Exercise of privilege by some highlights our growing gap
I must admit that I’ve reacted unkindly and judgmentally to recent stories detailing how, in the pandemic, parents who can afford to do so are fleeing public schools and seeking havens for their children in private schools or home-schooling pods (”A rush to private schooling options: Families wary of return to public classrooms and remote learning,” Page A1, Aug. 9). At a time when the gap between the entitled affluent and the marginalized poor has been highlighted for all to see, this exercise of privilege has seemed particularly tone-deaf. However, when I find myself in this self-righteous mode, I need only remember that, as a parent, I made essentially the same choice several decades ago.
At the time, our daughter was languishing in the Cambridge public schools, somehow not thriving in a system with abundant resources that seemed to accomplish little. After anguishing over the decision, my wife and I decided that a change was needed, and we opted to send our daughter, and her younger brother to follow, to elite private schools in Cambridge. Though this was a challenge for us financially, the hardest part was knowing we were choosing a self-serving option that was available to us but not to a great many others. Yet we made the decision to opt out of the public schools because we thought it was in the best interests of our children, who were our first and ultimate priority.
I offer this reflection not as a defense or criticism of the current retreat from public schools toward options that seem like better alternatives, but rather to demonstrate that, when it comes to the educational opportunities for our children, our nation has not come very far in the past 30 years.
We can’t just leave families in underserved areas to fend for themselves
Naomi Martin’s article “A rush to private schooling options” captures an understandable and nimble response to the educational crisis brought on by the pandemic — a response that nonetheless has wide-ranging implications. While decisions to pool resources potentially affect public school funding, they have broader implications for families in underserved areas. In these areas, parental worries about fragmented instructional time and a related lack of academic rigor are exacerbated by the additional burden of poor Internet access and limited resources.
During post-pandemic analysis, there will be significant lessons learned from the failure of policies and practices. But in the moment, there is an opportunity to mitigate what economists call a tragedy of the commons by ensuring equitable resources for schools in urban and rural areas. While there should be federal money appropriated as an emergency response, perhaps corporate America, with newly created or revised diversity statements, has a role to play with an infusion of financial support for technology upgrades, academic programs, and safe buildings.
The educational crisis should concern each of us. If we, as a society, channel ingenuity, will, and energy to improve and optimize learning opportunities for each child, then we can surely say, “We are all in this together.”
The writer is a retired school principal.