A Response to Allison Benedikt

A Response to Allison Benedikt October 6, 2016

Someone named Allison Benedikt wrote what she calls a “manifesto” over at Slate and I lack the wisdom and sense to click away, even when Peter Leithart has already done a brilliant take down.

To sum up, Ms. Benedikt thinks that if you send your children to private school, you are a bad person in a morally bad way, and you should feel guilty and send your children to public school, for the benefit of society as a whole. Whatever reasons you have for taking your children out of your mediocre to bad local school–religion, special needs issues, wanting the best for what she calls your “spawn”–don’t add up to a decent enough reason to justify your terrible action. See, when you take your kids out, your kids that you are probably invested in and will go to the last mile for, you ruin it for the kids who don’t have caring parents and so the schools continue to slide and fail. If you, who are a good parent, leave your kid in, everyone is helped. It will be really bad for a couple of generations, she says, but in fifty to a hundred years the whole institution will be a lot better.

As proof of why this is a good idea, Ms. Benedikt points to herself. And this is the part that verily broke my heart. She writes, “I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine.”

And, “Also remember that there’s more to education than what’s taught. As rotten as my school’s English, history, science, social studies, math, art, music, and language programs were, going to school with poor kids and rich kids, black kids and brown kids, smart kids and not-so-smart ones, kids with superconservative Christian parents and other upper-middle-class Jews like me was its own education and life preparation. 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. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools”

And all this, let us remember, is written in Slate, that paragon of intellectual thought.

It seems to me, just by the article, that probably Ms. Benedikt doesn’t have any children. Looking in, as she is, from the outside, and judging her friends’ choices by her own glorious childhood, she doesn’t seem to have the “real world experience” of actual children whose education and future she has to consider. When you are running down your three year old across the park, or negotiating the trauma of human relationships with your teen, hopefully a lot of responsibilities come more sharply into view. The first of which is the child herself. You aren’t responsible for the health of the public school system. You are responsible for that single child. The ability of that child to think his way out of a paper bag is your problem, not the school administrator’s. And we have now at least one generation of young people who can’t think, who can’t write, who don’t know who Walt Whitman is, who believe that getting drunk in a multicultural setting is just as valuable as knowing and understanding the rich heritage of western civilization.

“Render unto Caesar,” said Jesus, “what is Caesar’s.” And he held up a coin. And so, far be it from me to dodge my property taxes that prop up an institution round the corner filled with lovely people and lovely children but which is, at its core, hostile to the mind that seeks to know and love God. Which institution was founded not to help children think, but to make them into good citizens of the state. Which institution is run by a cabal in Washington and Albany that enriches itself at the expense of the poor. Which institution changes curriculum and method willy nilly, at the behest of “experts” who seem to be about as well educated as Ms. Benedikt, who tie up heavy burdens for local teachers and care more about political correctness than the mental health of the children who lumber through the school yard every morning (witness New York State’s gender unicorn nonsense).

I haven’t divested from the local public school because I think my children are so special and precious that I don’t want them to be unsullied by the poor kids down the street. Economic status is not my concern. I am stuffing their heads full myself because I believe that civilization is actually better served by possessing some number of participants who can think, who have learned to love God, who didn’t get drunk on the weekends, who care for others out of the outflow of their thinking and reasoning, who have read and considered the vast heritage of western thought, and who are mentally healthy. Maybe all that could be achieved round the corner, but I would be in a constant battle for the soul of each child, a battle I would rather equip them to fight themselves.

“Render unto God,” said Jesus, “what is God’s.” And his accusers fell silent before him. My children don’t belong to me. They came from God and they are going back to him, back to the ground, back to the creator, dust to dust. These few short years cannot be squandered on a human institution that thinks it can test its way out of every problem.

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