President Obama this past week appeared to criticize parents who send their kids to private schools as a way to insulate their children from lower-income groups and which in his view also fosters an anti-government ideology and undermines social cohesion.
Many, including social media users, pointed out that Obama himself studied at private schools, and that he educates his own kids at a prestigious private school in the nation’s capitol.
During the same poverty summit at Georgetown University (the Catholic-Evangelical Summit on Overcoming Poverty) in which he briefly slammed Fox News, the president observed that unlike contemporary society, we were better off years ago when, in his example, bankers and janitors lived in the same neighborhood and their families interacted with each other and shared a common sense of community.
While praising the free-market for lifting billions of people out of poverty, the president also said that wealthier people tend to gravitate to their own enclaves. In that context, he went on to say the following.
“What’s happened in our economy is that those who are doing better and better… are withdrawing from sort of the commons. Kids start going to private schools; kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks. An anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together. And that, in part, contributes to the fact that there’s less opportunity for our kids, all of our kids.”
In a subsequent MSNBC interview with White House spokesman Josh Earnest, Morning Joe Scarborough seized upon the president’s comments for potential hypocrisy. “Obviously, the man who said that went to the best prep school in Hawaii and went to the best private colleges in the United States… if the president is going to criticize people who send their children to private schools, he has to recognize that he sends his children to the best private schools in Washington and possibly America..is this a self-critique against the mistakes he made?”
Earnest responded, in part, that “I don’t think that he’s criticizing people for sending their children to private schools. He’s suggesting that all Americans need to keep in mind that it’s in our collective interest as a country and as individual citizens for us to invest in the common good, for us to invest and make sure we have good quality public schools available for everybody.”
The investment terminology is typically government-speak for raising taxes.
Along the same lines, Real Clear Politics columnist Heather Wilhelm wondered “Did [the president] feel that way as a teenager while in the bosom of the exclusive Punahou prep school in Honolulu? The Obama children, of course, attend Sidwell Friends, a private institution that costs $37,750 a year. Before moving to Washington, D.C., Sasha and Malia studied at the University of Chicago’s elite Laboratory School, where middle school tuition runs at $29,328.”
According to the Cato Institute, only nine percent of American school children go to private schools, most of which are run by the Roman Catholic Church. “The main way the better-off congregate amongst themselves is buying houses in nice places, which translates into access to good school districts,” Cato added, which to some degree is also what Obama was driving at. The Cato piece went on to claim that “…private schools also appear to do a better job than public schools of inculcating good civic values in their students, including political knowledge and a proclivity to volunteer in one’s community.”
Assessing the Obama public school remarks, TownHall columnist Christine Rousselle provided this analysis of parental choice.
“I’m not faulting the president for sending his children to private schools. If I were in a similar position as the Obamas I’d send my children to the best school money could buy. I am, however, faulting Obama for attempting to guilt those who do the same thing he and Michelle (and his own grandparents) decided was best for their family and for their children. There are plenty of perfectly acceptable reasons for a family to educate their children outside of the public school environment. Safety concerns …curriculum strength, teacher quality, or even attendance policies are all legitimate reasons why people have chosen to opt out of public schools that have nothing to do with a desire to separate oneself of the hoi polloi.”
Parenthetically, Barack Obama has played golf more than 200 times during his presidency, presumably on private courses for the most part.
Do you agree or disagree with President Obama’s views on private schools and society that he expressed at the Georgetown University poverty forum?
[Photo by Mark Wilson, Getty Images News]