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There are so many problems in the education system these days that I started to think many people had just thrown up their hands and given up. It seemed people were just waiting for it to implode so we could then start over, since there’s no way to salvage this situation. Let the diseased forest burn down, then plant fresh. Millennials and Gen Z are the ones caught in the fire? Ah, well, some sacrifices must be made.
I don’t have firsthand experience with the public school system, as I attended a private Christian school. Perhaps I unintentionally internalized the idea that if something’s too far gone, it’s better to leave and go build something better. Hardly an unusual approach, considering the choices of America’s first settlers. But I have great respect for those who have started pushing for education reforms like school choice, not just in Alabama, but around the country.
Younger generations have taken the brunt of the floundering public schools. We can go too far with chronological snobbery, having an unrealistic impression of “how good it was back then.” I’m certain that my parents’ generation also struggled with a factory system style of education. But suicide rates among students have spiked in the past few decades, indicating that the problems may have compounded over time. According to the CDC, suicide rates rose by a staggering 57% between 2007-2018 among people aged 10-24. We can’t just blame the education system for this, but since school is a major part of life for this age group, it’s vital to consider.
Some polls indicate that, in fact, Millennials and Gen Z demonstrate the greatest support for school choice. A 2019 poll by the American Federation for Children showed that 75% of millennials supported school choice and 72% of other generations did as well. Approval ratings have only increased since school shutdowns during COVID. A poll done last month in North Carolina showed an even greater number of young supporters - with 90% of women - aged 18-34 backing school choice. We know there’s a problem, and we will do something about it.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve gotten the impression that much of Gen X preferred a hands-off education option. My parents blessed me by taking an incredibly active role in my schooling, but most people I met in college and the workplace experienced the opposite. With about 60% of families containing two working parents, many children have been shunted from daycare to school, to after-school programs with less parental interaction than prior generations. In reaction to this mentality, young parents want the control they never had, and they want to demonstrate to their children that they are not emotionally and intellectually distant.
School choice seems like a no-brainer to me. Growing up in a school that emphasized parental involvement, I remember being utterly astonished when I learned that parents can’t just walk into public schools at any time to see their child and interact in activities. I thought my parents were exaggerating the evils of non-Christian education. Similarly, it sounded absurd to me that students were required to attend schools within a certain distance of their homes. Who voted for such a requirement that seemed to defy all common sense and the whole purpose of education? What do you mean you have to pay for our private school and still pay taxes for other children to go to school?!
In my mind, this isn’t a daring new idea, but a restoration of rights the government never should have seized. Of course, we should be able to decide what is done with taxpayer dollars, and of course, parents should have the final say about the curriculum. Yet part of me feels like this whole approach is just slapping a bandage across a necrotic wound. How many children will this actually help? Only the ones whose parents are already motivated enough to research alternate options and go through a mess of paperwork, shadowing, and possible lotteries.
I’m glad to see younger generations, who generally trust the government a stupid amount, are actually pushing back in the area of education. But are they actually willing to get into the dirt? We must completely reject the concept that someone in Washington D.C. is the one who sets the standard by which your child should be judged. Do you know the name of a single person in charge of approving your child’s curriculum? Currently, Alabama’s “Parents Choice Act” states that parents will have to submit expenses to a Board for approval. Who will approve this? Does this bill design protections against corruption in yet another Board that thinks they know better than parents? We should not blindly trust this process. Unless we clean up the government’s iron grip on what is put into our children’s heads, their hostility to anything besides humanistic naturalism, and their ever-increasing ability to snatch children from the cradle, we will not see genuine change. We need to pull this weed up from the roots, and put in place protections to keep the government from snatching back parental control as soon as we obtain it.
Also, I see no shift whatsoever in the lazy and entitled mindset of parents who think they deserve government-subsidized babysitting. Americans still want to live their own life while someone else raises and trains their children. Switching schools will not suddenly make your children healthy adults and functional citizens. If this attitude doesn’t change, it won’t matter if parents technically have access to the money pot.
I admit, many Millennials are pessimists, and I tend to be one. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change it. Sometimes we have to start with baby steps. My parents taught me, “never do anything halfway.” This mentality of dedication and commitment has stuck with me, but nuance is necessary if we are to avoid paralyzing perfectionism. If you wait to start something until you know you can achieve everything you want, will you ever begin?
I’m still wary of viewing school choice as our savior. I certainly want it for the children I hope to have someday. Yet the education system is but one battleground of the ideological and power war rocking our country. We need to take a hard look at the internal principles shaping both our decisions and the changing winds of academia if we’re to truly help our children and grandchildren.
Right now, I wonder, could we win the battle for school choice, but still lose the war?
Caylah Coffeen is a Millennial in Huntsville, AL who knows how to think and speaks up for the sake of truth and a future as bright as the stars. Her column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.