By Lauren Gideon
I recently wrapped up a year leading Challenge A with Classical Conversations (CC) students. On our last day, the students took turns reading their assigned persuasive essays. While each student chooses his/her own topic, two of the students had chosen the same topic.
But… **dramatic pause… they chose different sides!
When the second student finished reading his essay that argued opposite to the first, do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing! In fact, the entire class sat unfazed and the next student began to read his essay. They didn’t rush to take sides, they didn’t vote against or ‘cancel’ the minority opinions… no name calling, and no identity crises. These students haven’t been taught to be offended.
They have been taught to look at the merits of an idea as a distinct thing, regardless of the person, their character, their tribe, their emotions, its perceived urgency, and the many other distractions that keep us from discerning the idea’s own merit. We call these logical fallacies and our students learn how to set them aside and simply ask, “Is this a good idea, or not?”
The students’ “non-reaction” is so profound because, as adults in the classroom of the world, we know participants are almost always “triggered” and public discourse seems to revolve around every angle EXCEPT actual merit. If we want to be virtuous participants in this sphere, the question we must first ask ourselves is, “In what way do I need to remove similar logs from my own eyes?” With log-less vision we will see issues more clearly.
Another hinderance to our clear vision is social cliques. Our objectivity can be blurred when everyone in our perceived tribe seems to be unified in their position. A prominent topic that is plagued with these types of emotional baggage is “School Choice”.
“School Choice” is Misleading
Some advocates of “school choice” begin their appeal through statistical argument. A recent publication opened with the 2022 Real Clear Politics Poll that argued that “72% of Americans support school choice— the ability of parents to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs.”
Why is this significant? First, this communicates the sentiment that “virtually everybody agrees”. If this premise was asserted in my Challenge A classroom, students would instinctively reply, “So what?” This says nothing about whether the viewers should agree with this issue or not.” We call this a bandwagon fallacy.
Additionally, the term “School Choice” itself suffers from equivocation. Presently, educational options are legal and available in all 50 states, meaning that proponents equivocate “School Choice” with “taxpayer funding for free-market products”.
The label “School Choice” forces critics to take an “anti-choice” position.
Can you think of another political movement that has lead this way? This idea has nothing to do with providing more choices. Its singular operative action is to require taxpayers to fund alternatives to the state-provided option. The question that needs an honest answer is, “should they?”
Should taxpayers be forced to fund the free-market? Moreover, how do legislatures ensure that this money is being spent on the type of quality education that is in the public’s best interest (…or for the government’s interest)? What accountability will follow this money to ensure it is spent the way these well-intended policies intend? Historically, how well has state government preformed this task with their current educational jurisdiction? To what degree could this idea potentially affect the cost and quality of educational options? Does the free-market stay ‘free’ once it is tax-payer funded?
Fundamentally, do we really want to expand state sponsored/regulated education, or expand actual free-market educational choice? As the emotions rise among voices on both sides of this issue, remember that the collective conversation does obligate participants to regard “sides” or emotional manipulation. This issue, like all issues, ought to be about ideas and not the people who hold them. This IS about a choice: the choice to lay aside these culturally acquired discernment liabilities and use those beautiful, classical tools from Challenge A.
Lauren Gideon is the Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for Classical Conversations. She co-leads and teaches through an organization committed to raising citizenship IQ on U.S. founding documents. She and her husband homeschool their 7 children on their small acreage where they are enjoying their new adventures in homesteading.