This is going to be short on purpose. A lot of hay has been made of the recent article in Slate by Alison Benedikt titled “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person.” Then, the National Review took up the issue and cleverly claimed “If You Send Your Kid to a Failing School, You Are a Bad Person” (which sounds like what I propose but is totally different). And finally, The Atlantic gave some good analysis (as it usually does) of Benedikt’s original argument, but even it still missed the larger issue.
The unifying factor of all of these articles? They are based on an individualist consumer-centered view of culture that casts each person as apart from general society. None of these articles offers any real analysis of public schools. They only offer condemnations or apologies for individual choices.
The assumption is that the public schools suck. “What are you going to do now?” each author asks. “What will you choose?” “What is best for your kids?” Nothing on how to change the situation (if, indeed, our public schools actually do suck as much as people say), let alone some analysis on why the system is broken in the first place and how we might, just might, change that. (Hint: it won’t be because of the rational individual choices of parents–that’s why they call it public policy.)
This is how much the national debate has shifted. Some of our best-known publications treat issues as a subset of issues under consumer choice theory. The benefits and reasons behind public education have been sidelined and forgotten.
Instead, the assertion that should trouble us and keep us up at night (but, sadly, doesn’t): you are a bad person if we have bad public schools in the first place. Then things might change a little faster.