From the Department of You Can’t Make This Up

We have this offering over at Slate.com from someone rejoicing in the name Allison Benedikt:  “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person“.  No, seriously, that’s the actual, honest-injun title of her piece.  And if you read it, you realize she genuinely means it.

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal does a very good job of pointing out the alarming implications of her logic.  I will say that I disagree with his opening observation that Benedikt “presumably” uses the expression “bad person” facetiously.  I think she’s entirely serious; in fact it’s the only conclusion that’s consistent with her argument and how she sets it up.  Taranto points out (I wish I could say that I immediately phrased it to myself in the same fashion, because his critique of her reasoning is so important, but I was spun up by entirely different aspects of the article, on which more below) that the core of Benedikt’s argument is the sinister conflation of what is good for a government institution with what is good for the public.  Or, as he phrases it, “The biggest problem with Benedikt’s argument is the fallacy of composition–of mistaking the part for the whole. We are willing to stipulate that improvements to the public schools are a common good–that all else being equal, better public schools would make everyone better off (although the benefit would be far from equally distributed).  But a common good is not the common good. . . . Benedikt’s view of what constitutes ‘the common good’ seems to be limited to the institutions of government.”

Benedikt faults parents who send their children to private school for any reason — any reason at all.  Because I could not make this quotation up if I tried, I’ll just let ol’ Allison call it like she sees it:  “But many others go private for religious reasons, or because their kids have behavioral or learning issues, or simply because the public school in their district is not so hot. None of these are compelling reasons. Or, rather, the compelling ones (behavioral or learning issues, wanting a not-subpar school for your child) are exactly why we should all opt in, not out.”  OK; well enough, but what’s the purpose of opting in?  “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. . . .  So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment.”

[Here Gentle Reader might well ask what is the color of the sun on Allison Benedikt’s planet.  It’s as if she never served, or knew someone who served, on a school board.  As if she never read or heard an interview with some school “administrator” whose response to some report of egregious misconduct or incompetence or perverse policy boils down to, “Shut up,” he explained.  It’s as if she has paid no attention to what the NEA has been up to for decades now, as it has fought tooth-and-nail against any public disclosure of what goes on inside the public classrooms of America.  You really, truly, genuinely think, in a world in which the overwhelming portion of public school funding for all but the very largest systems comes from state and federal sources, that a bunch of parents are going to be able to turn the ship through the eye of the wind and onto a different tack?  Has Allison Benedikt ever even volunteered for any school function more substantive than running the concession stand at a basketball game?  Does she really think that’s how public schools work on the ground?]

I like that word, investment.  It sounds good; it’s got a really good name, and we all know how important Having a Very Good Name is, right?  It makes the speaker sound . . . weighty, as if generously endowed with what the English know as “bottom.”  But the real beauty is that it can mean so much, so many different things.  For example, handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to the bankrupt companies owned by one’s political supporters becomes “investing in renewable energy.”  Handing out billions of dollars to fund construction projects of questionable utility is “investing in our infrastructure.”  Shovelling hundreds of billions of dollars in the form of non-dischargeable debt to students so that they can troop off to “college” and “major” in grievance studies and support a burgeoning class of “administrators” becomes “investing in the future.”  And so forth.  You see the point.

What Benedikt understands (notwithstanding she admits to being ill-educated) is that inherent in the notion of an “investment” is the prospect of losing what one has invested.  This is to give her her due a level of comprehension in which she distinguishes herself from so many of those on the left.  It’s why it’s called an “investment” and not “a sure thing.”  It is, in short, a wager.  Benedikt advocates using one’s own children as poker chips, and she very expressly is willing to accept the loss of the “investment,” perhaps even for generations.  Cue Allison:  “Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.”

She omits to explain how two or three consecutive generations of badly-educated adults are — magically! — going to know what a good school looks like or have the intelligence and drive to see to it that one is created and continued.  But let us pass onwards.

One of the slogans current for roughly twelve years in a country then (and still, come to think of it) among the most highly literate, educated to the point of over-doing it, societies in the entire world was “Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz.”  The common good above the individual good.  One had an affirmative duty to do that which brought one’s own misfortune if only it advanced the common good, the Volk.  This attitude was not confined to purely materialistic considerations.  It also expressed itself in the moral sphere. 

The July 20 conspirators tried to recruit Field Marshal Erich von Manstein.  By this point in the war the senior command and in fact the senior civil service as well knew the war was lost and they knew that it was Hitler’s personal decision-making that had lost it.  They also labored under exactly zero illusions about the nature of the crimes taking place behind the front.  Let’s compare and contrast for a moment.  Here’s Manstein’s explanation of why he did not join the opposition:  “Prussian field marshals do not mutiny.”  He in fact, just like every other German military officer, had sworn a personal oath of loyalty to the person of Adolf Hitler.  He was unwilling to violate the duty of that oath.  For an alternative take, let’s cut to Adam von Trott zu Solz, a diplomat later hanged for his part in the plot, as he tries (successfully) to recruit a co-conspirator: 

“I am also a Christian, as are those who are with me. We have prayed before the crucifix and have agreed that since we are Christians, we cannot violate the allegiance we owe God. We must therefore break our word given to him who has broken so many agreements and still is doing it. If only you knew what I know Goldmann! There is no other way! Since we are Germans and Christians we must act, and if not soon, then it will be too late. Think it over till tonight.”

You see, there is no room for Solz in Allison Benedikt’s (O! the irony of that name) cosmology.  Your child has learning or personality disorders and won’t — simply can’t — get the adequate remedial attention he needs in a public school?  Too bad.  Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz, old sport.

And this is where I saw red while reading Benedikt’s little piece.  I have three sons.  The older two of them, and especially the oldest, have developmental issues.  Not stupid, by any means; the oldest taught himself to read before he was six.  But he is “on the spectrum,” as a generation of parents has now been taught to say.  On the very mild end of it (an unearned blessing for which I am profoundly grateful, especially given how easily it could have been otherwise), but still there.  He would have been absolutely lost in the chaos that is a modern public school classroom, bombarded with all manner of aural and visual stimuli that he just did not have the resources to process.  He would have drowned on dry ground.  The middle child is phenomenally creative.  He has an intuitive grasp of how things fit together and work together, in three dimensions.  I only hope to God he learns to master math well enough that he is not deprived of an outlet for his natural genius, as I was.  He, too, but for different reasons, would have been at sea in a public school classroom.

I must emphasize that I do not fault the public school system for its inability to be what my children need in a classroom.  It cannot be otherwise.  That pesky li’l ol 14th Amendment really does mean the government has to treat people the same.  It cannot offer opportunities to one child that it does not offer to all similarly situated.  And short of herding us onto collective farms and confiscating all the food produced (ask the Ukrainians how that worked out; even the SovNarKom admitted in its internal deliberations that the collectivization program was neither more nor less than a tax on the peasantry to subsidize the industrialization of the cities) there is just no way in a world of finite resources that any governmental agency will ever have the wherewithal to offer those attentions to every child who needs them.  Who deserves them.  And in government life (at least outside the caprice of an absolutist state) what not everyone can have, no one gets.  Unless you’re wired in with the political class, unless you’re an apparatchik. 

So for no fault of its own, the government-run school system could not and cannot offer to children such as mine those things which they need not to be the best they can be, but just to survive.  Here’s Allison, once again:  “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.”  Not to get too personal about it, Allison, but you’re full of shit.  A child who goes into emotional and sensory lock-down when a classroom full of children do what classrooms full of children have done since they were first hustled into them, several millenia ago is most emphatically not going to “do fine” when he’s shoved into the regimented chaos of a public school.  He will never get to your Promised Land of AP calculus at all.  If he is to have a shot at all of acquiring the skill sets needed to exist as an independent adult in the world that actually does await him when his birth certificate says he’s grown up, he has one window to do so.

Benedikt describes her friends who send their children to private school as “morally bankrupt.”  Here I’ll say that I have zero interest in any system of morality or ethics which cannot distinguish between on the one hand the sacred duty I owe to a child, whose very presence in this world is a result of decisions I made and who just by virtue of how his brain is wired is utterly, utterly defenseless against the storms in which he finds himself, and on the other the interest in continued monopoly by a self-interested government bureaucracy which has nothing more than a vague, diluted, hypothetical, perhaps-in-twenty-years stake in my child’s future, and even then not as an institution but purely on the personal level of that bureaucracy’s members.  Taken at face value, Allison Benedikt not only announces an affirmative duty to serve the interests of a government agency as such, she places that duty in the same kind as that I owe my child, and then ranks the former above the latter.  No, Allison, we’re discussing a distinction in fundamental kind here, not talking a difference of degree.  We are not debating whether to pump money into public schools because everyone has an interest in a literate, numerate, educated public at large, or instead into roads and bridges, because a population that cannot get to work (or school either, for that matter) quickly and efficiently, that cannot move people and goods cheaply from Point A to Point B, is going to resemble sub-Saharan Africa a helluva lot more closely than it will a place that has “AP calculus for all.” 

[Among her other ignorances Allison doubtless cherishes a profound ignorance of the sources of wealth which make, inter alia, AP calculus available even to a tiny privileged minority.  I’ll give you a hint, sugar britches:  No society ever got rich because it had flashy courthouses, multi-media capable schools, free libraries, or well-staffed DMVs.  The only way anyone — let alone everyone or even any appreciable subset of everyone — got out of deep, grinding, perpetual poverty was through commerce and trade, neither of which is possible on any significant scale without cheap transportation.  Just as a mental exercise, compare the number, direction, and density of navigable rivers in Central and Western Europe with the same in Russia and sub-Saharan Africa.  Notice a pattern?  Since the days of the Roman empire someone in Western Europe could load his crop, or the produce of his forge, loom, or mill, onto a boat and cheaply move it hundreds of miles towards where others were willing to trade with him.  The Russian peasant and the tribesman in what later became Namibia couldn’t.]

Oliver Stone is what they call around here a piece of work, by any reasonable standard.  In his Full Metal Jacket there’s a scene, set at Christmas on Parris Island.  The gunnery sergeant explains it thus:  “God was here before the Marine Corps.  So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ASS belongs to the Corps.”  My ass does not belong to the NEA, Allison.  It does not belong to the army of famine-breeders (fave Mark Twain expression) that batten and multiply in the “administrative” offices of the nation’s public school systems.  It does not belong to the bottom quintile of SAT scores that is extruded year by year from the nation’s schools of “education,” its heads packed full of wonderful theories and notions and experiments to carry out on children.  And none of my children’s asses belong to them either, Allison. 

On the other hand, I have a duty to my sons that is sacred.  It does not arise from constitutional or legislative mandate.  It predates the common law.  No pettifogging bureaucrat can enlarge or diminish it by the slightest.  It is as inherent as my blood relationship with them, and theirs with me.  It is sublime, eternal, ineffable.  It transcends every tie of obligation I owe to the fleeting construct of “the state” or “society.”  Rome rose and fell.  The duty of parent to child does not.  Only a duty to humanity itself, to the cause of human liberty, can even cast a shadow across its edifice, and even then my duty would be to take my son’s place if I could.

My boys have one, exactly one, shot at equipping themselves for the fight ahead of them.  The world they are growing up in is by several orders of magnitude less forgiving than the one I was privileged to know.  The consequences of wrong turns taken, or opportunities squandered, are graver now, and at an earlier age, than ever since men first struck out from the stone walls of their sheltering caves.  As God and my genes have made them, they will forever struggle with things that come to others if not perfectly naturally then at least much more easily.  It may come to pass that things will so arrange themselves that I am unable to continue to offer them an atmosphere where they can have just that little extra room, that little extra accommodation, that little extra chance, that might, just might make the difference in their becoming emotionally and mentally healthy adults, able to stand on their own and face down the Allison Benedikts of this world, able to follow the path of an Adam von Trott zu Solz rather than a Field Marshal von Manstein.  If that happens, it happens, and my duty will then be to help them find what footholds they can.  In the interim, though, what right have I to sacrifice them to a system of morality so abhorrent that it places as its highest duty the call to subservience?

Fuck you, Allison Benedikt.  People like you are why there are thousands upon thousands of stark white crosses dotting the fields of Normandy.  Those men died so your like would not triumph.  In addition to whatever my sons learn in private school, I will teach my sons this:  Whenever they come across you or your kind in life, they are to strike you dead if at all possible, and if not physically destroy you, then at least shove you into such a tiny crevice in a forgotten rock somewhere that you will never extricate yourself and inflict your abominable, slavish sense of morality on any future generation of free humans.

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