Letter from the Editor

Monday, January 17, 2005

A school option - for everybody

The ideals behind the charter high school in Storm Lake are darn fine ones, and I wish the planners of the project great good luck in reaching them, with or without this "school within a school."

Yet it bothers me some, in a way that is hard to put into words, that the discussion of this charter school opportunity always seems to be couched with an explanation that Storm Lake's "minority" numbers are high.

Reality may be that some students just aren't cut out or interested in the traditional college path. That this very practical vision of learning designed to graduate them from high school while they earn community college career-oriented credit indeed may be an answer to engaging and advancing such young people.

In an era of rising tuition costs and cuts in programs like Pell Grants, the time may be here for us to consider new alternatives to making higher education accessible and affordable. Credit the Storm Lake district with being out in front of that curve.

But why is race seemingly such a big factor in the discussion? I'm guessing there are caucasian students who are tailor-made for such a program, and I'm certain there are those of Hispanic, Southeast Asian and other relatively recent immigrant ancestry who just plain are not.

It is a danger to even have a program perceived as being for "us" or "them," whatever those outmoded terms mean in a diverse society like Storm Lake's.

The ESL programs started out like that, but experience quickly helped this community to assimilate newcomers with the intensified help they may need, but within a mainstream experience with no more or less eventual opportunity than anyone else. Nobody refers to "ESL kids" as opposed to "regular" students any more, and in fact the old term and any implications it may have accidentally gathered like bad moss have wisely been retired.

The racial perception is also the argument against affirmative action - if any race or group is to be given special consideration for college scholarships, jobs or funding over their peers, the misperception is automatic that they NEED such an advantage in order to compete.

It would be a shame for the charter school to become known as a "for-minority program," and I really don't believe it is intended as such, regardless of the racial statistics being thrown around.

During the current celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I'm reminded of a term he often used, and perhaps coined, "somebodiness."

As a child, it was a round, warm and colorful word that stuck with me, and I still think about it whenever I hear the man's name. It's not a bad word to live by.

With it, King wasn't saying that everyone is the same, but that everyone is someone, with something to give if given then chance. Once a person has that sense of somebodiness, it can never be taken away. Then, and only then, they can make their life choices from the options in front of them.

That's what a charter school should be about, if there is to be one in Storm Lake. The chance. Somebodiness.

In some districts, such a program might be proposed just because there is perceived to be a pot of available funding at the moment tied to the charter school trend. Some grab at any fad or catch phrase that comes down the educational pike, especially if fat research grants come with it - Storm Lake is a rock solid district that has never operated in that fashion.

I think a charter school as proposed here can work wonders for a small percentage of young people who best fit it, just as alternative high school quietly helped to prevent a small percentage in special circumstances from the likelihood of becoming drop-outs. Profiling no one, but an option for anyone who fits.

Charter school should not separate anyone or any group from the typical high school experience, it should not dissuade anyone from seeking a four-year college experience.

And try as I might, I don't see where race has anything to do with it. Let's retire that idea, and the numbers we are attaching to students of various skin tones or native languages.

They're all somebody's kids. That's good enough reason to do our best to give them positive options.

Let's make a charter school effort be all about "somebodiness" instead.