Choose to make good choices.Neal wonders about the seeming redundancy of the sentence; why not just say, “Make good choices”? He surmises that the sentence fits a “Choose to…” template common among educators these days: “Choose to do your homework,” for instance. Another explanation, he suggests, is the desire to place extra emphasis on the notion of choosing, which could be too subtle in the lone word ‘choices.’ Oonae, in the comments, says the phrasing makes sense “if you think that making good choices refers to a series of specifics while choosing to make good choices refers to the acquisition of an attitude or disposition.”
While I find the educator-ese tone of the sentence irritating, I actually appreciate the underlying sentiment. On all three interpretations, the motivation is to get students to embrace their own agency, understanding that they make choices that have consequences. This stands in sharp contrast to another pedagogical tradition, sadly more popular, that places emphasis on factors outside students’ control that affect their success: race, socioeconomic background, family circumstances, and so forth. Of course, the reality is that both internal choices and external forces affect outcomes. But focusing on the latter seems more likely to create a victim mentality than to encourage success.
So I was a little surprised at how Oonae followed her insightful comment above: “But I hate it anyway. It’s stupid. Ersatz autonomy. Didacticism masquerading as empowerment, and I don’t know which of these is worse anyway.” What is so ersatz about the autonomy involved? I suppose it’s ersatz if, in fact, all the students’ good “choices” will actually be forced on them. And given the thickness of the rulebook Neal was reading, that may be true to some extent. But in the context of the “choose to” statements in question, it seems more often we’re talking about genuine choice contexts, with non-coercive consequences, such as whether to do one’s homework. You can choose not to do it, and you can get an F as a result. What’s so bad about encouraging students to think of themselves as autonomous agents, capable of deciding what kind of lives to live and people to be?