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In an article published in the
Spring 2011 issue of Dissent, Margaret
Kohn tackles a fascinating subject -- self-professed egalitarians/liberals who
send their children to private schools or move to selected neighborhoods to
secure a high-quality public school. In this week's CommenTerry, I discuss
Kohn's thoughtful essay.
- The John Locke Foundation is looking for a Director of
Fiscal Policy Studies. JLF's Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
researches, writes about, and comments on spending and tax issues in North
Carolina. These include the state budget, tax reform, government employment and
compensation, and local spending trends. For further information on duties and
requirements, please visit the announcement posted at
Talent Market. (Note: One of the implicit duties of the Director of
Fiscal Policy Studies is working with me. I am sure that this aspect of the job
will dissuade some of you from applying. Sorry.)
- The North Carolina History Project would like educators and
homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school
courses in North Carolina history. Please provide links to NC History Project
encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source material, if
possible. Go to the NC
History Project website for further information.
In a recent issue of Dissent, Margaret Kohn explores a question that some of her
colleagues are afraid to ask, "If you are an egalitarian, why do
you send your children to private school?"
Of course, conservatives have asked
the question for years. In 2000, The Heritage Foundation conducted their first
survey of members of Congress to determine what kinds of schools they selected
for their children. Their most recent study surveyed
members of 111th Congress and found that nearly 40 percent of them
sent a child to private school. (See Facts and Stats below.)
As Kohn points out, the most
famous example of this double standard is not a member of Congress but the
Obama family. Barack and Michelle Obama champion public education publicly, but
send their two children to Sidwell Friends, an elite private school in
Washington, DC. To add insult to injury, in 2009 President Obama and his
Democratic allies in Congress cut funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship
Program, a small voucher program for low-income, inner-city children. I suppose
that peasants are not entitled to privileges set aside for royalty. Thanks to
Republican leadership, Congress reauthorized
the program in April.
Friends and supporters of the
Obama family defended their decision to send their children to Sidwell Friends
by employing two arguments. First, they maintained that the Obamas were just
doing what was in the best interest of their family. Second, they pointed out
that those sending their children to private school still pay taxes that
support public education, thereby making more money available for those who attend
Of course, neither argument is
satisfactory. Proponents of school choice, among others, argue that all
families should have opportunities to send their children to the public or
private school of their choice, regardless of wealth or personal circumstances.
It is an argument for equal opportunity that should appeal to genuine
As for the second argument, it is
true that public school students benefit when parents choose to send their
children to private school. The economic benefit, however, depends on
considerations such as the elasticity of demand and marginal cost. Social
benefits are much more difficult to discern. Egalitarians and liberals often
claim that public education serves a vital social function by exposing children
to those who are different. Yet, rather than plunge their child into this
(imaginary) celebration of diversity, they opt to send their child to an
economically, racially, or socially homogenous private or public school.
Kohn attempts to reconcile the double
standard by drawing a distinction between public and the private action. She
writes, "As an egalitarian she wants to minimize the disparities of
wealth and power that unfairly determine one's ability to flourish, but as a
parent she wants to protect her child from harm and create a world that allows
the child to develop her talents and well-being" (p. 61). Perhaps this is
just a convenient way to cover their underlying hypocrisy, but I am willing to
give Kohn's egalitarian comrades the benefit of a doubt (Obama excepted).
Kohn proposes to reconcile the public and private through
a kind of parental choice that does not undermine the social function of public
education as envisioned by egalitarians and liberals. This translates into the
kind of ramped-up "controlled choice" plans that appeal to
guilt-ridden progressives that live in urban and suburban America. She
envisions a system of vouchers that come with strings attached, including
approved curricula and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic quotas. Obviously, it
would also require immense government oversight of both public and private
schools that enroll voucher recipients.
In the end, parents would have choices, but the state
would constrain those choices to conform to their desired ends. I do not believe
that either side of the aisle would find these many compromises palatable.
Alternatively, I think Kohn's model works best as a means, not an end.
Perhaps discussions of the future of school reform should begin with the
premise that school choice is not necessarily antithetical to the development
of a system of democratic public schools.
Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken)
the K Computer, which
performs more than eight quadrillion (8,000 trillion) calculations per second.
But researchers at Riken are not stopping at eight quadrillion. The letter
"K" represents the Japanese word "kei" or ten quadrillion.
That is 1,000,000,000,000,000 or 1015 operations a second (for those
keeping track at home). Amazing!
Statistics cited below have been obtained from the following
report: Lindsey Burke, "How Members of the 111th Congress
Practice Private School Choice," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, no.
2257, April 20, 2009.
Heritage survey of the Members of the 111th Congress revealed that 44 percent
of Senators and 36 percent of Representatives had ever sent their children to
private schools. Among the general public, only 11 percent of American students
attend private school.
20 percent of Members of the 111th Congress attended private high school
themselves--nearly twice the rate of the American public.
percent of House Education and Labor Committee Members and nearly 40 percent of
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Members have ever sent
their children to private school.
I would like to invite all readers
to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes,
concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I
will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter.
Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission,
email Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Education Acronym of the
DCOSP - District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program
Quote of the Week
"The two dominant approaches to egalitarian education
today are basically updated versions of Jefferson's and Dewey's insights. The
liberal theory of education shares Jefferson's concern about ensuring that
citizens are able to judge what will endanger or secure their freedom... The
democratic theory of education builds on Dewey's suggestion that the public
school is a place that can overcome social distance and create more solidarity
--Margaret Kohn, "If you are an egalitarian, why do you
send your children to private school?" Dissent (Spring 2011), p. 59.
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