What Is Love?

As today is Valentine’s Day, an appropriate question to ponder is, “What is love?” No, I don’t mean the cheesy 90’s pop song, but the actual concept of love. What makes love … lovely?

On one hand, there are the biochemical aspects of love that strip the term of its romantic meaning. However, that’s not really what we’re searching for here. No, I would like to offer an additional reason why requited love is lovely: choice.

I am getting married in a few months, and I’ve been thinking a lot about love, recently, and I had jolt of insight about why it’s such a wonderful feeling. On a substantive level, love and marriage are great because the respective counterparties agreed to spend the rest of days with one another. There was no force, no arrangement, and no coercion.

She had several options (undoubtedly many more than yours truly), yet she chose me. That’s a great feeling, and it proves that there is something about me that she finds appealing and desirable as a life partner. Choice allows us to discover what we like and, just as importantly, what we don’t like. That’s lovely.

This is not only true in the realm of romantic partnership, but in nearly every aspect of our adult lives – from detergent and cell phone plans to the universities we attend and teams we root for. Choice is omnipresent and it makes life so much better in so many ways.

I say omnipresent, but that’s not quite true, is it? Especially in West Virginia. West Virginia is one of the few states with no form of choice in its K-12 education system. We are one of the last bastions of a no-choice environment in education. How bad is it? Well, over half of the states have some form of private school choice – vouchers, ESAs, tax-credit scholarships – and 44 states plus DC have public charter school laws. West Virginia is, indeed, an outlier. Our children have no choice in schooling.

Unless a family can afford to move into another school district, the child will attend the school to which his address … marries him. There is no choice.

West Virginia recently held public hearings on comprehensive education reform – ESAs, charters, and mandatory open enrollment were all introduced in one bill – and it was striking to hear folks discuss their school experience. Almost to a person, folks seemed to enjoy their schooling experience, but I couldn’t help, on some level, ask myself, “Well, how would you really know? If you’ve never experienced an alternative, then how would you know it was a ‘great’ experience?”

If you’ve only dated one person your entire life – and one to whom your parents assigned you – then I would suggest you don’t really know if you like that person. Or, at least, your view is severely limited, because it lacks perspective. I have no doubt that folks are sincere when they say that they enjoyed their schooling experience, but, unfortunately, at least in West Virginia, that’s not really good or accurate enough.

On this day filled with love and affection, I hope that you ponder the question of choice, and how it really improves your life – partnerships, friendships, the jeans you’re wearing, etc. Now, ask yourself why, according to some in West Virginia, this doesn’t hold true in education? I would humbly submit that it is true, and it is glaringly true upon only a moment’s worth of reflection.

So, when you open that box of Hallmark chocolates today, and your eyes feast upon the coming delight, imagine, for just a second, that the entire box is filled with only one candy – a peanut-filled candy. And you’ve just remembered that you have a peanut allergy. Sadly, many folks want to keep it that way.



Garrett Ballengee, Executive Director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy