The coronavirus pandemic has caused many students (and parents) to experience education in a new way. Looking forward to the upcoming school year, it is likely that families will become more open to consider the variety of options we have in North Carolina.
So, when I heard about the recently proposed legislation to abolish the Opportunity Scholarship Program in North Carolina, (see NC Family’s recent story on HB 1129), I was saddened at the possibility that others may not have the chance to choose what school is best for them. The news caused me to reflect on my own academic experiences and what they have taught me.
Growing up, I remember my parents sitting with me and evaluating my educational plans and goals prior to every year of elementary, middle, and high school. Each year brings with it new challenges and needs, and so every year, my parents and I discussed what school would be best. Rather than just making decisions for me, my parents allowed me to be a part of the conversation. When I was younger, they obviously had the primary say, but as I got older, they allowed me to have more input in making these decisions. My parents’ year-by-year approach enabled me to attend a variety of schools. By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended public school, private school, homeschool, and community college. All of these settings have shaped me into who I am today and taught me many things along the way, both academically and otherwise.
Every school has positives and negatives. I am often asked which type of school was my favorite, and I can honestly answer from experience that there are things I liked and disliked about each of the schools I attended. My years in public school introduced me to some of my favorite teachers, who truly cared for their students and strove to make learning exciting. While in private school, I came to love history and writing, as my teachers encouraged academic excellence. Being an individual of faith, I realized that learning is a way to glorify God and to identify and put into action the gifts, skills, and talents He has given each of us. Homeschool allowed me flexibility and taught me how to learn on my own. I was able to take leadership and service roles in the community and adapt my classes to fit my needs and interests. My time at the local community college prepared me for college and helped me begin to recognize the gift of listening to other perspectives.
It is common in all school settings to criticize other types of schools, and sometimes rightfully so. But having attended many different schools, I have come to realize that, for the most part, unless you have actually attended a particular school, you can’t truthfully criticize it. Only through firsthand experience can you know all that goes on in a specific school environment.
School choice gives an opportunity to adapt to changes. The variety of school settings I was in taught me to adjust to new learning environments. I came to understand that I can and should pursue learning regardless of whether I am taking an online class, engaging one-on-one with a teacher in a classroom, or simply studying on my own. The pursuit of learning is a life-long endeavor that should continue in any and every setting.
This lesson has been especially valuable, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced schools around the world, including universities and colleges, to transition to online classes. I remember when I first found out that my college was going online for the rest of the semester; I was immediately frustrated, shocked, and even mad. Taking online classes in my bedroom in North Carolina instead of engaging in in-person, discussion-based classes in New York City was by no means what I had signed up for. But eventually, with gentle encouragement from my professors, I reminded myself that learning is not confined to a particular school, a particular place, or a particular style.
C.S. Lewis’ remarks in his speech, “Learning in War-Time,” given during World War II to Oxford University students, resonated with me as I strove to continue to learn amidst a pandemic: “If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun … The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable.”
My parents’ gracious act of including me in conversations about my education helped me to understand the myriad of educational options we have in North Carolina and what an incredible gift school choice really is. Not only was I able to use these lessons when it came to choosing a college, but also when making everyday evaluations. School choice exemplifies the value of looking at and working through decisions in all areas of life, where the ultimate goal is to judge what is right and best.
As families in North Carolina consider the different options for the coming school year, it is increasingly important that North Carolina continues as a national leader in educational choice.
POVs are point of view articles from NC Family staff and contributors