Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Socially mobile

There is a connection to be made between these two posts, but I have lots to read and grade this afternoon and so will leave it at that, except...

Should private school be scrapped altogether? Boarding schools are a tough call, because sometimes there really is no good school for hundreds of miles. Same with religious schools, for other reasons. But in a city like New York, what do private, secular day schools add? They alleviate the burden of extra students in the public school system without decreasing the taxes paid by the wealthy to the city schools. But they also a) do much to keep the wealthy wealthy, regardless of talent or hard work and b) create social environments in which almost all the students are either (white) Blair Waldorfs or, in fewer cases, (non-white) students on scholarship. Everyone knows which students are which, and without the ambiguity brought by a middle class presence, two very separate worlds form; the few who belong in neither tend to transfer out.


Miss Self-Important said...

Aside from the injustice of it, I can't imagine a constitutional way to abolish private education in America. The more salient question might be why public education continues to exist.

Phoebe said...

It wouldn't have to be all of America, but I agree, legislating an end to the schools that inspired Gossip Girl does not sound practical. But abolishing either all public or all private schools is appealing in terms of getting rid of the two- (or multi-) tiered system currently in place.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, I don't know that it's reasonable to think that you're ever going to get a perfectly equal system of education in a country as large and varied as the US, at least not without significant erosion of civil liberties. Nor is it clear that educational equality is so valuable that it should be prioritized over free association, or the rights of parents over their children.

I'm with JTL on the belief that a certain kind of education can really change a life course for those who are receptive to such an education, but I also think that in general, Americans put too much faith in the transformative power of schools. Schools cannot solve all social ills. They can't end racism and poverty and environmental damage; and they can't compensate for gaping holes in family and community life. There are probably a few exceptional individuals who can use the opportunities provided by schools to overcome everything bad in their lives, but it just doesn't seem wise to found public policy on these exceptions.

But because we have this incredible faith in the power of education to fix everything, we are all the more outraged by the slightest disparities in the system. My mediocre public school is not really that much worse for the average student than Exeter. It's worse for the extreme few who long to study Greek at age 15, but I trust that these people will find a way. The real difference seems to be between schools that function and schools where 75 percent of 9th graders can't write a single coherent paragraph.

I think that this is a serious problem for the country, but even here, the school as transformative force faith gets in the way of reasonable solutions. I hear these arguments that teachers are underpaid, that teaching discourages the brightest and most talented college grads from entering, and that this is somehow the source of our ills, or at least a viable solution to them. But who needs the most talented people in America to teach remedial English to 14-year-olds? Better that those people become rocket scientists and poets, and leave the remedial English teaching to their personable, sympathetic, and literate but not necessarily brilliant peers.

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