January 21, 2013

Dr. King And School Choice

When I was a teacher, every year around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I would show a portion of Dr. King’s I have a dreamspeech to my class. Dr. King’s powerful oratory skills are to be admired, but more important than his orations is the idea that “all men are created equal.” An idea we find so eloquently written in our Declaration of Independence.

Dr. King was a tireless advocate of civil rights and I am happy to say that most of my students could not even grasp the concept of discrimination based on race.

In recent years, many have begun to call school choice the civil rights issue of our time. This has led many to ask whether Dr. King would have been a supporter of school choice. In a 1997 article, his niece, Alveda King, remarked, “I can’t presume to know exactly what my uncle would say about the current debate over school vouchers and choice. But I know what principles he taught . . .”

Those principles have led her to become an ardent supporter of school choice, including private school vouchers. She writes, “Is it moral to tax families, compel their children’s attendance at schools, and then give them no choice between teaching methods, religious or secular education, and other matters? Is it consistent to proclaim, meanwhile, that America is a nation that prides itself on competition, consumer choice, freedom of religion, and parental responsibility?”

I agree with Alveda that we cannot presume to know what Dr. King would have thought about school choice. Nor can I say whether school choice is indeed the civil rights issue of our time. I can say that school choice works because it gives options and hope to individuals who otherwise might not have them, and opportunity and hope certainly are worthy of our support.

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