Seemingly everywhere Americans go, bad headlines abound: Life expectancy falling, with an opioid crisis plaguing the nation. Politics more divided—and divisive—than ever. But some events do bring a beacon of joy and hope amidst our tumultuous times. National School Choice Week, celebrated last Sunday through this coming Saturday, provides one such occasion.
Full disclosure: I work as a consultant to National School Choice Week. (However, the views in this article are my own, and I have not cleared them with School Choice Week officials.) While I have spent most of my professional career working on health care issues, I couldn’t ask for a better client, and not even because my colleagues are a delight to work with. I couldn’t think of a better cause to dedicate my energies to than helping students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, seek a better education—and a better future.
At a National School Choice Week event at the U.S. Capitol last week, I saw many such students on display. In the corner of the vast hall stood a young female, being interviewed by a reporter about her experiences with school choice. She spoke eloquently about how she found school more engaging and her grades improved, thanks to school choice.
Her comments resonated deeply with me. While I work as an analyst, I consider myself first and foremost a teacher—whether explaining the nuances of health care policy, game show history, stock car racing, or some other arcane topic.
I benefited from years of quality education in my youth. Twelve years of Catholic education gave me strong moral values, along with indispensable writing skills I’ve used every day of my working life. My undergraduate professors at The American University taught me about how Washington works (or doesn’t), challenged me to broaden my horizons, and opened new doors for me. Then, living and studying overseas for a year at the University of London, thanks to a fellowship my professors at American helped me to win, opened new worlds.
Nearly a decade ago, I had the privilege of returning to the classroom, this time as a teacher, by creating and teaching a health-care colloquium at American. I viewed it as an opportunity to “pay it forward” by providing to the next generation the same care and dedication that my faculty mentors had so willingly given to me.
National School Choice Week provides much the same opportunity, albeit in a slightly different form. For everyone who had a teacher who just wouldn’t give up on you, no matter how hard you struggled, or the professor who inspired your career choice, or the instructor who served as a mentor and surrogate parent, National School Choice Week provides the perfect chance for Americans to “pay it forward” by supporting the gift of a quality education for all American children.
My time in the classroom has deepened my understanding of teachers’ massive impact on children’s lives. Getting an e-mail from a former student, or a message of thanks from that student’s parents at commencement telling me how I influenced her career choice, or improved his writing skills, or offered important career advice, never fails to bring a tearful gleam to my eye. Those moments reinforce the mantra of that fateful teacher-turned-astronaut Christa McAuliffe: “I touch the future—I teach.”
National School Choice Week seeks to harness millions of those moments—the priceless gifts and opportunities that school choice has provided to current students—with a goal of extending them to every American parent and every American child. I can think of fewer causes more noble, or indeed more American.
Mr. Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.