A Response to Slate: Why We Need Private Schools

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental….”

private school classroomThese are the words of Allison Benedikt, who writes at Slate. (I’m also willing to bet, not a parent or a teacher.)

Really? No kidding? I thought as I read Allison Benedikt’s Slate piece “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person

Benedikt openly betrays her position by subtitling the piece “A manifesto.”

At least she’s honest. You know you’re going to get a polemic. I read anyway. But does it have to be a bad, self congratulatory (“Look at me. I’m just fine.”) piece that reads like a bad college application personal essay?

Some obvious issues with her argument:

  • Yes, everyone should support and attend public school.  Nice thought, not rooted in reality.  (In the complicated gray world in which we live, one can support public education while seeking private education for their student.)
  • I’m glad she overcame her educational shortcomings: “I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child…” she writes. No, not every child will survive…some parents would even like their child to thrive and thriving means something different to every kid.
  • Sometimes parents want, or don’t want, education with an obvious angle.
  • Benedikt shows a lack of maturity making this gem of an argument:
  • “Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me.” She may have learned something, but I don’t know a whole of people who would think that getting drunk is the best, most effective way to learn something.

I’ll confess, I’m with Benedikt at the outset.

Our household straddles both worlds: We’ve got kids in public schools. My wife teaches in public school Both, my wife and I attended public and private schools. And, we work in a private boarding school during the summer.

We’ve made the moral adjustment that Benedikt makes the foundation of her argument/screed — to forsake all private schools for public schools. Forsake is too strong. We haven’t really forsaken private schools. We just don’t need any of the available options.

Our kids are doing great in our local public schools. Does that mean that we don’t want an option should our situation change? Heck, no.

Why we need private schools:

  1. Public school, for whatever reason, doesn’t work for every student. Social, emotional, academic — the broad nature of the public system means that it might be great for the vast middle. But, kids on all edges might find a different environment more productive. It’s especially hard to make the argument that one’s local public school will always provide the best support for a student with learning differences or special needs.
  2. Home life. Some families with harried, unstructured, homes do better when the private school makes demands on home life, schedules, and school participation
  3. Some parents aren’t in a position, time, or, resource-wise to dedicate themselves to restructuring their local public school.
  4. Private schools with focused missions and philosophies can perform better than than their broadly mandated public counterparts. Think KIPP Academies.
  5. (Excepting magnet and exam schools) Public schools serve too many constituencies to provide an effective education in a particular way, or, from a particular angle.

Why choose a private school:

  1. A private school might best fit your student.
  2. A private school might best fit your family, or home situation.
  3. A private school might offer a particular type of education that you want your child to experience — single gender, religious connection, learning differences support, Waldorf, Montessori.
  4. A private school might offer class size that keeps your student from getting lost.
  5. A private school might offer access, connection to, and close guidance from faculty that a particular student needs.
  6. A private school might offer accountability — academic and/or social that your student needs.

I’m all for great public schools. Are they the best solution all the time? No. That’s why we need private school choices.

Am I really a bad person because I think people should have options that best what they and/or their kids need? I don’t think so.

For some additional views on the subject:

Are You Really A Bad Person If Your Child Attends Private School?
Private School and My Liberal White Guilt
Are Catholic Schools Bad for U.S. Education?

  • belaglik

    Some have argued that Benedikt’s article was nothing more than click bait–a way for Slate to generate some advertising revenue. Geez, I hope so. I would much rather think that article was written with pure avarice in mind and that the author wasn’t serious. Then again, we are talking about the Slate.

    • B.Fisher


      I’m with you. I’m ambivalent about responding to obvious trolls. I prefer to ignore them. In this case, I wrote to debunk a patently poor argument. I just didn’t want something like this to fuel a messy fire. It may have been written out of avarice but I don’t want to see have any affect on the world.

  • parke muth

    Brian, Thank you so much for posting this response. You make great points and it is clear that you have given the issue much thought and provided your readers with a nuanced approach to a complicated topic.

    I thought I would add the link to Marilee Jones’ repose to the same topic. You and she agree about many things.


Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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