In Walt Disney’s classic Cinderella, a letter arrives inviting every maiden in the kingdom to a ball at the palace.The stepsisters immediately begin planning for the event, and Cinderella quietly tells her stepmother that since she is a maiden, she is included in the invitation and she plans to attend. The stepsisters fly into a rage, but the stepmother calmly acknowledges that Cinderella does indeed have the right to attend the ball.
She then informs Cinderella that she may exercise that right if she has completed all of the tasks assigned to her.
Cinderella is joyful, and the stepsisters are outraged. They demand to know how the stepmother could ever tell Cinderella that she could attend the ball. The stepmother smiles and reminds her daughters that she did not exactly say that Cinderella could go.
"I said IF," she states.
It’s such a tiny word. Yet the word "if" is incredibly powerful when the one saying it has the power to enforce whatever conditions follow its use.
As parents, we have the right to direct the education of our own children. The government acknowledges that fact.
And then it adds the word "if".
We may, for example, choose the school our little ones attend –
· if they are all public schools, or
· if they are willing to remove any religious symbols from their buildings and religious content from their curriculum, or
· if they agree to administer the state assessments, or…..
The particulars of the list of conditions are not as important as the fact that such conditions exist.
We are told that this government control is necessary to ensure that our children learn.
The sad fact is…
that as government intrusion into our schools has grown, spending has gone up and achievement has gone down. One need not spend hours conducting mountains of research to prove this – although the research is certainly there.
One need only compare the Federalist Papers to today’s newspaper editorials. Because the Federalist Papers WERE newspaper editorials – read, understood, and discussed by citizens who mostly did not go to college, or even complete 12 years of education at all.
Who directed the education of those citizens?
Their parents did; parents who were not laboring under a list of government conditions. They decided how they would exercise their right and honor their responsibility to teach their kids. And the general levels of literacy in the population were higher than they are today. Today, no newspaper would even consider printing editorials at the level of complexity evident in the Federalist Papers.
We talk about school choice. But it is NOT choice when the government can dictate the range of choices available to parents, and impose its own list of requirements on schools so they can be eligible to be selected.
In the story, Cinderella actually meets all the conditions imposed by the stepmother. She fulfills every IF – and the stepmother keeps her from exercising her right to go the ball anyway. It is only when she steps outside of the stepmother’s control that her life changes.
If we truly want to ensure that we can exercise our right to direct the education of our children, we need to do the same. We need to begin any serious discussion about school choice by removing from Washington the ability to say "IF".