School choice coda: Let them lick toes

Trent England | March 13, 2024

Deer Creek was home to some of the fiercest opponents of the school choice measure that passed last year. “Let them eat cake,” is how I characterized their position. That is, “if the poor want school choice they just need to pay for it!” But I was wrong, what they really meant was: “Let them lick toes.”

Turns out it wasn’t just Deer Creek, but also Edmond, where teachers, administrators, and some parents thought it was funny to have students engage in such demeaning and unhygienic displays. It’s worth asking how this happens. But first, what a coda, what a reminder of the importance of last year’s victory.

School choice means parents in Deer Creek, Edmond, and any other deviant district have alternatives. No wonder many private (and charter) schools distinguish themselves by first treating students as, well, students. That is, as people there to learn—a serious endeavor founded on the promise that just about anyone, and especially the young, can better themselves. Go into a school full of students whose families chose for them to be there, and the difference is obvious: teachers and students alike have, on average, more self-respect and more respect for their mission to teach and learn.

Still, why all the licking? And why the cratering academic standards, and disregard in so many public schools for basic discipline? No doubt some of this is due to micromanagement and bureaucracy in public schools that makes them especially unpleasant for entrepreneurial and serious people. There are good and great teachers in public schools, but they pay a higher price than those content to just punch the clock.

There are also those teachers and school officials who would rather be pals with the kids. Their own stunted maturity leaves them desperate to be the “cool kids” in their schools. Unfortunately, this is a posture that undermines leadership and conflicts with the kind of focus and discipline necessary for education.

We don’t learn from people who are just like us. We learn from people who are smarter than us, and especially from people we respect. And part of the process of education is learning what and whom to respect. There is a real cost when adults act just like kids—or worse. The outrage directed at school-sponsored toe licking suggests that most Oklahomans get this.

So what do we do? School choice was the most important answer, and so defending and expanding it is of paramount importance. But the most direct answer is this: Move school board elections to the normal election cycle so that normal voters participate.

Right now, school board elections are dominated by school employees and other insiders, with tiny turnouts that protect their power. Anyone who wants to “defend democracy,” or just not allow students to lick each other’s feet, should demand this simple election reform.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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