Upon seeing Urooba Abid’s article in The Daily Pennsylvanian on Monday morning, I will admit I was a little taken aback by the headline.
As a proud graduate of an all-girls private high school, I have long considered sending my own children to private school should I be fortunate enough to offer them the opportunity. Still, I read Abid’s article, wanting to understand her position. While there is indisputable logic in social responsibility and a call to collective action, ignoring the numerous other benefits of private education is a gross miscalculation and does a disservice to those with different priorities.
I grew up in one of the best school districts in California. Still, my parents opted to send me to private school. For them, the smaller class size, religious influence, and the proven benefits of single-sex education matched their priorities. They sacrificed numerous other opportunities in order to make this a reality.
I will be the first to admit that the United States needs a complete overhaul of the public education system. With a public high school teacher for a mother, I am more than aware of the country's problems with class sizes, treatment of educators, lack of funding, and scarcity of resources. Further, the unequal distribution of funding continues to reinforce the cycle of privilege that many feel needs to be broken. However, the U.S. educational system cannot be broken down into “bad” public schools and “better” private schools when the growing presence of school-choice programs and charter schools also contribute to education gaps. Similarly, making the choice to send your children to a private school cannot be simplified to the idea that in doing so, you're perpetuating a cycle of privilege and ignoring the educational problems that persist in the United States.
The reasons for any person attending a private school are numerous and varied in every case. Yes, college preparation and opportunities to advance your education are reasons for some to attend private schools. Religion, gender, small class sizes, specific education programs, more local control, and a tighter community are just some additional reasons a person may consider a private education. Private schools do not just cater to the elite, as many offer financial aid and scholarships to students who cannot afford to attend, much like private universities do. It is not always a matter of trying to avoid worse public schools or surround children in privilege; it boils down to what priorities you place on your child’s education and what school best fits those priorities.
To say a Penn alumnus is “inherently selfish” for sending their children to a private school is an elitist idea, born out of the privileged perspective of an Ivy League student. One does not need an Ivy League education to change the public school system. Countless parents from diverse educational backgrounds are working tirelessly for education reform on the local and national level. It's not just capital, in the form of monetary or human investment, that is necessary to enact change.
A Penn alumnus can enact social change in education reform without sending their children to public school. Just look at Washington, D.C. With the exception of President Carter’s youngest daughter, no sitting U.S. president in the last century has sent their children to public school. While this points directly to the problems within the U.S. public school system, these presidents were still able to use their position to improve the system, as seen through President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama's Every Student Succeeds Act. The same can be said for Penn alumni.
Penn graduates ought to think about the pressing social questions that Abid presented in her article, regardless of where they live or what school their children attend. Even having children should not be a prerequisite for concern about the education system. As participating members of society, we have the responsibility to use our privilege and resources to advocate for better resources and improved educational opportunities in our communities and on the national level. Putting our children in “cushy” private schools does not and should not prevent us from changing these injustices.
Yes, absolutely, Penn alumni ought to send their children to public schools. But only if the public school is the best fit for their children and their priorities. Perhaps the more important call should be for Penn alumni to use their privilege and opportunities to enact education reform, regardless of their own children’s educational opportunities.
JULIANNA EMANUEL is a College sophomore from Thousand Oaks, Calif. studying International Relations.