Jonah Goldberg

Hypocrisy is an overblown sin. Better to be a hypocrite who occasionally violates his principles than a villain who never does.

I bring this up because the usual, and entirely expected, round of conservative complaints about Barack Obama's public-schools hypocrisy has begun, and I'm finding it all a bit tedious.

The Obamas will send their two daughters to the expensive private school Sidwell Friends. Yes, that makes him something of a hypocrite because he is a vocal opponent of giving poor kids anything like the same option.

But you know what? Who cares? Personally, I would think less of the Obamas if they sent their kids to bad schools out of some ideological principle. Parents' first obligation is to do right by their own kids.

In Washington, we have these arguments every time a rich Democrat sends his kids to private schools, which is very often. The real issue is why the public schools are unacceptable to pretty much anyone, liberal or conservative, who has other options. Maybe in the rich suburbs of New York or Los Angeles, wealthy opponents of school choice run less risk of being labeled hypocrites; they can skip the pricey private schools because their public campuses aren't hellholes.

But most Washington public schools are hellholes. So parents here -- including the first family -- find hypocrisy a small price to pay for fulfilling their parental obligations.

According to data compiled by the Washington Post in 2007, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, D.C. ranks third in spending for each student, around $13,000 a pupil, but last in spending on instruction. More than half of every dollar of education spending goes to the salaries of administrators. Test scores are abysmal; the campuses are often unsafe.

Michelle Rhee, D.C.'s heroic school chancellor, in her 17 months on the job has already made meaningful improvements. But that's grading on an enormous curve. The Post recently reported that on observing a bad teacher in a classroom, Rhee complained to the principal. "Would you put your grandchild in that class?" she asked.

"If that's the standard," replied the defensive principal, "we don't have any effective teachers in my school."

So if Obama and other politicians don't want to send their kids to schools where even the principals have such views, that's no scandal. The scandal is that these politicians tolerate such awful schools at all. For anyone.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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