However misguided their aims, there was one a time when progressives worked to protect the welfare and improve the lot of the individual. Today, the goal of many progressives is to protect the welfare and improve the lot of public bureaucracies. A prime — and stunningly inane — example of this tendency is found Allison Benedikt’s “manifesto” in Slate titled, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person“:
You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.
I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. 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. (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.)
Notice that she is willing to sacrifice the educations of children today — and generations of children for an indefinite time in the future — so that the public school system can be saved. Whereas public schools once existed to educate children, they now exist to justify their own existence (and the existence of teacher’s unions). Here’s how Benedikt thinks it should work:
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.
This is, of course, nonsense that even Benedikt couldn’t possibly believe. Would she be in favor of doing everything that was necessary to improve public schools, such as firing bad teachers? Of course not, and neither would the teachers’ unions. That is one of the reasons public schools are a mess now.
But what if you are a parent that believes a child’s education should be holistic and include religious values and knowledge? Not a good enough excuse, says Benedikt:
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. 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. Or, rather, the compelling ones (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt in, not out.
While Benedikt’s article is jaw-droopingly dumb (even by Slate’s trying-too-hard-to-be-contrarian standards), it does reveal what many progressives believe: Children belong to the state, not their parents. If public schools are inferior then the children must receive an inferior education, all for the good of the state-run schools.
How bad will it really be for the kids, though? Benedikt went to a public school, and look how she turned out:
Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools.
At this point you might be thinking this is some sort of put-on, some elaborate prank to show the banality of arguments against educational choice. But sadly, that is not the case. The article is the product of someone who really believes this is a reasonable argument for public school education — and a prime example of the type of substandard thinkers that our public schools are producing.