Yesterday, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recognized the two winners of the essay contest that it held in cooperation with People United for Change. In honor of Milton Friedman, on the occasion of the 101st year of his birth, the contest explored the possible effect of school choice on the lives of urban students in Providence. With the encouragement of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Center joined organizations across the country in recognizing Friedman Legacy Day 2013.
In the winning essay, Tiffany Rezendes states that she’d never been taught that such a thing a choosing a school regardless of neighborhood and income could exist. “When it came to school,” she was taught, “you either found a way to come up with the money to pay for the good schools,” lucked into alternatives, like charter schools, or had “to just settle for the public school closest to your house.”
Tiffany gained a sense of what school choice could mean to the students of Providence when she won enrollment in Classical High School, a public school with an entry exam. A recurring theme of the essays in the contest is the belief among students in the Providence school system that entry into Classical is a make-or-break achievement. Tiffany watched as those of her friends who didn’t get in became discouraged at this high-stakes version of school choice and followed the academic path of drop-outs.
Even Classical, however, did not give Tiffany the opportunity for critical thinking and application of lessons that she now sees as essential to education. There is “no excuse,” she writes, for a system that leaves so many students having “to retake remedial classes” in college.
Now that she knows that broad school choice is possible, with only political will standing in the way, she writes, “It is clear that school choice will make a difference, but are we going to give it a chance?”
The second-place essayist, Bryan Morillo, writes, “Anything useful I picked up came from outside of school.” The failure of the public school system to provide diverse school choices has “condemned the students of Providence to an attitude of ‘sit at home and collect a check.’”
In Bryan’s view, simply having control of their education and multiple opportunities to find their own paths has the potential to reshape the way discouraged students approach their entire lives. “Students wouldn’t see testing as an annoyance, but rather, as a gauge of their abilities,” he writes, and they would reach adulthood as “motivated individuals who have a sense of not only identity, but purpose.”
The title of Bryan’s essay expresses the spirit of many of the participants in the contest: “How school choice could have affected my life.” Young Rhode Islanders don’t find it difficult to pinpoint what was missing from their school experience, or to imagine how things might have been different if public policy had responded to their needs “instead of what the curriculum desired.”
If Rhode Islanders were to implement broad school choice, “the youth of Providence would be changed forever,” but for that to happen “people must first care for the youth of Providence.”
The two winners received Apple iPads donated by a member of the Center’s board. To read the winning essays and for more information about the contest, see the page on the Center’s Web site. For a deeper exploration of some of the prominent themes in all of the essays, see yesterday’s related essay on the Current-Anchor.