Nothing Outside The State

Oh, Slate. You certainly know how to troll for traffic.

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.

That’s the opening line to an astonishing condescending post by Allison Benedikt about how people should not be allowed to send their kids to private schools. I’m not linking directly, but you can find it through the eviscerations by Popehat and Overlawyered:

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.

This caused Ross Douthat to reply with a quote from Mussolini: “Everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” If you follow the argument, your goal in life should not be to give your children all the advantages you can; it should be to sacrifice them on the altar to the greater public good. It won’t pay off today. But maybe, perhaps, if we wish really really really hard, it will pay off.

I used that phrase “sacrifice them on the altar” very specifically. Notice that Benedick cites no evidence that stuffing more kids into public schools would actually improve them. She just says we should put them in there and … it will happen. Because she thinks so. Her statement has as much reason and logic behind it as a pagan sacrificing a goat to Baal in the hopes that it will bring rain.

I would think this was Poe’s Law, but I have actually heard this argument before on some fringes of the left and some mainstream Lefties. Dylan Matthews and Matt Yglesias made sympathetic noises on Twitter. Dan McLaughlin reminded me this piece of excrement during the Chicago teacher’s strike. And I’ve also heard it from mainstream figures like Warren Buffet.

Destroying this column is like shooting fish in a barrel. But my shotgun has been a little rusty lately, so what the hell.

First, there are many problems that afflict our public schools. The biggest, in my opinion, are parents and students who simply don’t give a shit. I don’t see that manacling them to students who do is going to improve that situation. In fact, most of the parents who send their kids to private schools do care about the public ones. They pay hefty taxes, they vote for politicians who spend on education and many of them only move their kids to private schools after the public schools fail them. They care. They’ve just found that caring isn’t enough when faced with an education system that doesn’t want to listen and defines itself by the lowest common denominator.

If I listed off the problems of our public schools, students abandoning them for private schools would rank dead last. In fact, even the Gawker article hilariously stumbles on this:

Nationwide, where 10% of the nation’s students—and 16% of the white ones from families making more than $75,000 per year—attend private schools, the stratification is similar. White and asian students enroll in private schools at twice the rate of black and hispanic ones, according to Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project. Nearly two thirds of private-school students are from wealthy families. In the nation’s 40 largest school districts, one in three white students attends private school (the number is one in ten for black students).

Of course, that means 84% of kids from white middle class families are attending public schools. And 2/3 of white students in the largest districts are attending public schools. Even if you posit that the private school parents are selfish bastards, they are massively outvoted by those who use the public schools and have a vested and passionate interest in improving them. And this shows in the amount of money we throw at our public education system.

The “make people care by forcing their kids into public schools” argument stumbles on the petitio principii that the problem with our schools is that we don’t care enough and aren’t giving them enough resources. Even if that’s the case — and I don’t think it is — you need to prove that before you drag all the kids out of private schools.

Second, if you mandate public schools the only thing that will happen is that people who care about their kids’ education will move to good school districts**. They will take a bungalow in a good school district over a mansion in a bad one. This is already the case for much of the country. I moved to my current location, in part, because the public schools are outstanding. My university uses this as a big selling point to potential faculty. My brother moved to his current location partly for the good schools.

(*A lot of parents would actually home-school, but I’m assuming if you’re going to abolish private schools, you’re going to abolish home-schooling too.)

You could, of course, tear down the good public schools and force all their teachers and students to go to the bad schools. None of the fuckwits proposing to abolish private schools are proposing this but … one thing at a time, I guess.

Third, private schools aren’t always about bailing out of bad public schools. Ken’s post linked above details the choices his mother made and the ones he is making that have to do more with matching environment to a child than some nebulous definition of quality. Indeed, one of the biggest problems with our public schools is the increasing uniformity of methods and curricula that assume every child should learn the same things in the same way.

Fourth, redistributing “education resources” equally might … might … raise the level of mediocrity. But the price would be destroying the excellence without which our economy and our civilization can not survive. Benedick takes the attitude that she didn’t get a quality education in her public school. But she ended up writing idiotic articles for Slate, so why should she care? But without physics and calculus at my school (a public school, incidentally), I probably wouldn’t be a scientist. Without good teachers and good schools, many future scientists, doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs would fall by the wayside.

Really, when you break it down, that’s what this is about: a raging, screaming anti-intellectualism. Just as socialists hate wealth in material goods, the private school banners hate wealth in education. They don’t want anyone to be better than anyone else, anyone to be smarter than anyone else, anyone to have more opportunities. But if the past century has taught us anything, it’s that dragging achievers down doesn’t lift everyone else up. All it does is … drag the achievers down and the rest of us with them.

Matt Yglesias and others have made the point that the children of the wealthy will do just fine in the public schools (“the research is unequivocal” says Dylan Matthews). They just won’t be as happy. Pushing aside that many private school users are middle class parents who are trying to give their kids better opportunities than they had, education is not a social experiment. Nor are children assets to be used in social experimentation by the state. Even if private schools just buy a little extra happiness and peace of mind for kids whose parents can afford it (and in many cases, can’t), what the hell is wrong with that? Oh, I forgot. Those children do not exist for themselves, but to be assets in our Education System.

The odds that private schools will be abolished are pretty close to zero. But I wanted to blog about this because it illustrates an important point. If you ever wanted to know why I could never be a leftie, this is a perfect example. The idea of outlawing public schools is offensive, stupid, misguided and vicious. It is based almost entirely on wealth envy and anti-intellectualism. And it reduces children to human sacrifices to the Great God of the Public Good. No one would take it seriously (and indeed, Slate commenters are ripping the piece in comments). But it has caused a lot of left-wing chins to be stroked and a lot of, “well, she has a point…” pontificating. It is a vivid reminder of the moral and intellectual vacuum on the fringe Left that our media try to pretend doesn’t exist.

Comments are closed.

  1. AlexInCT

    I read this article earlier tonight, and decided to pass on writing about it, Hal. I am hoping it turns out to be an Onion style parody and they will make fun of everyone that fell for it, because nobody could be as stupid as the woman that wrote this article is if she really means the nonsense she says. Her basic premise is that parents that send their kids to private school are evil for not sacrificing their kid’s future for the greater good of the collective, which in this case she defines as the teacher’s union. You have to be suffering from sever brain damage to really believe that’s a logical and good article, especially when you label people that realize how fucked up bad our public school system is in certain places, as evil. It has to be a joke. Has to be. Because if not, I think we should put this woman under psychiatric care, because she is clearly off by more than 50 cards out of a full deck.

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  2. Hal_10000 *

    I wasn’t going to link to it either until some Lefty pundits started talking about it seriously. And I have heard this before said seriously.

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  3. Seattle Outcast

    The two biggest problems with our schools are:

    1) Department of education

    2) Teacher’s unions

    Neither one of them has any interest in the students.

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  4. Seattle Outcast

    I would be willing to vote to abolish public schools these days – mostly to bust the unions and force the system to be overhauled. There is just too much tax money floating around to be grabbed up by the unethical, and that needs to be stopped.

    I think the entire paradigm needs to be given a swift kick and reviewed. No, I don’t have the answer to what it should be, but I’m pretty sure what it shouldn’t.

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  5. Xetrov

    To put it nicely, Allison Benedikt needs to pull her head out of the State’s ass.

    Some of the nicest schools around the Phoenix area these days are public schools. Do you know why? Competition. During the 90’s and early 00’s, charter schools (not private) were the only place to send your kids if you wanted them to get a good elementary school education. But some of the cities around Phoenix figured it out, and revamped their public school systems. My oldest kids all went to charter schools. My youngest is now in a public school 15 miles from my house that is well worth the drive, and better than the charter school my older kids went to 10 years ago – that is directly because of charter school influence on the schools in the area. The public schools were losing students left and right and had to step up their game.

    I’m still worried about where I’ll send him to Jr. High/High school because those are all still disasters – they’ve never had the same level of competition as charter K-6 schools.

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  6. Xetrov

    Bullshit, salinger. Public Schools in the area never would have changed if it weren’t for the competition from Charter Schools.

    NCLB is a cluster-fuck.

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  7. salinger

    Bullshit, salinger. Public Schools in the area never would have changed if it weren’t for the competition from Charter Schools.

    And you have what data supporting this? Any quotes from public school administrators agreeing with this statement. Competition is not always the answer - especially in a field like education where collaboration is required for success.

    I’ll let you draw the parallels inferred by the link.

    NCLB is a cluster-fuck.

    That’s my line.

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  8. Xetrov

    And you have what data supporting this?

    How are public schools doing as a whole where they don’t have charter school competition? Don’t be pedantic because your premise is full of shit. No public school administrator is going to admit that charter schools are giving them headaches, but in the late 90’s/early 00’s when we (locally) started hearing cries of public schools losing funding due to less enrollment, it doesn’t take a genius to realize it’s because charter schools were getting the students. Some public schools continued to cry about it. Some changed strategies, and improved. Those are the ones succeeding today. But hey, you go ahead and pretend Public Schools were only being held back because of NCLB restrictions that weren’t put into place until 2001.

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  9. salinger

    How are public schools doing as a whole where they don’t have charter school competition?

    Some are doing well – some are not. Same as the charter schools. because -whether you want to know it it or not – charter schools perform no better than public schools as a whole. This is a fact – one which I have linked to numerous reports and studies proving it as much, so I will not waste my time doing it again here.

    Thus, if the charter schools are performing no better than public schools (which is a fact) – what is the source of competition?

    Some public schools continued to cry about it. Some changed strategies, and improved. Those are the ones succeeding today.

    Documentation? See it’s these type of “common sense” declarations that get blown out of the water when put to the test of real scrutiny.

    The trouble is – since everyone has attended school – everyone thinks they can do it better. This is not the case.

    What do you do for a living? – I can draw an appropriate analogy.

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  10. Seattle Outcast

    In the Seattle are the good schools are where the “rich people” live. In a few places that overlaps with where the dregs of society also live, so you get things like Garfield HS, which is attended by both economic groups, and was (and maybe still is) considered a desirable school to go to.

    On the other hand, the North Shore district (where I live) has a reputation equal to, or better than, the private schools in the area. The people that live in the district trend toward high-income profession careers at any one of numerous technology companies in the area, which include Microsoft, Boeing and Phillips. Crappy schools aren’t tolerated, and these suburbs aren’t under the Seattle City Clowncil’s or the Seattle School District’s thumb. Heads will roll if things change for the worse.

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  11. AlexInCT

    Some of the nicest schools around the Phoenix area these days are public schools.

    Same here in CT. We have what I believe are some of the highest ranked schools in the union here, but we also have some of the worst performing ones ever. Coincidently, the great schools are in some of our more affluent neighborhoods, while the schools doing bad are in our, shall we say, less well-off urban areas. The funny thing is that the schools that do real well, while spending a lot more money per pupil than the average, cost only 60% as much as the urban schools with the worst scores. And while our great schools do real well and graduated practically everyone, our urban schools that spend more per pupil have such abysmally low rates they make you want to cry.

    I picked a small town with one of the better school systems in the state. My kid did well. I paid close attention and deprogrammed the bullshit marxist stuff they indoctrinate kids with by default, and he got a decent education. I understand that the big driver behind the seriousness with which kids take education comes from their parents. Parents that tell kids an education matters and are involved, when they have the benefit of a good school system and kids that get it, will get good results. When you tell kids an education is just a means to denigrate your culture and demean you, that it is not important or worse that you have teachers that simply have given up, and you yourself are unable to read or do basic math, your kid isn’t going to care. Your kid is also not going to get educated. And no amount of money wasted on these kids will make a difference. But we will never admit that. Instead we will have the union protect these failing schools that these parents and their culture of failure, held in the same esteem as those that actually know that attitude is the biggest problem, and these kids basically wasting 14 years of their life doing and learning nothing.

    Maybe the problem is that we should literally let people that do not care about getting educated walk away and then deal with the consequences of that choice. I mean those that choose not to be educated deal with the consequences of walking away. Not that government gives them free handouts because they are illiterate idiots. One of the biggest problems with people that could care less about getting educated is the disincentive that government handouts provide. These handouts make it unnecessary for people to have skills and work. I bet you it will not be a popular thing if we let people that don’t care walk and then sink, but it sure as hell will serve to change their attitude towards the need for an education…..

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  12. Xetrov

    charter schools perform no better than public schools as a whole.

    Because there are crappy charter schools just like there are crappy public schools. Where are the worst of the worst schools? I’d bet there are no charter schools (or few if any private schools for that matter) around for competition. My point remains that the primary way a school has reason to improve when the government isn’t busy protecting unions is due to competition, which was proven (at least to me) in my previous example of the Phoenix area. 10 years ago there was not a public school in the Phoenix area that I would have wanted to send my child to. Now there are a dozen that I can think of, and when the administrators I’ve spoken with talk about why, it’s always because of the impact charter schools were having on funding.

    Documentation?…What do you do for a living?

    Fuck off? The fact that my son goes to a terrific public school today that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and was created as an experiment by the school district to compete with charter schools is proof enough for me. Unions and the government can claim anything they want to the contrary, it’s bullshit, and if you’re stupid enough to buy into it, then why are we even having this discussion?

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  13. salinger

    My point remains that the primary way a school has reason to improve when the government isn’t busy protecting unions is due to competition, which was proven (at least to me) in my previous example of the Phoenix area

    And I contend that your analysis is suffering from false equivalency. You assume that the people in these schools got into the profession with no desire to educate until given competition. You assume that there is no chance that the teachers and administrators of these schools created better schools for the kids for the sake of doing good work, but only when faced with financial penalties. You assume that these folks have no pride other than a paycheck.

    Fuck off? The fact that my son goes to a terrific public school today that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and was created as an experiment by the school district to compete with charter schools is proof enough for me.

    Or another way to put it: This school was allowed to be set up under the same freedoms from federal interference as a charter school and the educators and administration responded by providing a better education environment.

    Not everything in life is a carrot and a stick.

    when the administrators I’ve spoken with talk about why, it’s always because of the impact charter schools were having on funding.

    How does this fit with this?

    No public school administrator is going to admit that charter schools are giving them headaches,

    One of these statements has to be a stretching of the truth – which one?

    Again, what is it you do for a living? I could come up with an analogy that might make more sense to you.

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  14. Xetrov

    And I contend that your analysis is suffering from false equivalency.

    And I contend that I don’t give a shit what you think.

    One of these statements has to be a stretching of the truth – which one?

    Allow me to clarify – No public school administrator is going to admit in public that charter schools are giving them headaches. When you’re beholden to your government for a job, you don’t criticize your government if you want to keep said job.

    Again, what is it you do for a living?

    Again, Fuck off?

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  15. salinger

    Again, Fuck off?

    I take it you’re one of the strikers then?

    Honestly – the pseudonyms and top secret identity stuff here is hilarious. You’re opinion is only worth the amount of credit you are willing to take for it. What are you guys so scared of?

    And while probably not fast food – I think I can safely assume your profession leaves you with no credibility on this subject.

    Have a nice day Xetrov – (what a funny name to give a kid – your parents must be a hoot.)

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  16. Xetrov

    Honestly – the pseudonyms and top secret identity stuff here is hilarious.

    And while probably not fast food – I think I can safely assume your profession leaves you with no credibility on this subject.

    I am the God of all things educational, and possess all knowledge of everything when it comes to education. In fact, I have 185 different doctorates in various educational pursuits.

    Don’t you have an ironman to run somewhere while at the same time educating the poor unwashed masses?

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  17. salinger

    Don’t you have an ironman to run somewhere while at the same time educating the poor unwashed masses?

    I look forward to your insightful comments on the next post pertaining to deep fryer operation or streamlining the unemployment application process. – you know, subjects in which you actually have some standing.

    Ta ta X-boy I’m off to run a marathon while dictating my next book.

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  18. Seattle Outcast

    “Money spent per student” does not equal “better education”

    actually, it frequently equals “higher pay per teacher”….

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  19. hist_ed

    In the Seattle are the good schools are where the “rich people” live. In a few places that overlaps with where the dregs of society also live, so you get things like Garfield HS, which is attended by both economic groups, and was (and maybe still is) considered a desirable school to go to.

    SO a big part of that (a really big part) is that rich people’s kids generally do better than poor people’s kids. The singles biggest factor of student success is having two parents at home. Wealth in education studies is really a proxie for an intact family and parent education.

    More money can help, but often doesn’t because it gets spent on crap. The ratio of teachers to administrators in a great way to gauge whether money is being wasted. I look at the home office’s phone list for my district and wonder what the hell all these people can possibly do all day. We have tons of “Principals on special assignment”: who get paid a lot more than me but don’t seem to do anything.

    Competition does drive things. I teach close to Northshore (Lake Washington SD) and we have “choice schools” which are similar to charters. Kids can come from all over the district to them, it’s a lottery to get in, but they really pull students out of the regular schools. We have annual meetings during which our boss tells us how many kids from our service area we lose to choice schools or to waivers (either within out district or out of district). The schools salary funding from the state is based on enrollment-if our takes a dive then some teacher go part time, we lose some electives, and we have less money for building wide programs and expenses.

    Salinger, there are very few teachers that don’t care, but complacency driven my monopoly power is a powerful thing. Lighting a fire under a school or district’s ass can make things happen. If your job and funding are 100% secure, then the drive to try something new ain’t quite what it is when competition is threatening to take a 20% of your income because of lower enrollments.

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