god-given CLUE what’s best for their kids. They’re too stupid to even buckle them in without the threat of fiscal penalty. Parent choice? Are you kidding? 

I hesitate to even bring up the demonization of smokers - tell THOSE parents they have the right to decide what’s best for their kids or their community when they light up. You’ll get either a sardonic chuckle or a pop in the nose for being a smart-ass. (Sorry to blur that there issue, Jay.

Nor do they have much real choice what their kids are allowed to eat at school. The state mandates the most awful fat-free gluten-free flavor-free color-free slop, boosting the sales of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos far above anything legislation could have mandated had they so desired. Sure, you can send lunch with them, as long as you have the sort of lifestyle allowing you to pack it each morning, and as long as it doesn’t have to be hot, or cold, or mixed, or preserved in any way throughout the day.

Even PTSA Pizza Day now means special everything-free crust and no toppings of any kind because Michelle Obama and Jason Nelson think kids are fat. None of this screams parent choice (although it’s a wonderful example of unintended consequences – the kids eat far worse than they did before because we’ve made the standard options so unpalatable). 

Spanking my child is only a choice if I keep it a dirty little secret. 

Deciding that my 8-year old or sleeping infant is fine in the car for five minutes on a nice day with the doors locked but windows cracked while I run into CVS to grab their prescription isn’t parent choice anymore – it’s a call to the police and DHS. 

Same for sending them to play in the park across the street without Zuckerberg-level security. I know it’s safe, the neighborhood knows it’s safe, all available statistics say it’s safe, but the need for us to remain in perpetual panic and fear so as to be more easily controlled says parents simply don’t GET that kind of CHOICE.

What’s left?

Oh, yes – the vouchers. 

IF I’m an involved enough parent to understand the process and go through the paperwork, and IF I can afford the thousands of extra out-of-pocket dollars required to actually GO to a private school, vouchers or no, and IF my child can meet the requirements of the institutions at which these ESA Gift-Cards are useable, and IF I have the time and fiscal resources to get them there and back every day, and IF I can pay for any necessary materials, supplies, instruments, uniforms, or whatever else may be required, and IF my child is a perfect fit academically and, er… “culturally” with the school, THEN I have CHOICE.

Equity and access on paper while upper class white folks are the only ones with real options in practice? Shocking. What a strange new problem to encounter. 

As a bonus, the more times “choice” is bandied about in the rhetoric, the easier it is to “blame the victim” when they don’t qualify to be “choosers.” 

Once again we have edu-slation claiming to serve all the little children, when the only thing it’s really designed to serve is more state-sanctioned ‘white flight’. That sort of misdirection and shameless hypocrisy is why so many of us seem to be in a perpetual snit. We're trying to wake up Citizen Doe before the fire reaches her bedroom, but she's fast asleep dreaming of the Gay Muslims trying to take her guns from the bathroom stall next door. 

If common education weren’t being methodically dismantled to begin with, I wouldn’t personally be fussing nearly as much as my smarter, better-looking peers in #OklaEd. You wanna cull the supposed cream and hide them away at Word of Faith of Hope of Grace until they’re old enough to join Hydra leadership? Live it up. It’s still wrong, and it’s not good for either group of children, but whatever. 

I don’t mind choice as such. But if we feel the slightest obligation to mean anything we say in the political realm anymore, and choice is your thing, then let’s provide choices – lots of them – to ALL parents, and ALL kids, in both public and private scenarios. Let’s set loose that "free market of ideas" of which conservatives used to be so proud, and support it until the playing field at least looks level - even if it means risking possible success by a few kids NOT on our ‘chosen’ list. 

RELATED POSTS: The Voucher Opportunity / Hair of the Blog (OKEducationTruths)

RELATED POSTS: #OklaEd Legislators are Sweet on ESA's / Who's Standing In The Dark? (A View From The Edge)

RELATED POSTS: 10th Amendment & #OklaEd / Do ESAs Pass the Lemon Test? (Idealistically Realistic)


I continue to value your writing on all topics - especially the posts on choice and vouchers recently. One 'choice' debate that really slays me is helmets for various forms of potentially harmful, even fatal, personal transportation. Politicians have eliminated choice for riders of bicycles completely - all ages. But for those in greatest danger, riding motorcycles, politicians first required helmets; only to eliminate the requirement when 'bikers' refused to comply... Take away choice when it has not much value but not when it might save a life.

To me, it comes down to being responsible. Too many people make arbitrary, questionable choices without any consideration of all options - including those decisions to allow OR ELIMINATE choice for completely inappropriate and arbitrary reasons!!! The decisions on school choice and vouchers being made with absolutely no input from educators as well as the majority of parents is mind-boggling ...

This is good....I am now thinking about just copying this and sharing it from my blog....I get some rules to help me along the way - but what happened to kids being able to ride a bike just to ride a bike? Then I think about my instructional practice - do I have rules just to have rules?

John also makes a good point - what if every teacher this spring said: I am not giving this test to the third graders. What would happen?

I beg you read it. But John, Dallas and Scott, if you don't. In the last chapter of the book is a challenge. http://www.bartlebyproject.com/

I prefer not to...You should at least look it up.

I really do think we should get together and talk soon. I hesitate to say, but I work for a choice school. And while we have a fair share of white kids, we are a free and open to all of the public option. We do NOT have a seat based time requirement. And that seat based option is only held by most schools be cause it's been that way forever. The districts have the options to seat based or mastery based learning. For some of our kids it takes longer than the 6 hour "requirement" and for others here, it can be done in 3-4 hours.

At my school however, we teach the parents about the choices. We try to inform them so they are equipped to make the choice. We still have parents that drop their kids off in Kindergarten and hope to pick them up in 12 th grade. But they are beginning to turn around too.

Sit with me for a day. I encourage anyone to see what we do. There can be choice without being the devil or opposed to public education. I am a product of the typical public education. But I am a high school dropout. That's part of the reason I advocate so firmly that choice should be an option. If I had had this option, I don't think I would have dropped out. I don't think I would have had to spend so much money taking zero level classes before beginning my "four year" program for Ed certificate. This choice is not for everyone, but neither is the typical B&M option.

One of the things I wish I did better is distinguish between my frustrations with political leadership and my love and support of any and all legitimate efforts to educate kids. A lady I don't know kinda called me out on this on Facebook a few weeks ago regarding ESAs and such, and she was absolutely correct to do so.

In my idealistic lil' world, we'd have a half-dozen options at least for kids to get some equivalent of a diploma or a 'pass' to move on with their lives - public, private, charter, home, whatever - and a much wider set of guidelines as to what that even required in terms of curriculum or hours. Maybe a variety of types of 'diplomas'.

My hostility is with those who wish to reward only the top sliver of students for the accomplishment of being born into well-off white familes with very involved stay-at-home moms, and who - in order to fund this - punish and starve those who were defiantly born into other circumstances. It's the Capitol vs. the Districts - especially Districts 11 & 12.

Your school, if I understand correctly, is about MORE choices for kids and parents across the spectrum. Even a school like Town & Country, sometimes put in the role of 'the other side' in voucher discussions, is about helping kids not easily served in the average school. If you can help kids learn, then I'm on your side - public, private, charter, alt certified, TFA, OEA, POE, tall, short, flipped, virtual, grades or grade-free - thank you for helping our kids.

I should do a better job with that distinction all the time, and I don't. I probably owe you and about a hundred other hard-working educators an apology of sorts for the cumulative message of that oversight.


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