Every child is unique. We know this.
That necessarily means that every kid will not thrive in the same setting and circumstances.
Take an example from my own childhood: Here’s me, a quiet and impressively geeky elementary school student. I read from textbooks – for fun. I go to the library – on my own. If a teacher lectured on a topic I found interesting (meaning any of them, with the possible exception of math…), I could probably sit for eight hours, take notes, absorb, regurgitate, and learn a whole lot.
Here’s my brother: a social, squirrelly, curious elementary school student who – like many boys – struggles to stay still. He hides under the lab counter – for fun. He leaves the classroom – on his own. If a teacher lectured on a topic he found interesting (history, maybe math), he could probably sit for 15 minutes, scribble a few notes, hang onto a handful of facts, and miss the big picture. Because what he really needed was to build the story through a diorama or create a movie recreating the events in live action.
My brother and I did not need to go to the same school. As much as I might have enjoyed making a movie with friends or gluing little castles together, I would have preferred to just read and imagine. (Is this laziness? Something to think about.)
The problem many parents run into is that their daughter or son is stuck in a class – or worse, an entire school – that ascribes to a culture and curriculum design he or she simply struggles with. This may explain why 78 percent of parents support charters.
Another personal example: My nephew goes to one of the top-rated public elementary schools in the Denver suburbs. He’s a good kid. And I’m sure his 3rd grade teacher is excellent.
But the room is really chaotic. The walls are covered in posters and projects and agendas, there are sometimes things hanging from the ceiling, and all desks are arranged in pods – meaning there’s an added constant distraction of fellow students.
My nephew does not learn in that environment. Frankly, I would have struggled as a shy and self-conscious kid, to be always seated so right-on-top-of three other peers. It would have made concentrating and learning significantly harder. (I had debilitating crushes on certain boys, OK?)
Other kids love it. My brother would have loved it, probably. Plenty of talk time, lots of group work – this is perfect for extra social children.
So, here’s the thing. Schools can’t make everyone happy, let’s admit that. But if parents actually did have a chance to pick a place that made sense for their little ones, well – wouldn’t that be an improvement?
Think about it this way: would you want to be forced to spend a whole year with one doctor and one dentist that you had absolutely no say in? How about a boss, without any possibility of changing jobs?
That’s what school choice is about.
For an advocate of school choice, Betsy DeVos does not defend the concept exceptionally well. If I may, school choice is nothing like Uber, Lyft, or a regular taxi. For starters, some public schools are phenomenal. Few people or parents want or need a change.
Additionally, please hear me: you cannot draw any kind of meaningful comparison between teaching a completely unique group of diverse little humans with business models dreamed up in Silicon Valley that employ and run on adult motivation to make money. That’s asinine, in every respect.
It’s an insult to the complexities and individual difficulties teachers and administrators confront every day.
Charter schools often, but not always, outperform the local public school. And some of the more rigorous and “structured” environments can actually exasperate problems for active little ones. Kids like my brother, who need less desk work and silence, more movement and noise.
At the same time, public schools have been in decline for at least thirty years. Doing more of the same is not a solution. On that front, DeVos gets a bit of credit for at least opening the door to some sort of innovation.