Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Public education and liberal guilt

Following up on my writings about the problems of public education, a reader thoughtfully sent me a Slate column with this hand-wringing appeal from "Eloise":
My family lives on the west side of Los Angeles. I face the same choice as many urban families: Will the kids attend public or private schools? Should one minimize opportunities for one's own child in service to the greater good?
In our desire to protect our children physically and academically, we send them to very expensive schools that are inherently segregated ethnically and economically. We, being white, educated, and comparatively affluent, are the agenda-setters in society. The agenda does not include fierce protection of the public school system we value in general terms but abandon in our own specific cases.
And so we've let down our future fellow citizens by turning our backs on them. And we've certainly let the government off the hook yet again, by individually shouldering the burden of quality education for our own children and letting the public schools crumble. Advice?
Never mind whatever advice she got from the Slate columnists. Here's what I wrote back to the person who sent me the column:
Very interesting. "Eloise" . . . has obviously bought into the collectivist liberal mentality and cannot think clearly. In terms of one's own children's education, how is the interest of "society" best served? Obviously, by providing them with the best possible education, so that they may be productive citizens. If every parent would only do that -- concentrate on making their own child the best they could be -- then "society" would be much better off. But "Eloise" has apparently bought into the collectivist mentality to such an extent that she feels guilty about her choice of private education. She thinks she should be supporting public schools by entrusting her own child to their misguided hands.
Their worldview is a house of cards, and they dare not examine any premise of their syllogism for fear that the whole thing will come crashing down. So they lie to themselves and ignore the contradictions and blame others for their own unhappiness. Ayn Rand had these people pegged.
Oh, and I guarantee you, "Eloise" chose a private school where the overprivileged children are all indoctrinated with the same self-contradictory liberal worldview. (Monica Lewinsky received such an education at John Thomas Dye School and Bel Air Prep, and certainly exemplified its principles.) The phenomenon of guilt-ridden rich liberals is somewhat mystifying, but their habits are utterly predictable.
-- RSM
I say that guilt-ridden rich liberals are mystifying, in that I cannot understand successful people who don't strive to support and strengthen the system of free enterprise whose blessings they enjoy. But the habits of such people -- who always seek to exempt themselves from the disastrous consequences that liberal policies inflict on others less fortunate -- are, as I said, predictable. Thomas Sowell wrote a whole book about it.


  1. Yeah, but Eloise isn't all that guilty, is she? She's just posturing for her friends ("Oh, I feel so bad about it").

    Anyway, 10-1 Eloise would make the same choice if the public school was populated by little angels, since her goal is to get her kid into Stamford or Harvard or Yale.

  2. Eloise's conflict becomes a little more understandable if you share one of her basic premises: She thinks - or she operates on the unconscious assumption - that "quality of education" is an objectively quantifiable and finite resource, and that to maximize one child's quality of education is, by inexorable mathematical definition, to minimize another's.

    There are both true and false aspects to this belief. It is true that demand for quality teachers and facilities will always exceed supply, and that where demand exceeds supply in a free market the wealthy will end up commanding a disproportionate share of that supply (which may be fine for luxuries and commodities, but can be legitimately challenged as a suitable delivery for a basic right like education). Likewise, it is true that the more children who are taken out of the public school system, the less funding it will receive and the more problems the public system will face. But it is not necessarily true that enforced distribution of supply will result in equal distribution of quality, or that greater funding through more students will result in better quality. And, of course, buying a top-notch place in a good school does not ensure a student will gain good grades.

    As you rightly note, if parents concentrated on making all their children better students - instead of assuming that the solution was somehow a government-equalized provision of better teachers, an unquantifiable and uncontrollable resource at best - society might as a whole be much better off.