« If You Prefer Your Early Ed Research in Video Format... | Main | Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning: Let's Not Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater »

Manifesto: Let's Stop Calling People Bad People!

You are a bad person if you judge other people based on where they send their children school. Not bad like murderer bad--but bad like US-magazine-calling-pregnant-starlets-"fat"-bad. So, pretty bad.

I am an education policy wonk: My analytic skills and knowledge of education policy enable me to make informed judgments about the relative merits of, say, different approaches to designing quality metrics for pre-k programs. That does not entitles me to judge other people's choices about how they raise their children, provided those choices are not illegal, abusive, or neglectful. And education debates would be better off if we stopped having stupid debates about individual people's educational and parenting choices.

So, how would this work exactly? It's simple! Stop judging other people's personal decisions. Will this fix public education? No! But I think we can have a more productive conversation if we avoid making things personal or pointing fingers at parents whose choices we might disagree with.

Parents have a lot of power. But neither parent choice, nor constraining that choice is--on its own--sufficient to generate the kind of improvement needed in our public schools. Moreover, while some forms of parent advocacy can have a tremendous impact on improving public education, some types of parent engagement can be zero sum (little Olivia's vocal mom makes sure she's assigned to the best first grade teacher, so little Crystal, whose parents are less engaged, gets a worse teacher) or even exacerbate dysfunctional, interest-driven school system politics (as when small factions of parents advocates vocally around specific niche interests that don't serve the broader community--such as banning sex ed). So let's not get self-righteous in claiming that engaged parents always serve the broader interest. Nor should we expect them to: A parent's foremost obligation is to his or her child, and it's not always the case that an individual child's interests align with those of the broader school or community.

There are lots of reasons that parents choose to send their children to either public or private schools. Absent intimate knowledge of a particular family's values, circumstances, and experiences, and the needs and strengths of their children, you and I are hardly positioned to judge whether those reasons are compelling or not.

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn't good! I've had this conversation with numerous friends and acquaintances, who have arrived at a variety of answers, including staying put, charter schools, private schools, homeschool, and moving. Each of these families had a unique set of family circumstances, financial or geographic constraints, and needs. None of them took the decision lightly. All of them ultimately made the decision based on what they hoped was best for their child and family given the available options.

I could tell you a story here about my own experiences in a variety of very good and just ok public schools growing up. I could tell you about the amazing elementary school teacher who changed my life in a rural school district where my academic options would have been very narrow had my family stayed their through my adolescence. I could tell you about the high school where I had access to some great AP classes, some pretty lousy social experiences, and a range extracurriculars that included soccer but weren't a great fit to my interests. I could tell you that I left high school well-prepared for college and, because of that preparation, learned a fair amount there, too. I'm doing great, and I'm grateful for my education. There are parts of my educational experience I'd hope all kids could have, and parts I'd hope all or most of them could avoid.

But should you take anything from this in your quest to become a better person? Probably not, because my experience is just one anecdote.

Also remember that there's more to education than what's taught. Parents care about their children's social experiences, which includes not just diversity (which comes in a variety of forms and can be found in all sorts of places), but also things like whether people in a school are nice to their child, or whether their child's peers and teachers reinforce their family's values. (Shockingly, some parents would prefer their children not get drunk before basketball games--whether with kids from trailer parks, suburban McMansions, or hip urban lofts.)

Some of my (pretty morally decent) colleagues and friends send their children to private schools, others send them to charter or district public schools. I know a few people who homeschool. It's really not my business to ask them why, but sometimes, given what I do, they tell me anyway. Here is what stuck with me: These are decisions that, for a lot of people, involve both uncertainty and trade offs. Yes, everyone wants good teachers and a safe school experience for their child. But beyond that, people want a lot of different things for their kids, some of which are in tension. In some families I know, the husband and wife have very different priorities for their child's schooling. And no school, whether it's a No Excuses charter school, a private school with tuition equal to that of an Ivy League college, or a well-funded suburban public school, can perfectly deliver on everything a caring parent would want for their child. But there are definitely things that public policies can do to reduce the uncertainty that parents face and to expand the range of quality public options so that fewer parents have to make really painful trade-offs.

Even then, trade-offs are inevitable. And some people will always have access to better options than others. What's not inevitable--what's indeed unconscionable--is that all too many American families have access to no good educational options at all. Guilt-tripping people for the choices they make in a world of imperfect options--whether it's to stay in their local district school, move to another place, attend a charter, private school, or homeschool--does nothing to address the underlying problem.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login |  Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Advertisement

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories

Technorati

Technorati search

» Blogs that link here

Tags

AFT
Alex Grodd
Ana Menezes
Andrew Kelly
appropriations
ARRA
Aspire Public Schools
authorizing
Better Lesson
Bill Ferguson
certification
charter schools
child care
children's literature
choice
civil rights
CLASS
Core Knowledge
curriculum
D.C.
democracy
early childhood
Early Learning Challenge Grant
economics
elections
English language learners
entrepreneurship
equity
Evan Stone
fathers
finance
fix poverty first
Hailly Korman
harlem children's zone
HEA
Head Start
head start
health care
Higher Education
home-based child care
homeschooling
housing
How we think and talk about pre-k evidence
i3
IDEA
income inequality
instruction
international
Jason Chaffetz
Jen Medbery
just for fun
Justin Cohen
Kaya Henderson
Kenya
kindergarten
KIPP
Kirabo Jackson
Kwame Brown
land use
LearnBoost
libertarians
LIFO
literacy
Los Angeles
Louise Stoney
Mark Zuckerberg
Maryland
Massachusetts
Memphis
Michelle Rhee
Michigan
Mickey Muldoon
Neerav Kingsland
New Jersey
New Orleans
NewtownReaction
Next Gen leaders
Next Gen Leaders
nonsense
NSVF Summit
NYT
organizing
parent engagement
parenting
parking
pell grants
politics
poverty
PreK-3rd
presidents
principals
productivity
QRIS
Race to the Top
Rafael Corrales
redshirting
regulation
religion
rick hess
Roxanna Elden
RTT
san francisco
school choice
social services
SOTU
special education
Stephanie Wilson
stimulus
story
Sydney Morris
tax credits
Teacher Prep
teachers
technology
Title I
unions
urban issues
Vincent Gray
vouchers
Waiting for Superman
Washington
West Virginia
zoning