Last week happened to be School Choice Week, marked in Colorado by an orchestrated assault on school choice.
There exists in Jefferson County a charter school, Golden View Classical Academy, which provides its K-12 students with a structured, classical-based education, successfully emphasizing literacy, mathematics, science, history, music, art, Latin, etc., with extraordinarily impressive results. Ascent Classical Academies was created as a management company, and soon thereafter Ascent Classical Douglas County had its charter approved, offering DougCo youngsters the same opportunities for student growth and success. Soon, several parents in the Boulder area wished to be able to offer to their children the same educational opportunities, and went through the labyrinthian process of establishing Ascent Classical Academy Flatirons. By the time they appeared in front of the Boulder Valley School District, they had accumulated more than 670 letters of intent. They were denied by the BVSD, but not before being labeled white supremicists and bigots by opponents of educational improvement.
It seems that it is no longer enough to simply oppose the creation of a charter school, for whatever reason one might dream up to oppose a school that successfully generates literate and well-rounded citizens, but it is now necessary to supplement that opposition by calling the parents who simply wish to accelerate the academic achievement of their children Nazis.
To be fair, the BVSD board in their rejection of the charter did not themselves level such horrid accusations at the applicants; that was the purview of the professionally outraged who showed up to testify in opposition to other people’s right to quality education. But the official rejection characterizes a systemic antagonism towards school choice.
What is it about high school graduates knowing the difference between Pericles and Caligula that they are so afraid of? Competition with the public system? Charter schools, especially highly effective ones like Ascent, do indeed inject competition into the educational paradigm, and in so doing tend to illuminate the inadequacies of the existing public structures. But how is that something to fear? Contrasting performance between schools breeds improvement, and isn’t that what everyone ultimately wants?
Is the fear perhaps that such schools somehow offend the egalitarian impulse? Classical schools, with their dedication to the Great Books, rigorous curriculum, uniforms, and disciplinary standards foster in the minds of some the charge of elitism. But if superior performance makes an institution “elite,” ought not the goal be to allow all children the chance to be numbered amongst their members?
There is another aspect to the equality argument. It is worth reminding ourselves from time to time that school choice is already fully available to the wealthiest segments of our society. Affluent parents have the financial ability to send their kids to whatever school offers them the best chance for success. The aim of the school choice movement is to extend the same privilege to poor families that is currently available to wealthier ones. It hardly gets more egalitarian than that.
Perhaps it is a fear of the traditional notion of education itself? Ideological opposition to the teaching of the history and tenets of Western Civilization seems to animate most of the vitriol leveled at schools like Ascent and stretches back several decades now. It is not so much an appeal to expose students to the intellectual treasures of other cultures as much as it is to cultivate an intense dislike, hatred even, for our own. It is not, for instance, a call to teach Confucius over Aristotle, or the Upanishads in place of St. Thomas Aquinas, but to instill a hostile indifference to Aristotle, Aquinas, and the other blocks upon which Western intellectual expression was built. If your goal is to remake society, you begin by instilling contempt for the achievements of Western Civilization – among them academic freedom.
Part of the shame of this is not only that in failing to instruct our next generations in our shared intellectual and cultural inheritance we lose to history the accumulated knowledge that got us to where we are, but that failing to teach our common intellectual language serves only to further erode the bonds which bind us as a community and exacerbate that which divides us.
Many of society’s ills doggedly evade solution – opioid addiction, homelessness, crime, illegitimacy – but the solution to making a quality education available to all and generating literate, well-rounded, and well-mannered citizens is clearly before us in the form of schools like Ascent Classical Academy. It is a shame the extent to which ideological considerations restrain progress on that front.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.