Update: Benedikt sent her child to a private pre-school (see bottom of post; h/t Josh Trevino) |Do you now or have you ever sent your child to a private school? You sir or madam are a "bad person." That's the argument of Slate's Double X blog editor Allison Benedikt in "a manifesto" she published today at the liberal website headlined, "If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person." One presumes that homeschooling parents are even worse, perhaps "evil," but we'll wait to see if Benedikt issues another manifesto on that issue.
Benedikt opens by qualifying that private-school parents are not "murderer bad," but they are "ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid." Sounds like an argument MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry would agree with, after all, your kids are not yours, they belong to the community. Benedikt continued to lay out her case by qualifying that she is:
...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.)
Ah, it would merely take "generations" for this to happen, which is a great comfort to parents whose kids need to be educated in the span of 12 years, not 120. A public system that is rock-solid long after kids born today are dead doesn't do much to help kids living today. But that doesn't matter to Benedikt, who insists that her plan is incredibly simple:
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.)
There are a lot of reasons why bad people send their kids to private school. Yes, some do it for prestige or out of loyalty to a long-standing family tradition or because they want their children to eventually work at Slate. But many others go private for religious reasons, or because their kids have behavioral or learning issues, or simply because the public school in their district is not so hot. None of these are compelling reasons. Or, rather, the compelling ones (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt-in, not out.
At least Benedikt (pictured at right via her Twitter profile) admits that "banning private schools isn't the answer," but her call for a "moral adjustment" is a thin cloak for her belief that private-school parents should be bullied into buying into Benedikt's vision. She continued by insisting that truly gifted and talented students will actually thrive in a dead educational environment:
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.
So not only are private-school parents "bad," but their kids are mere "spawn." Where did this woman learn persuasive writing? A crappy public school, perhaps?:
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.
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.
Benedikt then got to the real heart of the matter. She's so insistent on public education because:
...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.
Please, please tell me this is supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek piece? Did Benedikt write this originally intending it for The Onion? No, it seems she's really serious. Here's how she wrapped up her masterful polemic:
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.
Of course, one could assuage one's liberal guilt by, I don't know, supporting school vouchers and charter schools. What's more, there are private school voucher charities to which rich liberals can write large checks. One could also volunteer to tutor inner-city kids after school, or, here's a radical idea: donate money to a local church school to help it hire more teachers and offer more free or reduced tuitions to inner-city students.
But no, Benedikt thinks the only moral course of action is reducing competition.
I don't want to go the MSNBC route and read race into this, but it's hard not to see Benedikt advocating some soft form of white liberal paternalism. She strongly suggests that failing inner city schools -- which are in many places predominantly minority in racial composition -- NEED the ameliorating influence of wealthier students and parents -- who are predominantly white. It's rather offensive when you think about it, but don't expect Benedikt to get called on it by the liberal media.
Lastly, and everyone's thinking it anyway, the most famous couple in America, the Obamas, send their kids to not only a private school, but an exclusive one, the Sidwell Friends School. The Obamas most certainly could send their daughters to a public school in the District of Columbia. After all, Jimmy Carter did.
P.S.: Benedikt's boss, David Plotz, who attended a private prep school, hailed Benedikt's "amazing manifesto" in a tweet this morning. Perhaps he feels guilty for having been a private-school kid who attended St. Albans, former Vice President Al Gore's alma mater:
Update (14:50 Eastern): It seems Ms. Benedikt sends her kids to a private pre-preschool in New York City, although she does plan to send them to public school.. Kudos to Josh Trevino for catching this:
In the fall of 2018, all of our kids will finally be in public school, and we will have the $5,000 we pay in child care every month back in our bank account. I will be 41, my husband will be 46, and perhaps then we can start to consider a second toilet.
Not all of that $5K will go toward a family home — to pay for preschool, we stopped contributing to our 401k years ago. So 2018 will also be the year we start paying into it again — not that we will ever be able to retire — and, hey, let’s put some away for college, shall we?
As Trevino pointed out, though, New York City public schools offers free pre-K to 4-year-old children of all city residents.