A comprehensive history of school choice in the US, from its birth in the 1950s as the most effective weapon to oppose integration to its lasting impact in reshaping the public education system today.
Most Americans today see school choice as their inalienable right. In The Choice We Face, scholar Jon Hale reveals what most fail to see: school choice is grounded in a complex history of race, exclusion, and inequality. Through evaluating historic and contemporary education policies, Hale demonstrates how reframing the way we see school choice represents an opportunity to evolve from complicity to action.
The idea of school choice, which emerged in the 1950s during the civil rights movement, was disguised by American rhetoric as a symbol of freedom and individualism. Shaped by the ideas of conservative economist Milton Friedman, the school choice movement was a weapon used to oppose integration and maintain racist and classist inequalities. Still supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, this policy continues to shape American education in nuanced ways, Hale shows—from the expansion of for-profit charter schools and civil rights–based reform efforts to the appointment of Betsy DeVos.
Exposing the origins of a movement that continues to privilege middle- to upper-class whites while depleting the resources for students left behind, The Choice We Face is a bold, definitive new history that promises to challenge long-held assumptions on education and redefines our moment as an opportunity to save it—a choice we will not have for much longer.
About the Author
Jon N. Hale is a professor of educational history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an advocate for quality public education. Hale’s research in education has been published in The Atlantic, CNN.com, Education Week, the American Scholar, and the African American Intellectual History Series. His books include The Freedom Schools and To Write in the Light of Freedom.
“Supported with convincing research and illustrative detail, this impassioned history makes a strong case that quality of education—not variety of choice—should be the goal.” —Publishers Weekly
“The Choice We Face is a bold book that puts race and segregation at the forefront of the educational reform movement. Hale’s writing is persuasive, comprehensive, and important for understanding how we fight against the school choice movement.” —Bettina L. Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Survive
“Hale shines a light on the dark history behind seemingly neutral concepts like school choice and neighborhood schools. Those concepts weren’t a meaningful part of the national lexicon until resistance to integration took hold. With these code words, whites managed to paint themselves as the victims and integration as the oppressor. Hale helps us see how this shift has haunted and undermined equal education for half a century.” —Derek W. Black, author of Schoolhouse Burning
“Though we fight for both as if they are guaranteed in our founding documents, neither choice nor education is found in the Constitution. What Hale’s The Choice We Face makes clear is that if we are to ensure a solid future for our traditional education system, we have to understand how communities have used the language and history of school choice as a weapon of mass destruction, as often as they have used those words as a battle cry to build a democracy that ensures freedom and citizenship for all. This book makes clear that the real choice we all face is the one between a hopeful future or an inequitable past.” —Noliwe Rooks, author of Cutting School
“With his skillful excavation of a history too often ignored, Hale reminds us that the vision of public education as a shared and common good has yet to be realized and offers a path forward for finally getting there.” —Jennifer C. Berkshire, author of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door
“Hale’s scholarship challenges us to come to grips with a reality that we cannot turn away from. Public education will either completely shift its direction toward justice or will forever remain a conduit of marginalization, isolation, and white supremacy for students of color. It is clear: reform under the cloak of ‘choice’ is not an option.” —David Stovall, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Born Out of Struggle