Paying for Private School Isn’t a Virtue
Masks should be required in all schools, public and private, but don't act like paying for private school makes your kid or your family more intelligent, responsible, or virtuous.
Florida announced a ridiculous new plan where the parents of children in public schools who do not want to wear a mask are offered vouchers that will enable them to attend private schools. This, of course, is bad. People’s public health irresponsibility should not be rewarded. However, many affluent people taking the pandemic seriously are using it as a chance to put their classism on display on social media.
I went on a full-ride STEM scholarship to Baylor School in Chattanooga, one of the most elite prep schools in the United States, covering both middle and high school. Tuition is over $20k for day students and over $50k for those who live in the dorms as boarding students. Thankfully, my family did not have to pay those absurdly high prices. We were only left to cover non-tuition expenses like books, uniforms, field trips, and other miscellanies — which themselves were burdensome for my parents at times.
Baylor gave me a truly great education. But to act as if Baylor is wholly about giving the brightest kids the best education possible would be laughably absurd. Most kids were not in Honors or AP classes. Those that were in said classes were more likely to not be paying full price — the school has generous financial aid programs in addition to its scholarships, which were used to entice gifted kids into attending. But these schools build wealth best by letting mediocre rich kids be associated with an impressive institution.
The environment at Baylor, like most prep schools, is quite conservative. I felt so uncomfortable there as a closeted trans student — and as someone outspokenly left-wing. The students often parroted the politics of their parents which, in the case of the well-paying ones, was typically unabashed support of Dubya. These schools are magnets for the sorts of right-wingers now pushing anti-mask rhetoric.
The teachers at private schools often have a more left-leaning political tendency than the student body, but the Board of Trustees, which ultimately controls so much of how these schools are run, is almost always wealthy conservatives pushing reactionary agendas. Notorious SCOTUS judge Amy Coney Barrett was part of the Board of Trustees of a private school that tried to ban kids from same-sex families.
This is a cascading failure of our public health and educational systems. Florida should enforce a mask mandate in all of its schools, private and public. That is the only responsible way to handle the pandemic for the upcoming school year. But ultimately, one’s family’s ability to pay more for education means little about their actual intelligence — and it is precisely the paying customers who are more likely to be the sort of wealthy families that vote for Republicans, who are now pushing the anti-mask agenda.
Ultimately, every child deserves a high-quality education that is well-suited to their particular needs — needs that should not be based on the finances of their parents. In order to ensure this, we need to invest a lot more in our public education system. The phenomenon of private institutions offering financial support for people of lower-income backgrounds is far from enough.
Tellingly, almost all of the students at Baylor on financial aid and scholarship were not from true poverty. The lower-middle class is the wellspring of the accomplished gifted kid — the families neither struggling to pay the bills nor swimming in cash, who have the time and at least some resources to help get their kids ahead. It is not that the poor lack gifted kids, it’s that the poor gifted kids lack resources. And that’s precisely why expecting paying money to put your kid solely around smart, good kids is absurd.
Though I learned a lot and attending Baylor undoubtedly gave me a lot of advantages I am lucky to have, my fondest memories from high school are when I studied abroad in Japan at 15 years old, and I was put in a public international school. There was much less pretension and kids with copious cash, but Japan takes its public education system seriously, and the quality of the classes was fantastic.
Whether someone attends a private or public school should not change the fact that they need to wear a mask for now. One’s ability to spend money should not affect their ability to get a great education. And private schools, while they help a lot deserving gifted kids on the backs of future failson flunkies of the rich, are a drop in the bucket. We need good public education. Every single kid should be able to attend a public school for free where they can feel safe — from COVID, from shootings, from anything — and are given a truly good education.