Why do we have such awful choices?
A lot of hullabaloo is being made in the teaching community about how we as teachers must give students choices in class. A worthwhile goal. But at a closer look there is something very very wrong with this idea.
If we, as the authority figures in class are in a constant habit of giving students choice, we are preparing children for a future of accepting the choices they are given as the only acceptable ones. The obvious danger in this can be seen today in our presidential election process.
We have been trained to accept that the choices that are presented to us are the only ones we have and we argue over them with vigor. But our arguments reveal that we already know there is a problem, because most of the arguments we have are in the vein of demeaning another candidate. We know our choices are subpar but we’ve been trained to accept them.
School reformers who champion giving students choice are putting children into a habit of doing exactly what we adults are doing.
There’s a further danger in this in that once people are trained to accept the choices given as the best there are, they will not seek to invent and create, or to at least to seek out a better option than what’s immediately in front of us.
We do this all the time when we are confronted with problems. How often I have incredulously asked people “What are you going to do? Change the system?” “What are you going to do? Leave the country?” Showing that first, we see those things as impossibilities and second that we see those as the only options because they are the only ones we’ve been presented with: what we have, or nothing. In a democracy no less.
We can see this in adults again in the current school choice debates which always center around public schools versus charters as if those were the only choices available, rather than the only choices our government presents us with. If we allow children to choose for themselves based on what they want, we have a chance of raising a generation that will improve school by pushing for what they want, demanding that public schools begin to resemble the options that are out there that are currently considered “weird” or “dangerous.” The next generation might demand that public schools begin to resemble The School In the Cloud, or Sudbury/Democratic schools, or Montessoris--places where children are allowed to choose what is best and learn and grow naturally.
And maybe then we might get a few better presidential candidates too.