I'm supposed to think kindly about school choice.

It has a nice, feel-good sound, doesn't it?

I wish I'd had school choice in seventh grade. I would have gone wherever Betty Borquist went. I fell in love with her in the fifth grade. But I ended up in a different junior high. My life was ruined forever. Well, at least it was ruined for a week or two.

Speaking of junior high, if I'd had school choice I certainly would not have chosen Miss Benz for English. She was a tyrant. My strengths were math and science. But Miss Benz made me forget Betty Borquist and think about Mary Anne Evans (better known as George Eliot). Miss Benz shed tears when she read from Eliot's "Silas Marner." I wondered how this old tyrant could be transformed into a softie by a few words.

Norm French was athletic. I wasn't. But Norm let me use his baseball mitt so I could play ball with the guys — a lesson I never forgot.

But I digress.

School choice has nothing to do with students. It's all about parents who think their children are better than anyone else's children. Good for the parents. Bad for the children. Because the parents want to take their "special" children away from schools where mere ordinary folks congregate. They want to move their special children to special schools with special programs and special teachers and special equipment. Betty Borquist wouldn't make it. Norm French wouldn't make it. Miss Benz wouldn't make it, either. She didn't believe in special children. To her, all students were equally deserving, even Kraus. He towered over her like a grizzly bear, but at her command he came to school an hour early so Miss Benz could teach him about nouns and verbs. Everyone in the class learned from Kraus, even if it was only that wisdom trumps muscle every time.

That's one sad thing about school choice. Students are denied vital learning experiences that come from getting along with real human beings such as Betty Borquist, Norm French, Miss Benz and Kraus. "Choice" students will grow up thinking they are elite and should associate only with others like themselves. They will forever believe they deserve more than ordinary people around them. They will miss character-building lessons that come only from operating in an environment of diversity.

They may know more, but they will understand less.

Truly special children perform well academically whether or not they are in special schools, but they become better human beings if they experience a real-world school environment.

Another negative is that school choice makes it easy for parents to escape responsibilities of citizenship. School choice parents can and should make a difference in public education. They have the resources, the wisdom and the political clout necessary to make public schools better. Their voices are needed at PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences and legislative sessions so every school can becomes a "choice" school. Instead, school choice allows parents to run away from public education decision-making. Choice makes it easy to "buy out" of one more inconvenient but vital citizenship responsibility.

The United States gave the world universal public education. Every nation tries to copy what America has done. I've been in classrooms of many nations. Others look to us as the example in bringing education to all children, regardless of station in life or ability to learn.

School choice proponents apparently do not understand that what children learn from being in a diverse classroom is more important than what they learn from being in special schools or from having special teachers. And proponents either do not understand or do not care that children in every classroom need the academic pacesetters and student leaders who are part of the school choice exodus. Another critical need is for marginal students and indifferent parents in all classrooms to see daily examples of mothers and fathers committed to education.

School choice is not the issue. The issue is community involvement. The issue is lifelong understanding. The issue is social integrity. The issue is personal favoritism versus common good. The issue is whether we will work together to move education, young people and the nation forward.


G. Donald Gale is president of Words, Words, Words Inc. He was formerly editorial director at KSL. He received bachelor's, master's and doctorate from the University of Utah and an honorary degree from Southern Utah University. E-mail: dongale@words3.com