‘I’ ON CULTURE
Allison Benedikt wrote an interesting article recently for the online magazine Slate arguing that if you send your children to private school (and, by extension, move into a well-off neighborhood because the schools are good), you are a bad person.
Her argument is that by keeping your children in good schools, you are damaging poor children, who often receive substandard educations. They need the good examples to improve their schooling, and when the good examples are not around, they are more likely to indulge in bad behavior.
Benedikt writes that it makes no difference if you are sending your child to a particular school because of religious reasons or social ones or even because the school “is not so hot.” If your children go to a school that is bad, she posits, you are more likely than many less-informed parents to get in the face of teachers who have fallen down on the job, or fight for more resources. In the long run, the schools will be better. Benedikt points out how much she gained by getting drunk with poor kids during her high school years. Far better to do that than work for charities as a way of building a resume for college.
Of course, to fully accomplish this idea, families will have to change housing patterns. And I doubt that parents will begin by saying, “Hey, honey, let’s move into that neighborhood because it means our children will go to poorly performing schools.” We want good schools for our children. Benedikt feels we need to be re-educated.
Most feel our children are our real inheritance. They carry on whatever good (or bad) we have within us. Just check with anyone who has grown children about a desire for grandchildren. Normal people want their children to do well. Schooling is perhaps the most important element in that. As an old educator, the one thing I was most concerned about was making certain my daughters could read. And I was thrilled when they graduated college. My mother, only days before her death, told me that she was proud that every one of her children and grandchildren were college graduates. (She was also pleased we had all managed to stay out of jail.)
However, I believe Benedikt’s argument is based on misinformation. First of all, under-performing students quite often have more resources spent on them than those doing well. Poor school districts receive more from the state than they take in. Also, the federal government provides extensive funding (billions a year) for remedial education, and they ensure it is spent on the students who need it. Often, it does very little.
Second, while noting that the percentage of really bad teachers is very, very small, those who are mediocre generally are accepted. New York City defined “mediocre” as “satisfactory” decades ago. Generally, the number of teachers fired for incompetence in New York State in a given year is in the single digits. Parental outrage has little effect.
Benedikt argues that even if your child goes to a “crappy” (her word, not mine) school, the fact that he or she has good parents will get her through. And think of what her sacrifice will mean for public education. Not even now; even Benedikt recognizes the real change will come later. But, she argues, 50 years down the road, public schools will be better. Of course, there are trade-offs. Your children may not do very well, which could pull down the chances for your grandchildren. The hard work you put in to ensure the very best for your family will result in your descendants having poorer lives.
If you are still alive to watch, you will see your children living in small homes or apartments in not very good neighborhoods, clipping store coupons, and learning how to do with less. Those people who ignore Benedikt’s suggestions may even feel shame as their children go to the best colleges and have lives filled with the best.
But, and here is her real point, it will lead to schools that are better for everyone else. And you can be proud to know that the sacrifice of your children’s chances, and their children’s chances, will lead to a better school system for everyone. Maybe. Perhaps. Possibly.