Friday, September 12, 2008

Mother on Fire, or Whose School is this Anyway

I love Sandra Tsing Loh. I don't always agree with her, but I love reading what she has to say, and when I read the review of her new book, Mother on Fire, I went straight to amazon and bought it. But this bit from her NY Times blog I don't love:

"I do not know why Barack and Michelle Obama cannot send their children to a nice public school in Hyde Park."

Tsing Loh writes that she doesn't know much about Hyde Park, where the Obamas live, but the real estate prices seem high and since the public school scores seem low, it must be because educated middle and upper middle class parents aren't sending their kids to the school.

She goes on to write about how good it is for the kids from poor and immigrant families to be around middle class English speakers and she makes a powerful point. By investing with your kids and your time in public education, you're putting your money where your election cycle mouth is. Apparently, the only candidate to send her kids to public school is Sarah Palin. Tsing Loh despairs of her party and their elitist institutions. But you know what I say to Sandy? It's kind of none of your business.

If candidates' kids are off limits, and it makes sense that they are, then the school choices that candidates make for their children should be off limits, too. You can want public education to work and still send your kids to private school. Take me. In the next five years there's a very likely scenario in my own life wherein I'll be working in a public school and my children will be attending a private one. Inconsistent? Sure. Good for my family? Could be. Any of Sandy's business? Only if I write a book about it.

I don't buy for a minute that the Republicans now get to be on the right side of public education policy because Sarah Palin sends her kids to public school in Alaska. Considering that she'd like creationism taught in those schools and wants Harry Potter out of the libraries I think it's pretty fair to say public school for Piper does not buy Sarah Palin a hall pass on education policy.

We can lament the disintegration of the middle class until we're blue in the face -- and when you're talking about not great public schools and over-priced private ones that's a lot of what we're talking about -- but that's a grown up discussion. Every family must be able to decide for itself what will and won't work for its members. For some that means public school no matter what and for others it means private, but there's no reason to gnash teeth over politicians who choose private school for their kids. It might be selfish, OK. It might be easier, sure. But it's between parents and their kids and no one else. This kind of thinking might spell the continued demise of public education to some, but there are all kinds of ways to build and maintain a social contract and improve our schools. Hoisting up kids as examples of a politician's commitment to education policy is disingenuous. We all live with contradictions, and we all do the best we can.


roni said...

You're right--the GOP is NOT on the right side of public education policy. Recall that they are the party that wants to apply private sector management to our public schools (for-profit charter schools, anyone?) and are staunchly pro-voucher, which in effect subsidizes private education and could arguably destroy all but the top-performing public schools in the process.

This article was in my local paper. It's about a white/upper-middle class/educated mom who poured her heart and soul into her son's underperforming elementary school and transformed it into one of San Francisco's most-desired public schools. I share this not to say that this is what should be expected of all parents, but that until the Dems and GOP both commit to funding our public schools properly and actually do something about training an generation of world-class teachers, parents who can choose between public or private education will have to.

roni said...

This is the follow-up article, written 3 years later:

Robin Aronson said...

Thanks for sharing these articles, Roni. The education debate is a complicated one, and it's important to remember that with time and energy -- and money, too -- things really can change.