by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
This morning, I saw a tweet with a link to an article on Slate and a comment that it should have been published by The Onion. That got me, so I clicked through and found this: “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person.”
A hyperbolic title, surely. Except it isn’t. The argument here presented really is that people who send their kids to private schools are bad people, “morally bankrupt” even.
You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.
I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.
OK, well, I’ll give you the judgmental part.
This seems like a pretty bold assertion. If we’ll all just send our kids to public schools, then they’ll get better. It’ll take generations, but eventually it will work out for the common good. Of course, she doesn’t cite any actual evidence that this is the case, but you should still sacrifice all the things that you know will be better for your child now – that she herself agrees will be better for your child now – in the hope that, a hundred years from now, we’ll all be better off, because it seems to Allison Benedikt that it should be so.
She goes on.
You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school….She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.
So she thinks these public schools are “crappy” and that your kid won’t be challenged or learn as much there as she would at a private school you might choose. But she also thinks that’s not as important as her utopian vision of better public schools that will somehow just magically emerge if everyone will stop being so selfish and send their kids to the currently “crappy” ones.
This raises a fundamental question for me. Why exactly is it Allison Benedikt’s place to decide which of these goals – my child’s education or a possible (highly improbable?) future that might emerge in generations – I should prioritize? How can she possibly claim to know what my kid does or does not need? She gets to make those decisions about her own children, but not about everyone else’s, and that is as it should be.
And then there’s maybe my favorite paragraph.
Also remember that there’s more to education than what’s taught. As rotten as my school’s English, history, science, social studies, math, art, music, and language programs were, going to school with poor kids and rich kids, black kids and brown kids, smart kids and not-so-smart ones, kids with superconservative Christian parents and other upper-middle-class Jews like me was its own education and life preparation. Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools.
So you’re arguing that Walt Whitman and “getting drunk before basketball games” are of equal value in terms of education and worldview formation? Really? On this argument, I’m not sure why we’re sending kids to school at all, really. If what’s taught doesn’t really matter as much as just all being together, then surely classes and teachers and curricula are a waste of time and resources. Let’s just throw kids into a gym all day, let them do what they will, and be happy that they’re developing some sort of “Lord of the Flies” worldview. (In case you read this, Allison, “Lord of the Flies” is a book. I read it in school.)
If Allison Benedikt wants to send her kids to public schools, she has every right to do so. But I believe that what we teach DOES matter. I believe that being challenged IS important. I believe that the educational philosophy and curriculum WILL have an effect on how well kids do. And most fundamentally, I believe that parents have a responsibility to make choices that they believe are good for their kids. Those who do so – whether that choice is a public school, a private school, a charter school, a home school, a virtual school, a military school, or a school of some other sort – should be applauded. They’re not bad people, they’re responsible parents.