Back around 350 BC, Aristotle described education as “an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.” Clearly, education has been valued and prioritized for centuries. However, in some parts of the country—like my home state West Virginia—educational choice is sometimes treated with hostility. Why hasn’t school choice been accepted and even celebrated across my state?
When we value autonomous choice in nearly every area of our lives, why have we not done the same with education?
West Virginia hit the news last summer when it enacted the state’s first charter school legislation. Currently, our options include traditional public schools, public magnet schools, private schools, part-time online courses and—a choice I have firsthand experience with—homeschooling.
If my parents had not made the choice to homeschool me eleven years ago, I know that I would not be the young woman I am today. My parents chose to homeschool because they realized this customized approach was one in which I would thrive; for me, it was the best way to dive deeply and passionately into education.
Homeschooling taught me to love the process of learning. It also forced me out of my comfort zone by encouraging me to read difficult works, contemplate controversial concepts and most importantly, learn how to think rather than what to think. I have loved this school choice and found confidence in the knowledge and critical thinking skills gained through it.
Parent Choice Helps Every Student Excel
I know the difference it makes when a student loves their educational setting, and I desire for every parent in West Virginia—and across the country—to be able to choose the educational environment that is best for their child. Parents’ informed choices help ensure that every student has the opportunity to excel—not only in the classroom but also in life itself. After all, it is largely through our education that we establish our worldview, opinions and morals. Education is not simply math, reading and social studies to fill our childhood. Education is meant to form us into responsible people who desire and are able to contribute to society, whether through politics, medicine, law enforcement, education or another means.
Each of us is different in innumerable ways, so a one-size-fits-all-mentality isn’t in the best interest of students when it comes to education. We need to continue to expand options to ensure that all families can find the school that matches their child’s unique learning needs and life goals. Just imagine for a moment what we could achieve through increased school choice ...
By giving parents more choices for their child’s education:
We could reduce the number of students who wish they did not have to go to school each day, whether due to frustrations about learning pace, curriculum content or school culture.
We could increase the number of students who view school, not as a responsibility to be tolerated, but as an exciting and empowering opportunity.
Individual schools could foster a more customized environment for students.
Educators’ love for teaching would increase as they taught students who were comfortable in their environment and desired to learn there.
Besides the better educational outcomes we could achieve, parents simply deserve the right to choose what their children are exposed to and how they are taught. Indeed, this is why parents are increasingly raising their voices for more choice, as reflected in last year’s decision to allow charter schools in my state. While this is an encouraging step, there’s more to be done to ensure that all families, regardless of zip code or income, have access to educational choices.
West Virginia students—and students in other communities around the nation—will only reap the full benefits of educational choice if we realize that the end result is more important than our fear of the unknown. This National School Choice Week, let’s remember that each and every student deserves the chance to achieve their personal best. Let’s only stop when all parents are able to give their children the opportunity to achieve academic and personal excellence in the way they believe is best.
Photo courtesy of National School Choice Week.
Thessa Bennett is a homeschooled senior who lives in Winfield, West Virginia.