Put Your Own Mask on First: Why Public School for All is Not the Answer

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:
put your own mask on first

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.

Let’s look.

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.

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3 pings

  1. Lissa says:

    In reference to her statement “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.” – after 25 years of no AP Calculus for anyone because everyone is in public school, who exactly does she think will be able to teach that AP Calculus class? The 25 years worth of students who were barely taught Algebra in shoddy public schools? I guess that Logic is among those things she was never taught in school.

  2. Debora Bean says:

    Perfect reply. I wish Ms. Benedikt herself could read it (and anyone else who might have bought into what she said).

  3. Jerzy says:

    {Standing ovation!}

    The only reason this garbage keeps being perpetuated is because the Powers That Be want to keep their power. And they’ve done a darn good job, as evidenced by Ms. Benedikt’s drivel.

  4. Ella says:

    Wow, this is insulting to public school teachers everywhere. I’m an ESL teacher in a foreign country, and I try hard as heck to get these kids to learn. But if the kids have a bad attitude, then they’re not going to learn anything. Do you realize there are some homeschooled kids who their parents don’t educate?

    That’s why we have government education forced down our throats. Public schools teach kids subjects and give other points of view their conservative parents won’t. Plus they teach things like the importance of womens’ rights and world culture. Womens’ rights are the only thing that kept me from falling apart in my first few months living overseas.

    You just insulted teachers who work very hard to try and educate the public. I hope you realize that not everyone is rich enough to homeschool like you appear to be. Don’t take away our hard work.

    1. Carma says:

      >> You just insulted teachers who work very hard to try and educate the public. < <

      I did not insult public school teachers in the least. I plead guilty to insulting the institutional public school system. They are two different things. Most school teachers are wonderful, giving people who really want to help people. However, the increasingly centralized institutional school system more and more disallows them from doing so.

      >> “I try hard as heck to get these kids to learn. But if the kids have a bad attitude, then they’re not going to learn anything. < <

      Thanks for making my point. Children learn what they are interested in, not what teachers are interested in teaching them. So why make them feel like failures for the rest of their lives by having it "forced down their throats" when you and I both know a large portion of them aren't going to learn it anyway? The ones who want to learn what schools offer, who have an academic interest, will be there and will learn.

      >> Do you realize there are some homeschooled kids who their parents don’t educate? < <

      Yes. Do you realize there are many public schooled kids whom their teachers don't educate? Why should they get a free pass? There are many more there than in the homeschool crowd, too.

      >> Public schools teach kids subjects and give other points of view their conservative parents won’t. Plus they teach things like the importance of womens’ rights and world culture. < <

      I personally know as many liberal atheists who homeschool as conservative Christians, so I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. I'm sure you wouldn't make any assertions out of total ignorance, would you?

      >> I hope you realize that not everyone is rich enough to homeschool like you appear to be. < <

      I'm not rich, though we are comfortable and homeschooling is easy now. But my husband and I committed to homeschooling before we had kids and before my husband had any sort of a career or even a job, and that's how we rolled with it for many years - single job, single car, multiple kids - before he moved into a comfortable income. I personally know many families who make incredible monetary sacrifices to continue to homeschool their children, including single moms. So since you don't like getting what you perceive as insults, I suggest you don't hand them out. Anyone who wants to can find a way to homeschool. It does not require riches, just commitment.

      >> Don’t take away our hard work. <<

      Ella, you failed to address a single point that I actually made in my article, which is that forcing everyone out of private and homeschool and into public school will not, in fact, improve public school. Instead you chose a scattershot attack of strawman arguments against homeschooling, none of which had more than a tangential relationship to anything I said.

      If you’d like to continue the discussion, please tell me how universal forced public education (and the subsequent elimination of all private and home schools) will improve educational outcomes for students.

      1. Donna says:

        Yet another awesome response! We are FAR from rich also, and have made the commitment to homeschool. We did so after being refused educational help for one of our children by the public school system. We’re former patrons of a private school, & had a struggling child. We were told @ an IEP meeting, @ a top 10 state ranking school (in the state ranked #1 in education) that our child was doing work that children a grade ahead of her in this great public school, couldn’t do. So, they wouldn’t provide the services needed until she was 2 full grades BEHIND!!! Homeschooling became real for us when we could no longer afford private school, and it has been a wonderful experience!

        I agree, there are many great teachers, but the lackluster, mediocre based system is holding them back from their full potential. The status quo is not good enough for us!

  5. Sarah S says:

    Firstly, I want to make it very clear that I disagree both with Ms. Benedikt’s conclusion, and her approach (calling everyone who doesn’t utilize public schools “bad” and “morally bankrupt”? And a dozen other put-downs… PLEASE!). But, as I read your rebuttal I suspected she was probably saying that if Everyone sent their kids to public school, especially those parents who normally wouldn’t because they want something better for their kids, that these parents would be so involved as to cause a change. Not some “sparkly magic”. On reading the article I think that Is what she’s saying:

    “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.”

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