Should Private Education Be Banned?

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This week: Should private education be banned? Let us know by email or in the comments below.

You aren’t born knowing how to be a citizen. The basic tenets of American myth, history and responsibility have to be learned somewhere, and that place is — ostensibly — in public schools. Meanwhile, private schools, long a bastion of the rich, the religious and the lucky few, have seen middle-class pupils dwindling as rich Americans are allowed to segregate their children behind the walls of prep schools costing tens of thousands a year, far away from anyone who’s ever seen the inside of a food bank.

So why not ban the oligarchy altogether? Not so fast, supporters will say: People learn in many different ways, and a variety of approaches can better serve those kids. Plus, uniforms are a form of fashion democracy!

America’s oft-lauded individualistic spirit comes with a downside when more and more people opt out of things meant for the public good like, say, vaccinations.

But one can have a varied approach to education, catering to different students’ learning styles, challenges and interests, without jacking up tuition and pasting “Academy” over the door. “There’s something to be said for diversity in all sorts of ways, including diversity of how we deliver education,” says Julie Underwood, professor of education and law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “My concern about private schools mainly is their constant need for public money and their unwillingness, for the most part, to comply with accountability measures.”

Of course, there are gradations of acceptance for private schools’ integration into public life. More than half of respondents in this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll on American education said they oppose private schools being entitled to public money — as in the voucher programs active in 14 states and the District of Columbia that allow parents to use the public funding that would have been spent on their child to help pay private school tuition. Nevertheless, leaders like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have continued to push voucher programs as a matter of parental choice.

The bottom line, Underwood says, is that it’s almost unimaginable that U.S. courts would ban private education. A 1925 U.S. Supreme Court case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, forbade the state of Oregon from requiring all kids to be publicly educated, setting a precedent that would be difficult to rescind even were there political will to do so.

America’s oft-lauded individualistic spirit comes with a downside when more and more people opt out of things meant for the public good like, say, vaccinations. If only there were a place we could all gather as children to learn the importance of the public good, some sort of building, perhaps one where we also learn math and how many planets are in the solar system. Or, if you prefer, you could send rich kids to school to learn how to talk only to other rich kids. Whatever’s good for you.

So what do you think? Does paying for education corrupt the whole system? Let us know by emailing or by answering in the comments below.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article mis-stated the position of Julie Underwood at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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