Patty Dineen

The view from here

The audacity of hoping Barack Obama would send his children to public schools

The public school system — even with all its problems– remains a shining example of something our country did spectacularly right in its formative years.  Innovative and daring, the idea of providing publicly-financed education for all children became a reality because there was the political will to make it happen.  It may be the single thing that bears the most responsibility for making this country great.

President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have chosen not to send their two young children to public schools, but rather have enrolled them in the expensive, elite, private Sidwell Friends School located in the Washington, DC area. 

Sending their children to a public Washington, DC school would have conveyed an incredibly powerful message to the country, not to mention to public school students, their families, teachers and administrators, about belief in the importance and effectiveness of public education– and belief in hope and change.  It would have demonstrated in unequivocal terms that public schools can be safe, secure, and effective — can be good places to be for anyone, even the children of the President of the United States — especially the children of the President of the United States.  Talking about the importance of public education but then choosing otherwise for your own children speaks loudly indeed.  This message will not be lost on the country.

Arguments citing concerns about security, quality of education, and safety to rationalize the choice of a private school for the President’s children are hollow and disingenuous.  It is true that many of the public schools in the Washington, DC area are not providing a good education, but there are some that are.  Chancellor of DC public schools, Michelle Rhee’s two children attend public school.  Rhee invited the Obamas to consider DC public schools in their school search but the Obamas reportedly visited only private schools.

Safety and security are certainly huge factors, and it might be easier to secure a private school adequately for the children of the President, but the Secret Service can secure many kinds of settings and the extra effort of securing a public school would be well worth the gains that would ensue.  In one fell swoop it would greatly enhance the safety and security of an entire school’s population of students and teachers; showcase the educational possibilities of public schools; and motivate and reinvigorate an entire school district’s worth of students, teachers, administrators and parents in a way that nothing else could do.  Now that would be change we could believe in.

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Written by dineenp

January 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm

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