Slate Writer Bemoans Private Schools in Essay That Would Flunk Freshman English

I’ve often mocked Randians for being too inclined to believe that their opponents are straw men. I mean, come on, if you read Atlas Shrugged, it’s fairly obvious that even the most devoted socialists aren’t that stupid, or that irrational. This is partially the fact that the book’s dated, I suppose, but come on, no one today actually believes that only evil people are willing to pay more to get superior service–

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Okay. Well, I’m sure that title’s facetious, and even if it isn’t, I’m betting the person doesn’t actually think like a Rand villain. For instance, she probably has well thought out reasons for opposing private school education, and is probably even an expert on the topic herself. Sure, she might swing Left, but I’m willing to bet there’s an actual policy reason to justify–

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve.

Okay, so fine, she’s not an expert, and that reason sounds naive. But I’m sure the essay gets better from there. I mean, she hasn’t even had a chance to state her case. Maybe there’s a a really solid reason that everyone going to public school would cause public schools to improve quickly enough that parents don’t need to worry about their kids’ futures. Besides, I’m still not convinced this person’s a Randian caricature. She’s not exactly asking everyone to purposefully give up what they value in the name of the common good–

This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.

Motherf—er. So okay, this is kind of a Randian caricature argument, but what do you expect? It’s probably just a plea to the Federal government to ban public education, because of how awful everyone is. That’s stupid, but it’s at least practica–

(By the way: Banning private schools isn’t the answer. We need a moral adjustment, not a legislative one.)

…Okay. So this is a moral argument. I’m intrigued. A moral argument for what, exactly? I mean, so far this has only slightly sounded like a Rand villain. Let’s up the stakes. Let’s have this person try and lecture an entire demographic on how they don’t need what they think they deserve, while referring to their children as something dismissive like “spawn” with no evidence to support the argument. Oh wait, that’s impossible. Slate wouldn’t publish something that terrib–

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school.

Fine! You really want to be a Randian villain, Slate writer? Tell me how this is all my fault for not wanting my kids to act and think like white trash, because that’s just fine for everyone else and I’m just selfish and evil for wanting to be civilized. See? You can’t–

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.


Whew. Okay. I’m all better now. So yeah, Slate apparently decided it was a good idea to publish one of the most execrable pieces of nonsense ever vomited up on the internet — namely, a plea to parents to willingly have their children suffer poor educations just so everyone would be able to maybe, possibly, at some point in the future, all get a decent education once the roving bands of PTA moms had finished systematically slaughtering all incompetent administrators. Or something. I honestly don’t know. Really, I was too hung up on the bit where any parents who send their children to private schools are obviously evil. Which makes my mother evil, since she wouldn’t stand for my so much as setting foot in the local public schools (even home schooling me to avoid this). Here I thought that was selfless devotion to her child, but I guess it was really evil all along.

But you know what? I ain’t even mad. And you know why? Because this author is an idiot, and this essay she’s written would flunk freshman English at my old private high school. And that shouldn’t surprise you, because this author spends a huge chunk of this piece outlining just how terrible public education is, with herself as the example.

I mean, seriously, if you were a parent, see how much of this description of public school would actually persuade you:

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one bookThere wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! 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. 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, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.


Also, for anyone wondering how #Slatepitches happen, look no further. This is who they hire to write them. And she’s not even finished!

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.

Every conservative who ever thought “diversity” was just an excuse for stupidity? Your tailor-made admission of guilt is here! Though to be fair, I really don’t think this author needs to read Walt Whitman. I’d guess she’s already more than familiar enough with Leaves of Grass.

Ah, but if this totally excellent sale of the benefits of public school doesn’t convince you, the author has more shame to pile on her opponents:

I get it: You want an exceptional arts program and computer animation and maybe even Mandarin. You want a cohesive educational philosophy. You want creativity, not teaching to the test. You want great outdoor space and small classrooms and personal attention. You know who else wants those things? Everyone.

This passage right here is everything that’s wrong with this article. Even ignoring the fact that public schools do real damage to otherwise extremely gifted kids, I simply don’t believe that every parent wants these hypothetical amenities. I’m sorry, you cannot convince me that everyone wants an “exceptional arts program” in their kids’ school, because I’m sure to a lot of people, an arts program sounds gay. Computer animation? Has this author read how much baby boomers enjoy complaining about the millennial addiction to technology?

Mandarin? Honey, when I was still a journalist, I covered politics in the Midwest. The mere thought that a politician there might have said something nice to a Chinese person is enough to lose that person the union vote. I doubt very much that they’d want their kids learning the language of the people who took our jerbs.

And while we’re on the subject, how many parents even think about “educational philosophy?” You really think every latchkey kid in every low income neighborhood has a parent with a deep understanding of, say, John Dewey? You think they care about creativity and not teaching to the test? I doubt some of them even know their kids have to pass tests. Outdoor space is probably tough to do in neighborhoods where drive-by shootings happen, and in a world where teachers’ union contracts forbid the firing of teachers for sexual misconduct, I really don’t think “personal attention” is what you necessarily want.

No, you know who really wants these things? The sorts of people with a cultural background that would predispose them to send their kids to private school in the first place. In other words, probably most of the readership of Slate. I’d say the author of this piece has a sampling bias, but I’m sure she was too busy drinking beer in math class to even know what statistics are.

But what do I know? I’m not a poorly educated bulls–tter; I’m just judgmental.

UPDATE: The plot has thickened. Apparently aside from being too stupid to string together a passable essay with evidence supporting her position, the author of this train-wreck is also the husband of equally stupid and equally anti-public school blogger John Cook. You may know him as the guy who wrote an article arguing that (surprise) Private Schools Should Be Banned.

Now, you might think that in this case, the wife is simply parroting the opinions of the husband. That’s certainly the opinion of Erick Erickson over at RedState, who shows evidence that Benedikt has written about the degree to which Cook can get inside her head. I would point out that this is not necessarily the case, given that she explicitly says that a “moral” solution, not a legislative one, is called for in the essay above. But really, my reason for thinking that she’s not a puppet of her husband is deeper.

You see, aside from writing absurd attacks on private school, Cook has also written a fascinating little piece of confessional psycho-drama called “Confessions of a Teenage Word-Bully.” Evidently, Cook is horrified at his bullying past, even though I’d argue that anyone who works at Gawker has basically monetized their skills as a word-bully (not that I’m any better, but I’m not the one pretending to be sorry), and that Cook is still one of the worst offenders. But one set of passages jumps out at me as emblematic of everything that’s wrong with both Benedikt and her husband:

Ramming Speed flawlessly captures a very specific brand of adolescent cluelessness that flowers in the early teenage years—the intersection of a feverish and all-encompassing desire to appear worldly and an absolute lack of worldliness. And, crucially, the failure to perceive the distance between the two. Dustin, Steve, and I had taken some trips into Georgetown, picking up t-shirts at touristy punk shops and sampling the free papers we’d find there. So when we made our own, we naturally advertised it as covering the “club scene,” “local bands,” and the “drug scene.” We called for submissions relating to “good drug buys” and “club info.” None of us had stepped foot into a “club.” Even though it was purportedly anonymous, we published a locker number for people to drop off those drug buy tips.[...]

Why the need to bully at all? I still don’t know. Teens gang up on each other. They identify enemies. They are terrified of sexuality and fascinated by it. Teen boys brutally enforce rules of sexual conduct that they desperately want girls to violate. Jenni was different. She had a scar. She was operating at the periphery of a powerful clique. And her name was whispered in connection with this sex stuff. Same with Holly. They were acting out sexually (or at least we thought they were), and needed to be punished and celebrated for it.

And here you have it – the reason why Allison Benedikt and her husband both hate private school. Because while one was busily drinking beer before the local basketball game in a trailer park, and while the other was busily sticking his head into the drug and club scene of Georgetown instead of actually learning, they’re now out of high school, where acting like a social bottom feeder doesn’t get you coolness points, but instead gets you blacklisted at jobs. Worse yet, the kids who did read “Leaves of Grass,” who don’t give a shit about the rules of cliques, and never did drugs in high school — in other words, the sorts of kids who private schools were built to accommodate – are surpassing them both professionally and socially. If I had to guess, I’d say Benedict and Cook’s hatred of private schools is founded on one thing — the desire to drag the nerds down to their level.

And you know what? They’re not going to succeed. Because when parents look at bad, or even mediocre public schools, and say “no thanks, we’ll save for private school,” it’s not only the poor kids from the trailer parks who they’re trying to avoid. In fact, it’s just as often underachieving, proudly ignorant troublemakers like John Cook and Allison Benedikt.

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