By Madeline Kerr
What does a school look like? We might visualize a cluster of rambunctious first-graders, shuffling down a hallway in what could loosely be called a single-file formation. Perhaps the image of a classroom filled with evenly spaced rows and columns of desks comes to mind. Endless stretches of identical lockers are a common sight.
Yet, a school is not an assembly line. We cannot forge fully engaged, self-realized individuals through a process of mass production. When an education system assumes that all students have uniform needs and skills, it fails to make a diverse set of learning experiences available, and an immeasurable amount of potential goes unfulfilled. The success and wellbeing of future American leaders hinges upon an unequivocal commitment to serving students of every kind of ability and circumstance.
This commitment manifests itself through school choice. School choice can be enacted in a number of ways, but it encompasses all efforts which allow learners access to the educational settings that work for them, regardless of their financial situations. Its recognition of individualism promotes students’ overall well-being.
While the primary function of a school is providing students with a foundational education in order to prepare them for future careers, schools’ responsibilities toward their students reach far beyond the academic. An effective school also nurtures learners socially, emotionally and mentally. If students have access to schools that celebrate their individual strengths and grant them the specific support they need to overcome obstacles in learning, they can experience firsthand the benefits of embracing the inherent potential in every human being.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to choose educational settings on an individualized basis is not universally or equitably afforded. While higher-income families generally have unrestricted access to schools that they feel will benefit their children — they can buy homes in school districts of their choice and can pay private school tuitions — lower-income families are restricted to a limited set of options and thus are disproportionately struck by the negative effects, both academic and emotional, of a one-size-fits-all education system. These learners might be either stifled or left behind within the classroom if they do not have access to resources that serve their unique needs. Furthermore, students who aren’t given the opportunity to thrive might begin to suffer from self-doubt or apathy.
No child should feel defeated and abandoned in school. No child should see their future defined by socioeconomic barriers. No door should be locked, no road closed and no desk empty because of a student’s financial situation. When every student can afford opportunity, they benefit emotionally and intellectually, and in turn, their communities benefit.
Thriving communities are driven by individuals with a vast array of skills, experiences, and mindsets. If only certain sectors of society have access to quality academic resources and others cannot fully contribute to their communities, an incalculable amount of innovation is lost. It is pure hubris to expect that any future produced with only a fraction of society’s talent and perspective can be one defined by progress.
The specifics of making school choice a universal reality are complex and should undoubtedly be the subjects of conscientious deliberation with respect to both efficiency and legality. However, it is with just as much certainty that one can assert the evident benefits of universally expanding academic opportunities. School choice fosters an appreciation for diversity in students by recognizing the value that lies in each person’s unique set of strengths, abilities and outlooks. It nourishes not only academic achievement in students, but a true drive to continually engage in education. It empowers all learners to fulfill their potential, making the world wider and the future brighter.
Madeline Kerr is a junior at St. Mary High School in Paducah, Ky.