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Don’t Blame Privileged Parents For Education Inequity
08-04-2021, 06:30 AM
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Don’t Blame Privileged Parents For Education Inequity
Don’t Blame Privileged Parents For Education Inequity

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Privileged parents who send their kids to desirable schools are increasingly getting blamed for education inequities. But that overlooks a more basic cause: our standard curriculum and instructional approach.

The trend started—or at least picked up steam—with Nice White Parents, a podcast that blamed the demographic group named in its title for the inferior education inflicted on poor Black and brown kids in New York City. The creator and narrator, Chana Joffe-Walt, spent much of the series delineating what she viewed as the hypocrisy and obliviousness of well-off white parents who say they want diverse schools for their kids but persist in self-segregation.

It was only in the last episode or so that Joffe-Walt discovered something that seemed to undermine her thesis: Black and brown parents don’t really care whether their kids go to school with white kids. They just want better schools.

Now comes Caitlin Flanagan with a cover story in the April issue of The Atlantic called “Private Schools Are Indefensible.” Most of the article is devoted to regaling readers with tales of Rich Parents Behaving Badly, but the subtext is that this behavior has somehow prevented public schools from educating less privileged children. (And not all the behavior seems that bad. Aren’t rich parents allowed to complain, as many other parents have, when their schools stick with remote learning during a pandemic while other schools are successfully operating in person?)

Flanagan may be right that it’s unconscionable to allow elite private schools with huge endowments to operate without paying taxes. She may be right that their claims to be “engines of equity” and inclusivity are “ludicrous.” But she also says this: “If these schools really care about equity, all they need to do is get a chain and a padlock and close up shop.” She offers no evidence, however, that closing private schools would increase equity. How exactly would limiting the choices of rich parents, morally satisfying as it might be, fix a broken public education system?

The assumption underlying both Flanagan’s and Joffe-Walt’s critiques seems to be that privileged white parents are “hoarding resources,” thereby starving other schools. If these parents sent their kids to schools perceived as inferior, the often unspoken argument goes, they would pressure the powers-that-be to do a better job: increase funding, hire better teachers, offer better extracurricular activities. They would generally scatter some of the fairy dust that enables their own kids to excel.

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