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In Praise of Public Schools

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In Praise of Public Schools
In Praise of Public Schools

Here’s the Tribune’s Eric Zorn on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to send his children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School:

I also reject the idea that his choice of the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools — announced after the interview with [NBC5’s Mary Ann Ahern] — is hypocritical in light of his advocacy for improving public education. It’s no more hypocritical than his advocacy for greater public safety even though he’s protected around the clock by bodyguards or advocating for better food-shopping options in ravaged neighborhoods even though his family has access to numerous grocery stores near their house…

Emanuel is now well situated to see what lessons private schools can teach public educators.

No, he isn't. The very nature of public schools prevents them from ever being able to offer the thing that makes private schools so appealing to people such as Emanuel -- social exclusivity. Public schools are required to educate everyone who walks in the door: the children of the homeless, children whose fathers are imprisoned, children of car wash attendants whose parents speak no English. Do you really want your children going to school with kids like that, if you can afford otherwise? The mayor can afford otherwise, and he doesn’t.

The teachers at Lab are no better than the teachers at Northside College Prep, and the students are probably of similar intelligence, since their main qualification is their parents’ wealth or occupation. But a Lab degree is more valuable because it plugs the bearer into Chicago’s powerful network of Labbies. It’s proof of an upper-class upbringing. This letter to the Sun-Times, written by two men from Englewood, nailed the fact that a Lab education is caste mark:

People do not realize that America, despite its image of equality for all, operates on a caste system. The schools reinforce that. Once in a specific caste, you will for the most part never rise up out of it. And it starts with the schools.

A kid who goes to Fenger or DuSable or Phillips will never catch up with a kid who goes to the Lab Schools or Latin or Francis Parker.

Especially the Lab Schools. The doctors, professors, lawyers and business people who work at the university enjoy priority admissions (and get a 50 percent tuition discount), but not the nurses, clerks or maintenance people. That’s the way it is and always will be in this great country of ours.

People also have to realize that where one’s kids go to school is about the parents as much as the kid. Meaning, does the parent want to have to associate with public school parents at school plays, sporting events, parent nights and assemblies? Do they want to have to do “play dates” or “sleepovers” with riffraff? A child’s school is as much as a reflection on the parent as on the child. 

Your Ward Room Blogger attended an inner-city public high school across the street from an auto plant. As the father of one of my classmates put it, we received a “social education” that could not be duplicated at suburban schools or private schools. We shared the hallways with shoprats, stoners, metalheads, ghetto kids and young men who golfed at the country club. My classmates ended up in Ivy League schools and federal prisons, in executive offices and on assembly lines.

I once had a discussion about education with the editor of Chicago magazine. He was paid well to publish stories about the city’s elite, yet he sent his son to the neighborhood public high school. The boy had been complaining about a classmate who was giving him a hard time.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to have to learn how to deal with jerks like that in real life,’” the editor said. “‘You might as well learn in high school.’”

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

Related Topics Rahm Emanuel, Lab School, Casting
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