The Ethics of Public Schooling

A recent article with an obnoxious headline made waves on the internet this week: “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are A Bad Person“. The gist of the article is this:

But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. 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.

There are a lot of obvious objections to this type of thinking. Does competition of schooling options not help raise standards of education? When did we decide not to entertain branches of ethics other than utilitarianism? If public school is one of our our nations’ “most essential institutions”, how come universal, compulsory school attendance didn’t begin until 1918, more than a century after our nation’s founding?

I think another interesting line of argument would be a reductio ad absurdum approach. Which organizations and groups are we morally obligated to participate in, by virtue of our potential contributions? Why would we be comfortable with people choosing which civic organizations to participate in if they could all benefit from greater involvement? In fact, doesn’t anyone living in America have a moral obligations to never emigrate, since they might contribute to the common good here?

The author of the piece clearly knows she’s being controversial and combative; but there is greater resentment between families who public school and families who private or home school than is often acknowledged. It’s worthwhile to make the moral arguments for liberty in schooling, as in any other activity.