“I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (J. Wellington Wimpy, “Popeye” canon).
“As your attorney, it is my duty to inform you that it is not important that you understand what I’m doing or why you’re paying me so much money. What’s important is that you continue to do so” (The Samoan lawyer in Hunter S. Thompson’sFear and Loathing in Las Vegas).
“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” (Allison Benedikt, Slate, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person“, Slate’s DoubleX, August 30, 2013).
The promise of big government – from Stalin’s “Five Year Plans” to Obama’s “Hope and Change” – is always just down the way. Around the corner, The light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the tunnel you’re in. It’s just one five-year plan away.
And when you’re living in a city run by people who think we can build a better life through more light rail, then waiting for utopia is OK, more or less, provided you’re not one the eggs that gets broken to make the omelet, whether you’re a University Avenue business or a Kulak. (at least until you can find a way to sell your house) is a perfectly fine option.
But when it’s things that are the here and now? Like you and your future? Your kids and theirs?
Now it’s personal.
Allison Benedikt writes for Slate – to be exact, one of their clubby pseudo-feminist brandettes, DoubleX.
And while the quote above does spell out the thesis of her piece pretty well, there’s always more to mock:
Some Of Us Are More Equal Than Others: Give a point to Benedikt for at least giving a shout-out to human nature, especially the human nature of socialist institutions:
Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)
But of course, it is a perfectly fine argument against both; intentions aside, universal systems always end up being two-tracked systems; one for the plebeians, and another for those who have to manage them; public schools and Obamacare for most of us, but “elite” schools and exemptions for thekommissars, for Chelsea and Sasha and Malia and Matt Damon’s spawn (who will, naturally, grow up to manage the plebes).
But that’s not the main argument (not that an actual “argument” is warranted) against Benedikt’s “idea”.
The Unicorn School System: According to Benedikt, if we’re all forced into the public school system, it’ll improve because parents just won’t stand for it.
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.
Perhaps you are. For a while, anyway. I speak from experience, having spent years trying to get the Saint Paul Public Schools to be anything more than a malignant pathology.
But the simple fact is that when pseudo-intellectual dabblers like Allison Benedikt say things like…:
And parents have a lot of power.
…that’s where you know she’s either never had to deal with a truly malignant administration, or her definition of “power” is different than yours and mine.
Parents have the “power” to come in and stuff envelopes and help chaperone field trips and do whatever the system wants warm bodies to help with.
Push back against institutional stupidity in the curriculum? Scrutinize the plans the system has for your kids? Demand better out of “standards”, or – more importantly – teachers and programs?
You quickly find that “parental power” – especially in a one-party Democrat controlled city where the School Board is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the most extreme wing of the Democrat party – is a black humor chanting point.
Not to say they don’t want your help, as Benedikt correctly notes:
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.
But always, always, the only “power” that the system recognizes is the “power” to work within, and to feed your efforts into, The System. The System as it is prescribed by the thinkers of deep thoughts. Not by you. Perish the thought.
Alas, Egg: Your only real “Power” in Benedict’s fever-swamp dream, though, is the “power” eggs have in your Sunday omelet:
There are a lot of 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.[See also “Higher Ed Bubble”]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.
Not for other peoples’ children, they’re not, perhaps – provided you’re the very sort of utterly illiberal person that rates the “liberal” tag these days.
But you only get one shot with your children. And the education your child gets – as opposed mere “schooling”, which is a distinction most “liberals” miss – has a lot to do with how they do in life.
Benedikt seems to think that having a couple of “lost generations” –
And “how our children do in life”, in aggregate, has everything to do with the future of our country – our economic performance 30-50 years from now.
By the way – if we have a couple of lost generations of badly-educated people (our kids and grandkids), then from what basis are we going to build any “improvements?”
The Cure Is The Disease: Of course, school itself isn’t the problem. Is it?
Or, rather, the compelling [reasons] (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt in, not out.
Among the most popular alternative schools – Sudbury, Waldorf and some private and charter Montessori schools – they don’t actually tell the children “you have to learn to read at a specified level by age 7”. They assume that children, who are born with an innate drive to understand the world around them, will learn to read, and read very proficiently, at their own speed.
And they’re right. Barring serious physical or mental handicaps, every child does learn to read. Long story short; there are no reading difficulties in a Sudbury or Waldorf schools.
It’s a piece of cake, really; those kids have just finished becoming fluent in a language (in some cases more than one); reading is comparatively simple in comparison. Compare this to a public school, where kids are exhorted and threatened and cajoled into reading by an arbitrary point in time that is politically vital but, to the child, utterly meaningless – or be stuffed into “remedial” class, shamed, humiliated and, in short order, put on the “problem child” track.
A friend of mine whose kids went to a Sudbury school – where every single child, no matter how damaged, learns to read by age eight, frequently by teaching themselves – notes that if learning to speak “to grade level” by age four was a government priority, you’d have rooms full of five year old “remedial speaking” students, being “remediated” at exquisite expense by unionized “educators” supervised by ranks of administrators.
The point? To Benedikt, your kids’ problems are even more reason to force them into the public schools – when there’s overwhelming evidence that in many cases school itself causes many of the problems in the first place.
This is especially true for boys – where a generation of academic feminism has turned public and most private education into a harrowing, self-destroying prison. The system we have now might not have been designed to hamper boys’ development and turn education into a self-abnegating drudgery that they are only too happy to escape at the earliest opportunity – but how would it be any different if it had been?
The system destroys our boys today. We’re one academic fad away from doing the same to girls.
And Yet Even Benedikt Knows The Answer: Benedikt yammers on and on about the imperative to…
…what? Help our kids?
No. To support the institution. To sacrifice a few generations of our kids’ well-being to support…what? Not education, but the institution of publicly-funded schooling, and the industries – academia, textbooks, consultants, administration – that feed off it.
And yet Benedikt herself hovers near the real answer – probably without knowing it:
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 (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy 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 crappy public school become less crappy.
In other words, the crappiness of the school doesn’t matter, provided that the parents care enough.
Good, engaged parents – the ones P.J. O’Rourke called “the ones with the eternal good common sense to give a shit” – are the answer. And as Benedikt herself says, with good parents, the schools don’t matter.
Which is exactly what a generation of home-schoolers and charter-schoolers, not to mention private schoolers, have discovered; good parents do solve problems.
And in their capacity as good parents, many of them discover that avoiding the public schoolsisthe answer.
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.
So why not cut out the sneering, incompetent middlepersons?
Bonus Question For Allison Benedikt: When you’re in a nursing home someday – a public one, naturally, since one must assume you think old folks should all have the same treatment, just like kids – are you OK with being taken care of by the kids who grew up under the “lost generations” you seem to be comfortable with saddling our children with?