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The Case for Vouchers

Under topic: vouchers

Students who were destined for managerial and professional careers were given self-directed and creative work that required the application of ideas.

Our new education secretary, Lamar Alexander, and President Bush are advocates of school choice. They propose in the new education bill that states and municipalities change rules so that parents can send their children to any school they want to. The hope is that this will produce competition among schools thereby forcing schools to improve. It also means that parents need to become knowledgeable about what makes a good school so that they can make wise choices. Do you know what you would look for in a school when and if the time comes to choose for your child? One thing to look for is the hidden curriculum. Jean Anyon in 1981 interviewed fifth grade teachers and principals in four schools in the same district which had the same curriculum objectives. Although the goals were the same, how the children were taught was different. The difference depended on the socio- economic levels of the different schools. The students in the elite classes were taught critical thinking skills, how to do independent research, and were encouraged not only to form their own opinions but to give them. The teachers were never impolite to the students and exercised limited control over them. These students were destined to be leaders in businesses with great capital and the teachers knew it. Students who were destined for managerial and professional careers were given self-directed and creative work that required the application of ideas. Teachers controlled these classes through negotiation and consequences. The students developed a strong commitment to the work ethic and valued competition. Middle class students were given daily assignments which had only one right answer--the teacher's. There was little choice or decision making on the part of the students and they were not involved in critical thinking. Their school life was predictable, routine, and boring. The children in the working class school had the least amount of decision making. Teachers gave them work with no explanation of its relevance to life or to previous assignments. Students were not asked their opinions and they did not volunteer any. The primary objective on the part of the teacher was control.

As long as the children were quiet and subdued, they did not have to do anything. As one researcher put it, in these schools, proper behavior was an end in itself, rather than a means to establish a climate for learning. Do you know enough about what your children are experiencing in school to decide which of these four categories they are in? Sometimes it is difficult to know. One thing you might do is look at the books and homework assignments they bring home. Are they creative assignments that require some thinking on the part of the children or are they repetitious work sheets which the children find boring? Are your children generally bored by school or are they excited and challenged by it? Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I encourage you to visit your child's school preferably while it is in session. Trust your own feelings when you sit in the class. Do you feel excited and challenged? If not, you might begin to look at what other schools are doing. AT least you would begin to have some basis for comparison. You never know, you might have the opportunity to choose. It is best to be prepared --just in case.

First published in 1991