Slate: “You Are a Bad Person if You Send Your Children to Private School”

Posted: Aug 29, 2013 11:40 AM
Slate: “You Are a Bad Person if You Send Your Children to Private School”

At first, I thought this was satire. Evidently it is not:

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.

And parents have a lot of power. In many underresourced schools, it’s the aggressive PTAs that raise the money for enrichment programs and willful parents who get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job. Everyone, all in. (By the way: Banning private schools isn’t the answer. We need a moral adjustment, not a legislative one.)

Be sure to read the whole thing. A few thoughts:

The author argues that in order to truly fix America’s broken public education system every parent needs to be invested in it. So what better way to make that happen than for society to discourage, indeed stigmatize, parents who send their kids to private schools? After all, it might take one or two generations for the system to finally fix itself (as parents become increasingly more involved in their communities) but no matter. Such collective sacrifice, she argues, will serve the collective good. And that's what matters. Plus, the author herself went to a “crappy” public school and, guess what, she turned out alright. So why not take one for the team and accept mediocrity?

This would never work, alas. Asking parents to send their kids to an under-resourced and under-performing government school -- especially when they can afford private school tuition -- is idiotic. Based on my own experience, parents want what’s best for their child right away. They will not wait around for decades, let alone generations, consigning their child to a less-than-excellent education when that outcome is completely avoidable. Thus, the author’s Orwellian vision for a more equal and just society is, at the very least, wholly impractical.

Of course, the author doesn’t go as far as to say that sending kids to public schools should be compulsory. But therein lies the problem, no? Don’t get me wrong: I fully support school choice. But how on earth can the author’s utopian vision for a better public school system ever hope to flourish if everyone isn’t required to participate? Case in point: Just like Obamacare will almost certainly implode (which Democrats are hoping for, it seems) if young people don’t sign up, the author’s education reform proposal cannot work if parents inevitably (see above) send their kids to private, parochial and/or charter schools. Why? Because not everyone will be invested in the system, and therefore, we’ll be back at square one.

Needless to say, this sort of wishful thinking, while provocative, is ultimately destined for failure. But I suspect you didn’t need me to tell you that.

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