Ignorance is bliss if your name is Allison Benedikt. Courtesy of a “terrible public school”, the Salon writer wrote:
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. 
True, a poor education doesn’t have to hold you back. Ask Joe Biden.
Her piece is aimed at the rich or upper-middle class person who sends their child to private schools to escape bad public education. That means you, Matt Damon. And you, Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton, et al. Benedickt actually argues you should sacrifice your children’s future, because if no one sent their kids to public schools, you’ll, “freak out a little more than my parents did—enough to get involved.” She says it may take a few generations (!), but eventually, public schools will have to improve. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs! Your children are not really your concern; sacrifice them for the greater good!
She misunderstands competition. Communist countries offered horrific products and horrible service because the customer had nowhere else to go to. What companies are better known for their service: monopolies like utilities or companies in highly competitive industries like restaurants? As lousy as the Chicago Public Schools are, surely they are better for the pressure from the city’s Catholic schools, the handful of private secular schools, and even from nearby suburban public schools, which act as a magnet to draw concerned families out of the city. If everyone abandoned all other options and settled for their local public schools, how would that make them better? Would teachers’ unions become more responsive? Thought experiment: you hate the service at your local Unfriendly Groceries store. Is the solution to take your business to the competing Friendly Grocer or to blindly stay with Unfriendly Groceries? If you stick it out with Unfriendly, what possible incentive do it have to change?
Would the American economy be more competitive without private schools? Benedickt bemoans lousy public schools, like the one she attended, that don’t require students to read books, learn calculus or even offer AP classes. Yet, her solution is to have all students attend the worst schools? Will this help us compete in math against the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians? Intellectual curiosity is a gift; a fine education is priceless and pays dividends throughout one’s life. Why not foster creativity, critical thinking and intellectual passion?
Benedickt misses the important fact that students in private schooling benefit local public schools because they aren’t sitting in seats, but the funding stays. If you put your child in, say, a Catholic school, you still pay the same property and other taxes that fund your local public schools. But, your local public schools don’t pay a dime to educate your child. You effectively pay twice for schooling your child. That should be applauded, not attacked as “bad”. Even more so, good for you for caring about your child, instead of being like Benedickt’s parents who “weren’t too worried about it.” I would argue excellence matters. In many instances, the local public schools are not only substandard in terms of teaching, but dangerous. Public schools in Chicago often are violent places. Is it wrong for a parent to want to put their children in a safer environment? There are some very good public schools and many great private schools. Those public schools that get it right should be commended and their dedicated teachers rewarded. Bad public schools should be reformed or shut down, not rewarded with blind allegiance.
Lastly, Ms. Benedickt’s argument is irrational; she is both saying that lousy public schools don’t matter (“your child will probably do just fine”) and yet, she says it matters that public schools are lousy, therefore you should care. She contradicts herself. Do bad schools matter or not? Which is it? I’d say bad schools matter, unfortunately.
With the wacky arguments you used against effective private schools, Ms. Benedickt, perhaps a woeful public education did hold you back!