This is a subject I’ve often written about, although normally it’s been from a prompt by the fine folks who run National School Choice Week. (This year the e-mail is probably in a spam folder, which is a shame because they do good work.)
I will grant to you that I don’t come from an unbiased perspective: my wife’s daughter is a recent graduate of the school portion of our church ministry, and those who follow my Facebook feed know I frequent many of Faith Baptist School’s sporting events (go FBS Falcons!) On the other hand, though, my wife and I are both public school and university graduates with my experience in Ohio and hers here in Maryland. Add to that the fact that both of us graduated from vocational-style programs a fair number of years ago and I think we have a pretty good perspective on education.
In the terms of my adoption of the phrase “money follows the child,” I give the credit to a Toledo City Council candidate for whom I volunteered two decades ago named Linda Hendricks. She introduced me to the concept, which didn’t endear her to the unionistas who ran the city of Toledo but made great sense to me as a way to bring competition to a field where it’s even more sorely needed today.
At that time my older stepdaughter was in the midst of her school years. As a young couple starting out, my former wife and I could not afford a place in the suburbs let alone tuition for a private school, so we bought our modest home in the most affordable neighborhood feeding into what we perceived to be the best public high school in Toledo. We were about five blocks from the line that divided kids who went to Bowsher from those who went to Libbey, a more working-class, inner-city school – ironically the school from which my mom graduated four decades earlier, when it was in the midst of a middle-class area. All those folks moved out to the suburbs as the years went by, and since I left town Libbey was closed due to consolidation, with many of its former students transferred to Bowsher.
However, when it came to school for my older child it wasn’t just sending her to class, because we adopted the elementary school – joining the PTA, helping out with coaching the kids, and so forth. A big part of the reason hers was still a relatively desirable school was the fact the parents and other members of the community remained involved with it. Certainly there were issues with the Toledo Public Schools at the time, but they also had some assets: this daughter was considered gifted/talented, so they had a facility for advanced students. She also got to take advantage of evening foreign language classes the district had for junior high kids, freeing her up for taking other classes in high school since her foreign language requirement was out of the way.
Unfortunately, insofar as I know things haven’t improved on this front since the late 1990’s when the older child was in junior high and into high school. I do know that, in the interim, the state of Ohio bulldozed all three of the Toledo schools she attended (plus the one she graduated from in another town) to build new schools – a shame in the case of her elementary school, which was considered for the National Register of Historic Places as a relatively unblemished example of period school architecture from the 1920s when the neighborhood was built. Even with new buildings, though, the learning inside is more suspect – a subject I will get to in due course.
In the modern day my current wife was adamant about sending her daughter to a Christian school so she spent her entire K-12 academic career in that environment, which came with some tradeoffs: limited facilities and class choices being perhaps the biggest drawbacks, stemming from the school’s small enrollment and lack of funding for expansion. Yet she’s been well-prepared for college nonetheless.
Meanwhile, that two decade difference between kids has seen an explosion of new educational choices, particularly charter schools and homeschooling. But those victories have been hard-won and the educational unions and their allies plot constantly on how to reverse those gains. (One such salvo: sneering about how School Choice Week is “not what you think.” Never mind the author works for a public school advocacy organization.) Instead, here are some quick facts provided by NSCW about the situation in both Maryland and Delaware.
There is some good news I recently became aware of: there are a handful of states where money can follow the child through their own education savings accounts. Unfortunately, Maryland and Delaware aren’t among them and the prospects of their joining this expanding club anytime soon (as four other states are considering this) are slim and none – and slim has packed up and left town. Blame the overly strong teachers’ unions for this one.
In this country there are still some of us who prefer phonics to phoniness, cursive to hype over climate change, and fractions to Friere. In the last case, the name is probably not familiar, but Paulo Friere is considered the father of critical pedagogy, which, according to Wikiversity, is where “the student often begins as a member of the group or process he or she is critically studying (e.g., religion, national identity, cultural norms, or expected roles). After the student begins to view present society as deeply problematic, the next behavior encouraged is sharing this knowledge, paired with an attempt to change the perceived oppression of the society.”) This is an approach that, in the words of the institute named after Friere, “owes a lot to the techniques pioneered by Freire and supplemented by practice elsewhere. We also draw upon organizing principles derived from Saul Alinsky and others.”
It’s interesting to me that this philosophy is now a staple at institutions which teach teachers to teach. Since Friere’s seminal work only dates from the early 1970’s, most of the teachers Kim and I had were taught under the old oppressive philosophy, which I guess is why we have our heads screwed on straight. Forty years later, most of the teachers at Faith come from Christian colleges where education is taught in a Bible-based curriculum rather than the otherwise prevailing method, so our younger daughter is covered. This puts us at odds with the other daughter, whose public school education of the late ’90’s and early aughts and the environment within the working-class suburban school she eventually graduated from seems to have left her as more left-of-center.
Yet if you want to subject your child to that sort of cultural rot, feel free. Just allow the rest of us the choice to opt out and have our children taught as we see fit under the same conditions. That, to me, is what school choice is all about. The rising tide would indeed lift all boats.