Should Private Schools Be Outlawed?
Warren Buffett Thinks So
A public education is seen as a natural right in the United States, but what does that mean for the private education that we also offer? Most Americans would intensely defend a family’s right to send their children to private school for religious, cultural, or academic reasons. We are an intensely individualistic country with a lasting commitment to choice and independence. The Los Angeles area alone is home to prestigious public schools like UCLA as well as private schools like the Claremont Colleges.
Pomona Professor David Menefee-Libey, who has spent almost two decades studying education in the U.S., says that private schools exist because Americans believe in freedom and want to protect it. “Private schools means that you can market your particular approach to education and see if others agree with you,” he said. Menefee-Libey goes on to say that private schools are populated by all kinds of families who want their children to get a specific religious upbringing, cultural background, or academic setting. They are a diverse set of students, teachers, and educational philosophies.
Keeping that in mind, billionaire and many liberals’ poster child Warren Buffett told Michelle Rhee, CEO of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, that it would be easy to solve today’s problems in urban education. “Make private schools illegal and assign every child to a public school by random lottery,” he said. Buffett suggests that wealthy families sending their children to private schools detracts from the overall education of students who cannot afford the luxury.
In response, Menefee-Libey says that even an attempt to abolish private schools would be unimaginable. “People would stop it,” he says. “But I think Buffett is trying to make a point about the temptation to flee rather than fix.” Private schools offer a great service to many, but they also attract the well-off, well-educated, and influential away from public schools where they are arguably most needed to encourage education reform and fund school programs.
K-12 Catholic schools aren’t the only private institutions in the U.S. – every American citizen at the Claremont Colleges also attends an expensive private alternative to the public education offered by their state. Private colleges offer many of the same benefits as public schools, just enhanced and generally at a higher price tag. Here in private school, we’re guaranteed to get pretty much any class we want with an intimate setting and lots of one on one time with professors if you go looking for it. Few of us will have stay in college an extra year to take classes we couldn’t get into before and we’re all given the opportunity to study abroad, if that’s what we want. Private schools like ours are generally safe and provide an immense bureaucracy to support us.
Private schools offer benefits for individuals and often they provide additional support for their communities. But as progressives, we need to at least acknowledge the monetary and moral complications presented by the elite, expensive, homogeneous prep schools so many of us attended, and which we all attend now. Claremont students will generally finish school able to live a very comfortable lifestyle thanks to our fantastic education here. Maybe you will have the opportunity to send your kids to private school. If you thoughtfully decide that a private education is the best option for your children, by all means send them there, but don’t immediately discount your public school and don’t ignore it either.
Using our own prestigious educational backgrounds for the betterment of our local public schools, regardless of whether or not our children attend it, is a great step in the right direction. Pursuing a career in education policy or teaching is even better. Someone in your family has benefited from a public education – keep that in mind and give some of your time, money, and energy back to the system. As progressives or liberals, or whatever we like to call ourselves, we should be humble in the face of the privileges we were given and remember the kids who don’t have them when we move on and have generous disposable incomes.
And for the record, Buffett’s children went to public school.