Op-Ed: Freedom of School Choice Is a Chance at the American Dream

Ruthven Haneef Auguste | March 10, 2017 | Opinion
Those who obstruct choice are more interested in protecting their special interests than in protecting the interests of all children to access a quality education

Ruthven Haneef Auguste
Earlier this week I was in Trenton with other public charter school parents to meet with legislators, advocate for the opportunity to choose a school that best fits the needs of our children, and commit to a year of action supporting education equality for all. Whether you’re a charter, district, or private school parent, we can all agree we want the best for our kids no matter where you choose to send them to school.

The opposition to school choice has regularly used certain words for parents in New Jersey’s worst-performing school districts when they have the audacity to choose to send their kids to public charter schools — “pawn” and “parasite” come to mind. However, in no area of life is less choice good, and it is upsetting that these adults, many who presumably have children of their own, seem determined to take away opportunity and choice from parents like me.  I don’t presume to think I have enough information to form an opinion of how schools should be run in their towns and would guess things are vastly different in Newark where I work and live. We have amazing schools, terrible schools, and everything in the middle, which is why I wanted to be able to make the choice of where my children go to school.

I intentionally chose the KIPP New Jersey schools for my family (one boy and three girls), because we were desperate to find an alternative to Newark Public Schools that my family could afford. I’m not sure if these parents that oppose choice understand firsthand, as I do, what it feels like to know you would give your life to ensure your child has a bright future and a shot at the rapidly shrinking window into the American dream.

Those who oppose choice also like to talk about how charter schools perpetuate segregation. I went to school in Newark. I never saw any white kids. And my gut tells me that the majority of the people who make this claim — and the founders of the funded movements behind them — send their children to traditional public schools that are mostly white, mostly wealthy, and where students graduate high school ready to go to college. The problem isn’t segregation. The problem is that the traditional schools want to be able to do what our public charter schools do, but they can’t because of the bureaucracy. It also seems to me that those who obstruct choice are more interested in protecting their own special interests rather than the interests of all children to access a quality education. 

The most dogmatic critics of charters — who criticize my choice and the choices made by parents like me, in cities like Newark — are people who have already made their own, very precise, educational choices. Due to their salaries, their spouses’ additional capacity to earn, the advantages afforded them by historical inequality in our country, their corresponding capacity to pay high property taxes, and the resulting ability to live in a wealthy suburb — their choice was to participate in America’s perpetuation of privilege by getting their child the best public school education that money can buy. It is bought through redlining, housing discrimination, and wealthy families isolating themselves in communities where they build and sustain high-performing public schools. This system continues to perpetuate the system of inequality we have come to see as almost inherent and unfixable in our democracy — that privilege buys access to a great education, which buys access to more privilege.

I don’t hold any of this against them. In fact, I applaud them for it. They have done what any great parent would do — they have chosen to ensure their children have a great education.

But I, for one, will not flush my child’s future down the drain because of people philosophically opposed to my choice. What for them is philosophical, from their leafy perch in the ‘burbs, for me and my children is a decision of heart-wrenching consequence: to have a future or not.

And I know firsthand what public charter schools have meant for my family. My daughter is in her junior year at Lincoln University and because of the guidance she’s received and her own hard work — we don’t pay a dime. Public charter schools work. 

I hope someday soon the people who protest the future I have chosen to give my children will stop and actually come see our schools, meet our families and dedicated teachers to know what I am talking about. Until then, stop minimizing my choice as a black urban parent and think twice before using your privilege to try and oppress my children and their future.