Is Private School Evil?

Group of students wearing uniforms

Allison Benedikt has a piece at Slate urging people to “not just acknowledge your liberal guilt—listen to it.” Specifically, Benedikt states that “you are a bad person if you send your children to private school.”

I’d like to give Benedikt credit for having good intentions. The problem is that nothing in her argument actually substantiates her blind belief that if all kids went to public school, then public schools would improve. She even acknowledges that the rich would cluster in rich neighborhoods and nothing could be done about it, but somehow inner city public schools would miraculously rebound anyhow.

How? Benedikt doesn’t say. I feel bad pointing it out, but Benedikt might have done a better job at stringing together a cogent argument if her own education hadn’t been so poor. That’s not a mean-spirited slam on my part. I just don’t know what else to take from a piece that fails to provide any rationale whatsoever for its core thesis, but does include statements like “I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either.” along with an eyebrow raising claim that “getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house” is an equivalent experience to reading Walt Whitman. Maybe if Benedikt had ever read Whitman, she would be qualified to weigh in on that, but since she claims to have hardly read any literary books ever I’m not sure why she thinks anyone would be interested to her opinion on the topic.

In the meantime, my kids don’t go to private school because my wife and I are rich and it’s a status symbol or class affectation. We stretch our budget to the breaking point to afford their tuition (and go without things like a second car) because we don’t want them to have to relive experiences like the vicious bullying I endured or the rampant sexism my wife survived. If you want us to risk putting our kids through that, you’ll have to do a damn site better than this as an argument. I’m guessing Benedikt doesn’t actually have kids, or she would understand that.

At the end of the day, the sad irony is that Benedikt’s piece is so terribly reasoned it is a stark warning against sending your kids to public school. If you do, they may end up writing nonsense like she does.

7 thoughts on “Is Private School Evil?”

  1. Grandparents pay for our children’s private education. If we didn’t have their financial ability and generosity, I would still homeschool. If their ability to help vanishes, then we will likely go back to homeschooling. They do have 11 grandchildren (and counting) and only two are currently in school, so the price may climb out of reach for them at some point. I won’t sacrifice my kids for the larger community, and I honestly don’t think sacrificing them to the public school system would actually help the larger community.

    Most of the parents at our school are not rich. I know some grandparents take money out of their 401k to fund their grandchildren, and the school operates on reasonable tuition — $6,000/year K-12 (significantly less than the public schools here), with scholarships from endowments lowering the cost even further for most students. I know liberals hate vouchers, but I dream of the day when vouchers could be a reality. They aren’t perfect, but they would help so many low- and middle-income families, really the majority of Americans. And I think they would lower the cost of education while improving the quality and quantity of options.

  2. I won’t sacrifice my kids for the larger community, and I honestly don’t think sacrificing them to the public school system would actually help the larger community.

    It’s the second part of that I’m most concerned with. Nothing in this article–not one thing!–actually made a reasonable case for how throwing all the kids in public school would actually improve them.

    I’m not really elite. I didn’t go to Harvard, no one in my family went Ivy League, etc. But I’m actually uncomfortable by my mere proximity to these elite institutions. I think elite institutions are intrinsically evil. And so I really do have concerns about this. My kids are smart enough that they probably could go Ivy League. Would I want them to? I don’t know. I have no doubt it would make their life easier, but I have no doubt it’s a form of complicity in corruption.

    So it’s a real dilemma, in general. This article was just such a hamfisted attempt to address the issue that it backfired. Spectacularly.

  3. I’m curious about why you think elite institutions are intrinsically evil. I just haven’t heard it put that way before. I can think of many elite institutions that I personally would not want in my community for many reasons (evil being one of them), but I hadn’t thought of all elite institutions as intrinsically evil.

    College — I understand that dilemma. I am not really an elite either. I had to fund my own college education and turned down Smith to go to VT just based on price, which was a smart decision for more than just financial reasons. My husband and I don’t currently have college funds for our kids. We view retirement savings as more important, which is on hold for school anyway. Our kids are also probably smart enough to go Ivy League, but I am not excited about Ivy League for similar reasons. With the ballooning price of college, the insane financial aid system, and the degradation of morals and educational standards in higher institutions, I just pray we have some clear answers when our kids approach college.

  4. I think elitism itself is intrinsically evil. The way elite institutions works is unfair by definition. Did your parents go? Then you have an advantage. Once you’re in and you’re competing for jobs with people who don’t have the same pedigree? Then you have an advantage. I don’t think this advantage is actually a substitute for a signal of quality. I think it’s a simply an exclusive group, like any cartel, that benefits the insiders at the expense of outsiders. From this perspective, it’s the same basic function as all professional organizations (like the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, and most unions) which erect artificial barriers to entry specifically to limit the number of people who can do the work and therefore artificially drive up the wages of those who are part of the in-group.

    Now, I’m not saying that the ABA and AMA are necessarily evil all-things-considered, because they serve some legitimate purposes too. But that aspect is evil. And, quite frankly, I think they do a lot that is evil. Just look at the ongoing controversy over the artificially high costs of law school that are supported by outright dishonesty about the prospects law school students have for work. That’s the kind of corruption that is entirely predictable based on the kind of corruption you get from concentrated power.

    And then look at our society at large. Does anyone who wields real political power come from a non-Ivy League background? One of the things that was held against Palin was the fact that she went to a state school, whereas all our major politicians and bureaucrats have Ivy League pedigrees. I feel like one of the advantages of US society is that it is, in contrast to a place like India or the UK, classless. But we’re doing our best to change that by creating a class system, and it revolves around elite educational institutions that serve primarily to create artificially scarce access to elite social networks, not to actually provide substantially superior educational experiences.

    Just my take, anyway.

  5. “an eyebrow raising claim that ”getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house” is an equivalent experience to reading Walt Whitman. ”

    Literature shouldn’t be offered to minors! =)

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