Thursday, August 29, 2013

As your public schools go, so do you

For someone with no kids and who decided teaching wasn't for him (and doesn't do a whole lot about it), I am really passionate about public education. Much of that passion arises from what I think public schools symbolize — the public good in general.

(Full disclosure: I've got 21 years of public education under my belt. Never once wore a uniform. My schools varied, as did my friends. I was a gifted student. I probably would have thrived in private school — or been expelled repeatedly. In any case, I think I turned out better than fine.)

As tends to happen, though, a lot of people choose to opt out. They have all sorts of reasons: the public schools are bad, they want specific programs, they need Jesus, etc. Some parents take it further and argue they bear no responsibility for public schools if they send their children to private institutions.

See, now that I can authoritatively address. Why should I, as a bachelor, support public schools with my tax money? Well, because it's not about me. It's about society. Having educated children benefits all of us. So I'm happy to pay those taxes. Education is our friend.

This article is perhaps unfair in calling private school parents bad people, but it does make one sterling, excellent point that I enthusiastically echo: when those with means divest themselves from the public, the public suffers. And ultimately, they suffer as well.

Whatever other reasons parents choose to send their children to private school, there's at least some underlying feeling that the public schools aren't worth fixing. Because the state of public schools relies so much on public interest, lack of that interest allows them to wither. In many places, this leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Benedikt's manifesto also (perhaps too bluntly) makes what is perhaps the single best point to consider about anything: Whatever you want, everyone else probably wants too. You want the best for your kids? Well, so does every other parent. Money talks, though, so richer people are able to buy themselves such things. But should that be a question of finances?

No, it shouldn't be. As I've written before, public schools should be like McDonald's — consistent and omnipresent. If everyone invested themselves in them, we'd all be better off. Sadly, it seems only those with direct investment in public schools seem to care at all. In that light, Benedikt's article makes sense. 

But I think a better solution is not to force everyone into public schools — it's a renewed interest in the community by those who may choose private schools for personal reasons. Simple empathy.

Public schools can teach everyone, even those who never set foot in them.

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