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Writer's private school essay sparks Internet outrage

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3 2013 2:40 p.m. MDT

Slate columnist Allison Benedikt posted a provocative essay Thursday morning with the look-at-me title, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person.”

Benedikt essentially summarized her argument when she wrote, “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.”

Given the accusatory nature of Slate’s “bad person” headline, it should surprise nobody that scathing critiques of the essay quickly sprang up online. A sampling of some of the more rational and civil takedowns of Benedikt's manifesto:

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto: “If Benedikt's argument is purely a matter of numbers, it is wholly implausible. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. public-school enrollment in prekindergarten through 12th grade was 49.4 million in 2009. Private-school enrollment was 5.5 million. There is no reason to think that public schools would be any better if only their enrollment grew by 11 percent. In fact, public-school enrollment increased by some 25 percent between 1985 and 2009 without, so far as we are aware, any of the kind of generational improvement Benedikt expects.”

Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle: “I think that Benedikt isn’t thinking through what would actually happen if everyone felt a moral obligation to send their kids to public schools. What would actually happen is that Allison Benedikt wouldn’t live in Brooklyn, because New York, like most of the rest of the U.S.'s cities, would have lost all of its affluent families in the 1970s — the ones who stayed largely because private school, and a handful of magnet schools financed by the taxes of people who sent their kids to private school, allowed them to maintain residence without sending their kids into middle- and high-schools that had often become war zones. Anyone with any choices left that system, one way or another. But because New York had a robust system of private and parochial schools, they didn’t necessarily need to leave the city to leave the violence behind.”

CNBC’s John Carney: “The reason why Benedikt doesn't do a better job explaining how her plan would work is that it wouldn't. Benedikt's premise that creating a public school monopoly would improve education is demonstrably wrong. Monopoly education would, like every monopoly known in the history of humanity, produce a poorer quality product at greater cost. Competition improves education.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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