National School Choice Week is coming up at the end of January 2014. In anticipation of that, I thought it might be interesting to write up my own story, and hear about yours.
I went to a Lutheran preschool, a private kindergarten, public school for most of first grade, and was homeschooled until I graduated high school.
I suppose you could call me "gifted" or "advanced" (for example, after the first few weeks in first grade, they wanted to move me to the fourth grade), but I think that was more because of what was cultivated in me from an early age than any particular special ability of my own. I think we would see a significant increase in "gifted" students if they, too, had the opportunities and parental involvement I had from a young age.
I had already been reading long before first grade and taught myself cursive while my peers were learning print--again, this is less a reflection on any particular advanced ability and more a reflection of very important traits my parents (particularly my mother) taught me from early on: to be a self-starter; to be self-sufficient, and most importantly, to have a passion for learning. That is key: the passion for learning. It is something that is still all-consuming today.
Because of my "advanced" level, I was asked to do my school work behind the teacher's desk, and (because I have an innate, and often obnoxious, need to be first at everything) I would help the rest of the class with their work after I finished my own. Already, I had been taught to self-direct my learning to a large degree at six years old (even before that). My mother's philosophy of education was already prevalent: allow kids to think, teach them to question, and teach them to communicate.
My mother learned of homeschooling at some point in the year or so prior to my removal from public school (as I recall), and the final straw was a gym teacher who liked to yell profanities at the first graders and prevent us from taking water breaks--I should mention I lived in Arizona at the time, and gym was almost always out of doors. My mom pulled me out of school a few weeks before the end of the school year and the rest, as they say, was history.
Homeschooling not only afforded me a quality education that met my needs--it removed a large part of my competitive nature since I had no one with which to compete (I still have it, although significantly tempered from what I remember) and gave me the chance to focus on passions such as politics, Ancient Greece, nuclear science, and British Literature--it gave me significant opportunities I would never have gotten in any other scholastic setting, such as the ability to spend one day a week at the Colorado State Capitol as an intern during my four high school years.
Right after high school, I spent time as the Executive Director of the Colorado HEARTH Fund, helping to support candidates for state legislative seats who believed in choice in education, and to involve homeschoolers in particular in the political process.
But for all my love of homeschooling, and for all the wonderful things I know it afforded me, I believe very strongly that school choice is vital: there are certainly a number of individuals who either should not be homeschool parents or who would not benefit from that environment as children. I believe all children should have the opportunity I had: the best education possible for me. I have continued to fight for that, from candidates I support to bills I testify on, and writing about it now.
The result's of Colorado's 2013 election were promising--strong school choice and pro-reform candidates elected across the board, from the liberal bastion of Denver Public Schools to the largest school district in Colorado (Jefferson County Public Schools)--an area that rejected a similar slate only two years prior. The foothold in Douglas County School District remained intact: a 7-0 reform board who kicked out the teacher's union, created a voucher program, and brought in an excellent new superintendent. This was the story in district after district across the state, just a year after Obama took our 9 electoral votes. The same state that ushered in Democrat majorities voted down a $1 billion tax increase nearly 2-1. There is a lesson to be learned from this:
School choice is not a partisan issue, and people know that just throwing more money at the problem is not the right solution!
Every parent wants what is best for their child. It is my job--your job--our job to ensure that opportunity is there. I have an eight month old son. I want for him to have the same chance I did, to get the best education possible for him. That's my reason to fight for school choice--because it works, because I am the product of it, and because I want it to continue to work for my son and for all children. What's your reason?