Feature

Education: Is it immoral to go private?

Some people argue that if everyone were invested in public schools—with both taxes and offspring—they would begin to improve.

“You are a bad person if you send your children to private school,” said Allison Benedikt in Slate.com. I know, I know: Parents send kids to private schools because they live in urban areas with bad schools, or because their kids are gifted or have learning issues, or simply because they want small classes and personal attention and courses in modern film and Mandarin. “You know who else wants those things? Everyone.” And when middle-class and affluent parents pull their kids out of public schools, it effectively guarantees that those schools will never have the clout or resources they deserve. If everyone were invested in public schools—not just property-tax invested but “flesh-and-blood-offspring invested”—these schools would begin to improve. Rather than run from the schools that the poor families are forced to depend on, “send your kids to school with their kids,” and then fight to make things better for everyone.

This is “the educational equivalent of Soviet economics,” said Rod Dreher in TheAmericanConservative.com. Am I really supposed to believe that I have a moral obligation to give my kids a “crappy” education, “when I know something better and higher is available to them, either from private, parochial, or home school?” For liberals, all that matters is that “we are united in the state, no matter how stupid, ignorant, and poor it makes us.” Benedikt is also mistaken about her basic premise, said John Carney in CNBC.com. “Competition improves education,” and numerous studies show that when public high schools have to compete with private schools, they raise their game in every way. So parents who send their kids to private schools aren’t bad people—“they are performing a verifiable public good.”

Private schools serve another important function, said Megan McArdle in Bloomberg.com. They keep affluent families from fleeing cities. In some urban areas, schools are “war zones,” with crime and violence, and not even guilty liberals are going to keep kids in schools where they’re beaten up. “If you couldn’t send your kids to private school, you’d just move.” That’s what happened to Detroit, and the Bronx, and parts of Chicago, leaving those communities in ruin. Parents have a “primal instinct” to give their kids the best possible chance to succeed. Any “solution” that ignores human nature will never work.

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