Warning: this is a rather lengthy rant prompted by a very stupid article I read.
People, the internet is full of stupid articles, as you’re probably well aware. However, I have found an article that may just win the award for stupidest article ever written. Published at Slate, it’s called If you send your kid to private school, you are a bad person”.
Well, that settles it – obviously this woman who wrote the article, Allison Benedikt, has pegged my parents without even meeting them (or even knowing of their very existence!). You see, yours truly attended private school, all the way from preschool through twelfth grade (the final year of high school in the US). Let’s examine this article and see how incredibly stupid it is. Warning: if you’re already in a bad mood, you might want to read this later, as I am not responsible for any violent acts committed as a result of frustration from this article.
Let the stupidity begin!
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.)
I’m honestly not sure how health care relates to an opinion piece about education. I guess she couldn’t resist putting a jab that those of us opposed to single-payer healthcare are just so primitive and backwards. (If she’s allowed to make a jab, so am I: go live in England and get sick there so you can experience the joy that is the NHS. You’ll change your tune very quickly.)
Oh, and this may be selfish, but I don’t want to sacrifice my education so that one of my descendents can possibly, hypothetically, go to school in a public education system that is good (I mean, who knows what society will look like in the future – maybe schooling will be completely different in ways we cannot yet imagine). As they say: sorry I’m not sorry.
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.)
The only valuable thing I got from this article is that link above, about banning private school. I missed this, but in September 2012, a writer at Gawker actually advocated banning private school. Wouldn’t that be unconstitutional? Any lawyers with the relevant expertise are invited to weigh in here.
And I hate to tell Ms. Benedikt this, but a lot of parents work and therefore don’t have the time to spend making terrible public schools better. (Plus, I remain skeptical if the worst public schools would be able to improve with heavy parental involvement. But that’s beside the point, so we’ll leave that alone for now.)
I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. 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 will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. 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.
Actually, I’m not a huge fan of public education. I remain deeply conflicted about it. I think all children should go to school, of course, but I also think privatized education would be an excellent idea. I also have no idea how we would privatize the public education system.
Support at home can only go so far. Case in point: my dad is really good at math. He trained as an engineer. He can solve pretty much any calculus or physics problem you’ll encounter. But here’s the thing: he is terrible at explaining things. I never was able to ask him for homework help because he simply made no sense to me. My mom does not have the math background to do calculus, so she couldn’t help me, either.
That’s where my private school came in. I had an intense, excellent math teacher who taught me everything I knew about calculus. And yes, I actually use calculus. Not only did it expand my problem solving skills and way of thinking, but it has practical applications in finance and economics, the field I am studying now. Without a strong foundation in math, courtesy of my private school, I would be very confused and behind in my studies right now.
I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one book. There wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! 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. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.
Sorry, lady, but it sounds like you’re damn proud of your ignorance here. Of course, children can surivve a bad education – I don’t think anyone would say that children will keel over and die at the age of eighteen if they graduate from a public school instead of private school. But life is better if you are educated. You’ll understand so much more. I may have hated every minute I spent in biology class, but I am glad I was exposed to that material.
By the way: My parents didn’t send me to this shoddy school because they believed in public ed. They sent me there because that’s where we lived, and they weren’t too worried about it. (Can you imagine?) Take two things from this on your quest to become a better person: 1) Your child will probably do just fine without “the best,” so don’t freak out too much, but 2) do freak out a little more than my parents did—enough to get involved.
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.
Underage drinking is illegal, you know. Not to mention completely stupid. I never drank in high school because 1) my parents would have killed me if I’d done that and, 2) there were literally a thousand things I’d rather do than drink cheap alcohol with a bunch of classmates I didn’t even like anyway.
Many of my (morally bankrupt) colleagues send their children to private schools. I asked them to tell me why. Here is the response that most stuck with me: “In our upper-middle-class world, it is hard not to pay for something if you can and you think it will be good for your kid.” I get it: You want an exceptional arts program and computer animation and maybe even Mandarin. You want a cohesive educational philosophy. You want creativity, not teaching to the test. You want great outdoor space and small classrooms and personal attention. You know who else wants those things? Everyone.
Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids. Use the energy you have otherwise directed at fighting to get your daughter a slot at the competitive private school to fight for more computers at the public school. Use your connections to power and money and innovation to make your local school—the one you are now sending your child to—better. Don’t just acknowledge your liberal guilt—listen to it.
If sending your child to private school is morally bankrupt, I don’t want to be moral. Just saying.
Oh, and as a final note: my parents aren’t liberal, so they have none of this supposed “liberal guilt”. They don’t feel guilty about our position in life because they started from nothing and worked hard to get where they are today so that we could all have a better life.
Some final notes: I complained about my school incessantly when I attended. I did not enjoy it because of my classmates. It also left a lot to be desired in the teaching of humanities. (I got extremely lucky and had an excellent history teacher for all four years of high school.) It was a real powerhouse in the math and science fields, though.
That being said, no matter how lacking it was in the humanities, it was much better than a public school in my state. If I remember correctly, my state’s public schools are consistently close to last place in the rankings every year. Yes, you read that right: out of fifty states, we are almost dead last. That’s pretty bad.
The main problem I see with public schools is the dumbing down of the curriculum. The other problem is how a substantial amount of students come from families that do not place an emphasis on the importance of education. In my family, it was expected that I put forth effort and do well. This isn’t the case for everyone.
The curriculum is easy to fix: implement a difficult curriculum. (This probably won’t happen anytime soon, but we can hope.) The second problem is harder to solve. How to solve the second problem is more difficult and I do not have any solutions.
This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: loads of people go to public school and are fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But private school is usually pretty great (yes, there are some bad ones out there) and sending your child to one because you want the best for him or her does not make you a “bad person”.