Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Are Private Schools Elitist?


Well, that was quick. But before you travel on to the next blog, I'd like to ask a follow-up question.

Are public schools elitist?


How are the public schools elitist? We all know what the "good" public schools are, and what the "bad" public schools are. "Good" public schools are attended by middle-class and upper-middle-class kids. "Bad" public schools are attended by the children of the poor. Are we elitist yet?

Then, even within a "good" public school, the kids are constantly being sorted into winners and losers. For instance, in my older dd's "good" public school (you know what I mean), there is a "gifted" program. The only thing the "gifted" program actually delivers is bragging rights for the parents. The program itself consists of a once or twice a week pullout, which, while enjoyable, makes no difference to the kids' education.

Starting in 5th grade, my district starts tracking kids in math. And here we reach a central paradox of the system. The "winners" track in many cases actually provides a worse education than the regular track! "Accelerated" math, for instance, races the kids through so much material so fast that many wind up needing remedial math later on. Accelerated kids are less prepared for high school math than the regular-track kids.

Going on to high school, the brightest kids are pressured to take loads of AP and "honors" classes. Again, that doesn't mean they actually get a better education, they just get a better transcript. AP classes are notorious for their shallow, regurgitative approach. And the pressure and workload that are routinely inflicted on our brightest, most privileged kids wreck their adolescence.

I'm tired of people criticizing private school parents as "elitist". I don't know of a school in the US which is not affected by issues of social class and competition. We are all elitist here.


  1. e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism (-ltzm, -l-)
    1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.
    a. The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.
    b. Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.

    If you really, truly believe you are a better person or your child is a superior person than the hoi polloi because she's smarter than average and you are deserving of preferential treatment, you mon amie, you're balanced on a very thin tenuous wire and are headed for a fall.

  2. Anonymous, did you even read the post?

  3. Yes, I did. I disagree with your premise that accelerated or other education for so-called "gifted" students is elitist. I also doubt parents of gifted kids in public schools only care about bragging rights.

  4. I infer you are saying "Yes I am elitist but I am rescuing my child from a sort of "empty, phony" elitism," ie; gifted students needing remedial math.

  5. Anonymous, I didn't say public-school parents of gifted kids only care about bragging rights. I said that was the only thing the public school actually delivered.

    I think the parents were hoping for a good education for their kid. They don't get it, but the school district hopes the parents will accept status markers instead.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I disagree with your premise that accelerated or other education for so-called "gifted" students is elitist.

    Well, accelerated or gifted education doesn't have to be elitist, but in practice, that's how it seems to work out.

    I'm not at all opposed to gifted ed, if it's done well. But that's not what I see happening at our public schools.

  7. ***
    I infer you are saying "Yes I am elitist but I am rescuing my child from a sort of "empty, phony" elitism,"

    Look, I'm not trying to say that I'm better than other parents or that my kids are better than other kids.

    I'm saying we are all affected by issues of social class and competition, no matter what kind of school our kids go to. There's no point in accusing private school parents of "elitism", when the public schools are consumed with constant ranking and sorting of the kids.

  8. Anonymous, I went back and rephrased what I said about bragging rights. I hope that makes my point clearer.

    I thought I was drawing a bull's eye on the school system, not on parents or kids.

  9. How about this instead-

    Are Parents who opt for private school for their kids elitist?

    "Answer: In my case, no. I am getting, without depriving or denying anyone else, the best school/education/opportunities for my kids as I am able, just as most rational actors would."

    My kids are in public school, it is the very best I can do at this time. If Sasha and Melea's school called me today with a scholorship for my kids I would leap, pounce,jump through hoops at the chance.

    "Elitist," and "elitism" have different meanings than "elite." Get what I'm sayin'?

  10. Anonymous, I'm really not trying to criticize parents who send their kids to public schools. I was one of those parents three years ago. I know many public school families with caring, educated parents and bright, hard-working kids. I just think they're being very badly served by our public schools.

    I wish I knew how to improve the public schools so we could go back to them, but I honestly don't. As a parent, I feel completely shut out of any of the decisions that get made at the public school. Maybe that's my next post ...

  11. You *are* completely shut out of the decisions at your children's public school. That is one of the most puzzling aspects of public education.

    I don't mean that parents individually don't get to decide things. It goes without saying that not every parent can have his or her way. I mean that parents collectively have virtually no say in what goes on, educationally, in their schools.

    One reason is that so much educational policy is now decided at the state and federal levels. On issues about curriculum and educational philosophy, it doesn't matter who I vote for in the local school board election; the school board has very little discretion in the face of state and federal mandates and "incentives." And, even though I care a lot about educational policy, even I will admit that, when I vote for Congress or President, many other issues are more important to me. By federalizing educational policy, it's as if they've effectively removed it from democratic control.

    I daydream about living in a country where issues about educational philosophy and curriculum were decided (by voters, including affected parents) at the level of the individual school. Hard to imagine -- and of course there would be no uniformity!! -- but I think it would be an improvement all around.

  12. It seems the standard for NOT being called an elitist is to ascribe to the notion that all children are well-served in public schools, or OUGHT to be (ideally). It also follows that taking your high-performing child OUT of a school that does not best serve her needs is detrimental to the other students who, without her stellar example, would surely perform more poorly on standardized tests.

    It's a patronizing, racist AND anti-child idea that dictates that all children ought be public education students. I've heard that argument SO many times when the issue of public funding for private or charter schools comes up. It isn't about the parents and their right to decide what is best for their child; it is about the children collectively, but only in theory.

    In reality, when unions and educrats protest homeschooling without regulations or the like, they're really brokering for power. It isn't about some lady's neighbour's brother whose kids were homeschooled and couldn't read in my opinion. Stories like this lack focus on the MILLIONS of children who have gone through the public system and emerge (either after dropping out because it's too much or graduating) functionally illiterate and hating learning. Take the beam out of your own eye, educrats. Then you can see clearly to take the speck out of the eyes of others who have opted out of the system.

    The charges of elitism are mostly unfounded against private- and homeschoolers. Parents NEED to do what is best for their own children without regard to how it affects "the system" or other children in it.

    Anonymous: "Answer: In my case, no. I am getting, without depriving or denying anyone else, the best school/education/opportunities for my kids as I am able, just as most rational actors would."

    Yet public schools cry about this as though the students AND the per-pupil funding were already owned by them. They say you ARE depriving other students when you take the high-performing kids out.

    It's all about the power and the money.

  13. Mrs. C., that's exactly what I was trying to get at.

    I've also seen comments like, "You should stay in the public schools to make them better." Hah! As if it's within my power to improve the public schools.

    Back at the public school, one of the problems was the utterly pointless homework that was sent home every day, starting in 1st grade. I went to the principal and asked to send a survey out to the parents to get their thoughts about homework. She refused on the grounds that it was "too adversarial". Yeah, right.

  14. In other words, I couldn't even start a conversation at the public school, much less make any useful improvement.

  15. Last summer, Teacher Revised did an anti-homeschooling blog. It went viral and garnered about 1500 comments, not to mention a follow up blog with almost as many hits.

    One of the points Jesse made was that it was unfair to the public school system to pull your high achieving child out. I love it when educators say stupid things upfront. It's so much fun to pick them apart.

    Note: In the gifted world, one of the key points advocates stress is never to make a gifted kid be the teacher's assistant. It's not the child's job to bring the other kids up, the child is there to receive an education, just like any other child. They are not unpaid teacher's aides.

    We aren't talking about chipping in. We certainly want to raise all children to be helpful, cooperative and accommodating. We are talking about classrooms in which the gifted child is learning nothing and the teacher expects the kid to spend her day teaching the others. While she's doing what? Checking emails?

    And then the family is called "elitist" when they pull the child out to homeschool. One local school board member where I live scoffed when homeschool parents years ago tried to lobby to be allowed to participate in extra curriculars, such as marching band. After all, we pay school taxes, we live here, why not? The school board member sniffed, hey, if the school system isn't good enough for them, let them pay for their own marching band.

    The system sucks, you have no voice, but how dare you leave!

    And its follow up:

  16. What a premise: You have an obligation to send your kids to public school -- regardless of how those schools treat kids.

    Does the school use corporal punishment (still practiced in roughly 21 states)? Doesn't matter. Does the school teach authoritarian values? Doesn't matter. Does the school produce kids who are incapable of functioning as citizens in a democracy? Even that doesn't matter. It's your duty to society to send your kids to that school.

    It is just totalitarianism dressed up as progressivism. Hardly the first time, I suppose.

  17. Chris, we began homeschooling because they locked my SIX YEAR OLD autistic son in a closet on numerous occasions. I wish I were kidding (though it would be a sick joke). It is called a "safe room," and there is NOTHING parents can do about it here in Missouri. In my opinion, it's child abuse.

    Oh, and the student handbook on discipline at the high school isn't much better. It outlines PADDLING procedures. Can you just imagine?

  18. Holy cow, just when I think I've heard the worst, it turns out I haven't. They don't have a better way of handling a six year old?

  19. Apparently not. It's way cheaper to toss a kid in a closet than it is to do that "offer a free and appropriate education" thing. You might go to the national website that fights this practice and give them a good shout-out:

    There is NATIONAL LEGISLATION that has passed the house but not the senate that would give schoolchildren the same rights to be free from seclusion (locking into closets) and restraint (tied down to chairs, etc) that you'd get at a mental hospital. Shame that that has to be the standard, but it's a start.

    Anyway... my son is not alone in his experiences. Not by a good long way. Children with disabilities are most affected by the lack of good safeguards, as many are not good advocates for themselves and/or their are unable to speak at all.

  20. Mrs. C., I'll put your comments into a post (I presume you don't mind). Your perspective is important.