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.
Dude … that’s harsh.
The above is the opening line to “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person: A Manifesto” by Allison Benedikt, published at Slate. She doesn’t mention homeschooling, but her statement is clear enough: anyone who opts children out of public government school, for any reason, is BAD.
I see two very important points to address in this article. One Ms. Benedikt intends to make, and the other she seems to be completely unaware of.
Improve Education by Dumbing Down the Populace
The gist of Ms. Benedikt’s article is the point she intends to make, which is:
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, let’s follow this argument logically: We should force every child to attend public school where they all will, according to Ms. Benedikt, receive a mediocre education. They will grow up with this mediocre education. With this mediocre education they will in their turn become the teachers and policymakers of the future. Then, armed solely with the strength of that mediocre education, they will somehow … make education better.
I don’t know about you, but I smell the burning synapses of a cognitive disconnect there.
Anyone who has ever flown on a plane knows the truth about this claim. Just in case you forgot what your friendly flight attendant told you last time:
When the oxygen is being sucked out of the plane, you don’t struggle to get a mask on your hysterical toddler. He could possibly fight until you both pass out, and then neither of you gets any oxygen. But if you get your own mask on first, you’ve got what you need to take care of him, even if he does end up passing out for a moment. Once that is done, you can look around the plane and see who else needs help with a mask.
The best outcome Ms. Benedikt can envision is a generation or three spiraling downward in an educational freefall, at which point …
(¨*•.¸.¸.•*¨) sparkly magic happens (¨*•.¸.¸.•*¨)
… and we pull out of it with a better educational system at the end.
How about instead, if your child is struggling in school in some way – due to bullying, or behavioral problems, or poor grades, or really miserably hating it, or even brilliant and being held back – you get the oxygen mask on your own family first. Get him into private school or homeschool. Fix her problem and you are a step closer to fixing the school’s problem.
Healthy, well-adjusted kids grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults who will be able to help others. Self-educated kids raised outside the system will grow into self-motivated adults who think outside the system and will come up with new, creative, better ways to help their communities.
I don’t know about private school vs. public school, but it’s already been demonstrated clearly that adults who were homeschooled are more involved in community service than their public school peers: 71% participate in an ongoing community service activity compared to 37% of U.S. adults of similar ages.
Compare that to Ms. Benedikt’s idea of forcing everyone into a mandatory dumbed-down government education. I don’t know about you, but I’m unfamiliar with many downward spirals that end in large, overall improvements.
Improve Education by Self-Educating
Clearly, forcing all children into public education cannot provide the answer to bettering educational outcomes. Interestingly enough, Ms. Benedikt has provided the answer for us, hidden so well right there in her little diatribe that she herself is unaware of it.
Now, I realize that the point I’m pulling out here is sort of the antithesis of what Ms. Benedikt is actually shooting for. Still, she clearly makes a case for … wait for it now … not relying on government to provide education at all.
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…. 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…. 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.
She not only survived it, she is a managing editor over at Slate, an award-winning magazine. Not too shabby for someone who had to self-educate.
Hey, I’ll bet that if other children were given the opportunity to self-educate, they might do well too.
In fact, I’ll bet that a lot of children — public schooled, private schooled, and homeschooled — already self-educate. That is, they focus on the things they want to learn and the goals they want to achieve rather than the standard fare handed out to all.
In fact, it might be that children who learn to rely upon their own resources actually turn out better prepared than those who rely solely on the pre-approved government curriculum spoon-fed to them on a teach-to-the-test timetable.
In fact, I wonder how much further Ms. Benedikt herself could have gone if she had been given more opportunity for self-education in her early years, rather than having to waste time putting in the hours at school to get an education she herself characterizes as “shoddy” and to which she clearly gives no credit for her adult achievements and successful writing career.
In fact, unlike Ms. Benedikt, I myself was a great student in school, but despite a few wonderful teachers and some good stuff I learned, I still feel very strongly that my public school education held me back and most of what I know and value in my own education was from my own self-motivation to learn outside the classroom curricula.
Improve Education by Ignoring Liberal Guilt
Ms. Benedikt closed her article by advising:
Don’t just acknowledge your liberal guilt — listen to it.
How about listening to common sense instead? I’m willing to bet that we can do more good for more kids if we simply refrain from increasing the amount of weighty, moribund administrative red tape that will further reduce children’s opportunities to self-educate by eating up their time with trivialities and deadening their belief in themselves and their own interests as worthy of pursuit, than we would by deliberately setting them all into a downward spiral of enforced and steadily worsening government-provided (and don’t forget government-enforced) educational opportunities.
(By the way, I’m not saying eliminate public school entirely. There are people who cannot homeschool or public school. I’m just saying, give it back to the local districts and get the federal government out. Reduce the red tape and increasing rigidity of the system to allow individuals to find their own way with the guidance of good teachers.)
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.
Ms. Benedikt, you failed to back up or prove in any way your clearly fallacious and wishful-thinking inspired contention that forcing everyone into government schools will end up forcing the schools to become better.
You failed to even make the point that everyone needs government education in order to succeed. You yourself have survived and thrived without a stellar government education (as if there ever could be any such thing), and you claim the next couple of generations will also survive and thrive without a stellar government education.
So please explain to me: why then must we all make a choice you think we should make, that we don’t want to make, that will not achieve the object you wistfully think will magically appear after we sacrifice our children to a misplaced ideal … just so that future children will have to make that same unpopular, unnecessary, and uninspiring choice after generations of a dumbing-down freefall?
Ms. Benedikt and other Liberal Guilters, please:
Stop claiming to empower people by disempowering them.
Stop trying to improve future lives by impoverishing current lives.