Allison Benedikt over at Slate has a provocative manifesto about how parents who send their kids to private school are basically evil. Her reasoning is that we all have to be in it together or the whole system falls apart. After watching movies like Waiting for Superman and Won’t Back Down, I think we can all agree that the public schools are in sad shape. We should agonize over their condition and work to figure out appropriate solutions to the underlying problems.
However, I think the flaws in Ms. Benedikt’s article are pretty obvious:
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. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)
So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment. Your local school stinks but you don’t send your child there? Then its badness is just something you deplore in the abstract. Your local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better.
She goes on to admit her ignorance after having been taught in a public school, but assures us she’s overcome her lack of education:
I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine.
But here is my favorite line:
Also remember that there’s more to education than what’s taught. . . . 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.
Funny, that’s one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about sending my kids to a private Christian school.