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Where the Candidates’ Kids Go To School

On 18 August 2005, The New York Times ran an article by Jennifer Steinhauer about the difficulties faced by candidates — her hook was a specific forum for Mayoral candidates — when faced with the question of whether their children do (or will) attend public or private schools.  It was a reasonably well-balanced piece that acknowledged the difficulty of the choice among candidates who both advocate for the public schools and, yet, make decisions about their own children’s education based on what is best for them rather than on what is best for the public schools, themselves.  And, in that acknowledgement, it was fairly sympathetic to the candidates’ plight.

What it was not, however, was seemingly much interested in — and certainly not explicit about — the reasons why those aching personal decisions generate so much anger among their would-be constituents.  I wrote this letter to the Times to remind them of that; it was not published.

19 August 2005

Your article on the political price candidates pay for choosing private over public schools for their children (“Public or Private School? In Campaign, It’s Personal”, 18 Aug) leaves out an important detail: that price is exacted not for the choice itself, and not for whether that choice is good or bad for public education, but for the arrogance and hypocrisy the choice implies.

Note that so-called ‘conservative’ candidates — whose ideas for improving the public school system involve giving parents more freedom to abandon failing schools, rather than hoping that, this time, some top-down (and inevitably expensive) “reform” will actually improve them — do not suffer such consequences. They can say, without embarrassment or inconsistency and without generating all that much anger, that they have made the best choice for their children and that they are trying to make the same choice available to everyone else.

But those who demand that all education resources must stay firmly and unaccountably within the public system — those whose official policy for fixing broken schools is that citizens must sacrifice their children now to the ideal and the (perhaps empty) promise of a more robust and egalitarian public school system later — are hard-pressed, then, to explain why they should be exempt from that sacrifice, themselves. Whether or not, in the long run, their policy preferences really will do the most and the best for our children’s education, voters are understandably, and perhaps rightfully, offended by leaders who would refuse to accept for themselves the sacrifices they demand of everyone else.

© Copyright 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

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