Well, no, honestly, you probably aren’t. And even if you are, I’m likely not in a position to be able to assess that from here. But saying so got your attention, didn’t it? I can only assume that was the primary goal of Slate writer Allison Benadikt when she published “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person” earlier today.
I note with some interest she referred to it as “a manifesto” — a designation which, for me, always conjures the image of Karl Marx. Or Ted Kaczynski. Aside from her reference, I’m not exactly certain just what’s so manifesto-y about the piece. Admittedly, though, it is provocative. In just a few paragraphs, she manages to throw out judgments sure to piss off: Parents of kids who attend(ed) private school; parents of kids who attend(ed) public school; private school attendees and educators; public school attendees and educators; and just about anyone who’s ever entertained the notion of putting one’s family first, and/or who recoils at the notion of sacrificing same “for the common good.”
She also demonstrates that one of the (many) things she apparently failed to glean from her mediocre (which I think might be generous here) public school education was how to employ logic or persuasive rhetoric. For instance, Benadikt asserts: “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.” As I noted immediately upon reading her missive, “If I were trying to sell people on public school, I don’t think I’d use getting drunk in a trailer park before a game as a selling point.” (Find me the parent who’d rather their child’s worldview be altered by alcohol than classic literature.) Yet it’s one of the reasons she feels “so strongly about public schools.” (Presumably, Benadikt not only considers underage drinking in suspect environs an essential life experience, but believes kids who attend private schools somehow insulated from such activities.)
I find it puzzling that she simultaneously maintains that, though she went “to a terrible public school” — one without AP classes, reading requirements or soccer — she’s doing fine (and your kids will, too), and that we all face some sort of moral imperative to send our kids to public school and “endure” it “so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.” Well…wait…which is it? Kids are just fine without AP classes? Or all kids should have AP classes? Public schools are crappy and can only improve if everyone attends them? Or public schools are crappy, but crappy is just fine?
While I do think she’s on the right track with her notion that those with skin in the game have more incentive to improve it, her whole argument rests on the premise that those who currently send their kids to private school somehow care more and will magically improve public schools with their presence and those who currently send their kids to public school are incapable of improving them or not invested in their kids’ education. In my observation, the common denominator is parental involvement. Though Benedikt almost seems to grasp this, it somehow escapes her that parents’ interest in their kids’ education and motivation to see them do well doesn’t hinge on their pocketbooks.
She also fails to take into account that there are great public schools (and cruddy private schools.) I happen to be the product of a great school district (one that offered AP classes, a great reading program and soccer), and am beyond happy that I’ve been able to send my daughter to school in that very same district. I also have friends that attended not-so-great private schools and received a not-so-great education. Interestingly enough, in comparing notes, I’ve found that our K-12 “life” experiences were nevertheless quite similar. Funny how growing up in the same geographical area at around the same time works.
As Benedikt admits, she’s no education policy wonk. One thing I absolutely do have to give her credit for, though: She sure knows how to drive traffic to a website.