Schools cannot afford to squander another year because of tepid leadership and political squabbling; they owe students a chance to gain back the learning opportunities they were denied last year.
Reforming the School Choice Rhetoric
I often find myself thrust into different worlds within the school choice community. These worlds are defined by the underlying political ideology of the organizations advocating for various types of choice. And despite being one of those people who doesn’t think politics should be part of determining what is best for students in schools, in reality, politics is always there whether I like it or not.
I’ve come to associate words with each end of the school choice spectrum, not unlike political parties. From markets, liberty, and freedom on the right to whole child, culturally relevant, and equity on the left, these words have visceral effects on people. Nevertheless, on many occasions I listen to people talk about the same concept without using any of the same words. We use specific words to signal the group in which we belong. Unfortunately for school choice, in all its contentious forms, this is incredibly unhelpful.
The school choice community is not large enough to support all the factions within it. It is not large enough for charter advocates to disdain private school advocates, or for proponents of centralized accountability to battle with free marketers. The majority of Americans remember their childhood schools fondly, and don’t believe the system let them down. While I see this sentiment slowly changing with millennials, most voters do not see a need to radically change the education system.
For this reason, it is necessary for education reformers of all political leanings to find ways to talk with one another using words that don’t exclude others. We can talk about school choice as parent empowerment instead of educational freedom, or how finding a good fit is not necessarily systematic discrimination. How can we find common ground through rhetoric that will actually be heard by people along the entire political spectrum?
I can hear different voices saying, “We can never support a policy that takes money out of public schools,” and “Religious schools should not receive tax dollars,” and “The burden of requiring state tests will stifle the supply of high-quality schools.” Because everyone draws their line in the sand, the language we use to describe our strongest beliefs won’t help us create consensus. But, as Chad Aldis recently stated, “We may disagree on how to get there, but we largely want to go to the same place,” and that is what must frame our interactions.
So my call to “school choicers,” and education reformers in general, is to consider the words you use in different company. Are you code-switching when you talk to someone with a different political ideology? Do you know what words are distasteful or exclusionary to others? Are you having conversations with people who have a different political bent than you? If not, I challenge you to do so because without those conversations, you’ll never learn the language used by others. You may be surprised how effective your rhetoric can be once you reform it a bit.
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