Stick With It: Short-Term Frustration Can Lead To Long-Term Change

Dec 15, 2020 · 5 min read

By Jennifer Wagner

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

That tired old cliché is all I can think of as I watch parents right now filing lawsuits to keep schools open or signing petitions asking districts to reverse course on remote learning.

They’ve all got different reasons, but at their core they’re justifiably mad that they’re not getting what they want from a system that’s supposed to be serving their kids.

Injunctions and petitions are one way to effect change, but will that change be foundational, or will it be a headline that fades away?

We know from our latest monthly polling that parents are fond of choice right now:

Last month, I pondered whether that newfound love for choice would stick around once the virus is quelled or whether parents will return to the more boilerplate approach to schooling they knew in the before times.

Because we’re a research-based organization that partners with a reputable national polling firm to track K-12 opinion each month, we didn’t have to ponder long. We just asked them directly.

Results from our November survey suggest that parents want their kids to go back to a physical school setting and have schools, teachers and districts in charge of curriculum once the pandemic is over.

So, in a nutshell, parents are ticked off right now because they’re still not getting what they want from their schools, but it’s entirely possible they’ll go right back to the way things were once schools are back open.

To which I respectfully say, hey, let’s grab a coffee and chat this through.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship or friendship where you’re doing all the heavy lifting and the other person is coasting along — perhaps with an occasional word of praise that keeps you going — you might know what it feels like to be stuck.

“Stuck” is not a good feeling, and we humans will go to great lengths to un-stick ourselves.

Unfortunately, we often devote lots of energy trying to change the other person or helping them see things our way instead of doing the really hard thing: leaving because we’re not getting what we want or need.

We do this with systems, too.

Even though our worlds have been turned upside down over the past 10 months, and many families have been dissatisfied with the response from their schools, we may wind up falling right back into those same old habits because…


We feel like we owe something to schools because things were hard during the pandemic?

They need us to give them another chance to prove themselves?

If we choose a different option for our kids, what will happen to all the other kids?

I want to be clear: This post is sector-agnostic. I don’t care what schooling type you choose; I want every family to be 100 percent in charge of that decision knowing that the decision-making process is different for each family.

If your school knocked remote learning out of the park, that’s fantastic news. Stay there. Tell your friends and family how awesome your experience was. Persuade them to join you if they can. But if your experience was sub-par — if you felt let down by an institution that you either chose or were assigned to — consider this your opportunity to run, not walk, in the opposite direction.

You win the game by focusing on what your child needs, not what everyone else says you should be willing to accept.

Do not accept excuses.

Do not believe that things will get better in time without a clear plan of action that you can buy into.

This pandemic knocked us all down to rock bottom. How your school performed in the face of extreme adversity gives you data points that families who came before you and will follow after you likely will never have. You’ve seen where all the fault lines are, and you know what worked and didn’t work for you.

You have the ability to leave instead of getting left behind, and that’s a remarkably empowering feeling unless, of course, you can’t access the change you need.

If you fall into that category, now is your chance to become a warrior — to abandon the kind of incremental, nibble-around-the-edges change people in positions of power keep promising you and embrace full-throated, loud-as-hell advocacy so you can get what you need.

What’s the point of suing to reopen schools if the school you’re petitioning to reopen still won’t meet your kids’ needs?

Why tilt at windmills when you can knock down walls?

If school choice is what you want, and the pandemic opened your eyes to why it’s so necessary, then don’t settle for half-measures — and don’t let anyone tell you to sit down and be quiet.

Becoming an advocate doesn’t mean you have to march on the Statehouse or testify in a committee hearing. It can be as simple as starting a conversation with friends about how you want a school to treat your child. You’d be surprised what people start saying once they realize other folks aren’t happy.

Again, this has nothing to do with schooling type and everything to do with what works best for you. That pursuit of a good fit is the soul of the educational choice movement, and we are most definitely at a soul-searching, soul-awakening moment.

Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.