Monday, July 18, 2011

Private and Public

Next week is the national Save our Schools conference, with the main event being a mass rally and march on Washington scheduled for July 30. It certainly has noble purpose: “As concerned citizens, we demand an end to the destructive policies and rhetoric that have eroded confidence in our public schools, demoralized teachers, and reduced the education of too many of our children to nothing more than test preparation” ( I can’t argue with the group’s Guiding Principles. They would make for better schools overall—not just public ones.

Looking at the site, I see that the organization has attracted many prominent supporters from the education world and from many other areas. One noteworthy group, however, is missing: The National Association of Independent Schools. So it’s somewhat ironic that I wasn’t aware of the organization or event until learning of it on the independent school educator’s list-serv. Fred Bartels (who specializes in pushing buttons) said “it sure would be nice to see NAIS” (e-mail, July 9, 2011) on the list of supporters, but NAIS president Pat Bassett wrote back that after consideration it was determined that “an endorsement from the private school world was not appropriate at this time” (e-mail, July 15, 2011).

I’m not writing this to criticize NAIS. Pat Bassett has been quite vocal about independent schools’ moral imperative to serve the public welfare. In fact, the theme of the most recent annual conference was public purpose. I trust NAIS leadership on this. Also, while I should, I don’t really know enough the SOS organization agenda, politics, et cetera to have a valid opinion.

In a quick, get-rich-quick sense, the troubles with the public schools—and I doubt we’ve seen the worst of it, with even more budget cuts looming in many states—serve to benefit independent schools. But I feel sad as we receive applications from parents afraid to send their kids to public school and resumes from teachers fleeing their situations. We can’t serve/hire all of them. In fact, the percentage is rather small.

I want public schools to thrive for many reasons. The most obvious one is so that every single kid has a great education and a shot at the best possible life. Trite, but true. It also would send a signal that we’ve finally come to value education in this nation as much as we claim to.

Were that to happen, it would be good for independent schools. We are the ones who currently have the freedom and the resources to provide a quality education, one that is responsive to student’s current and emerging needs. In such a situation, we’d have to raise our game even more when people had more choice. Effective public education also could teach us a great deal, such as how to meet the various needs of an incredibly diverse clientele. If the current trends continue, some private schools may just grow fat and happy.

While I won’t be at the rally or march, and while I won’t criticize NAIS, I will feel some liberal guilt. But I won’t feel any guilt that my children, wife, and I are all in independent education. Indeed, I feel even more fortunate.

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