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Don't send your kid to a private school

By ALLISON BENEDIKT Allison Benedikt Slate

Publication: The Day

Published September 02. 2013 4:00AM

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.

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.

There are many 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.

"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, chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a pathetic 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 lousy public school become less lousy. 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.

I went K-12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn't offer AP classes, and in four years, I had to read only 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: 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.

Many of my (morally bankrupt) colleagues send their children to private schools. I asked them 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.

Don't just acknowledge your liberal guilt - listen to it.

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