In a conversation with friends, they made the case that it is wrong for parents to not send their children to public schools.

Are they right?

It is wrong and elitist to send your child to private school?

The argument proposed has a similar stance to that of insurance or immunization – we all have to do it for the overall system to be effective.

Their line of thinking was this: the diversity of income, education and perspectives creates a better situation for all.

For example, the mechanic can provide both material support and assess the conditions of the shop class. The lawyer can monitor what is expected, and, if needed, use the legal system to ensure the children are getting the resources needed. Meanwhile the single parent who is working three jobs benefits from the extra set of eyes and benefiting from the diversity of the community. The worse the school district the better the benefit.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=700891

High Court Bench – Source Wiki Commons

This is a compelling argument. So let’s take it further. If we seek to optimize this benefit it would make sense that we all live in public housing. Clearly, it is unethical to pick a house based on your preference. Surely a well heeled lawyer could do wonders to improve the community. And a police officer and their family would be a welcome presence to thwart malfeasance. Along this line of thinking if you are an involved parent you can make the most difference if you send your child to the *worst* possible school available. Certainly your child will suffer as a result because of the time it takes to reform a school but it is for the greater good. Right?

Similar arguments have been made for public transit and even employment sharing. And on paper it sounds good.

The role of self interest and competition

The observed reality is a bit different.

In a resource constrained environment a lawyer will understandably use their limited time to focus on the needs of *their* child which they understand best and have a prime interest in. Other children might lose attention as a result. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And that wheel might sue. And the police officer in a dangerous public housing project will want to protect *their* family. Why should they have to patrol their own neighborhood after a long overnight shift after already doing that somewhere else? Should they have to work for free after a long day? Isn’t that a shared responsibility of everyone in the neighborhood?

Instead, grade the schools

An alternate model is one where schools competes to serve the needs of all the attending children. Those that fail too many for too long shut down. Those that do well can grow their system and benefit from economies of scale. This free market approach does require regulation (and for education, lots of it) but in aggregate it is a pretty good system in other areas. That is today’s private school system.  And home schooling. And the public school charter school system.

Indeed, the reason we send our child to a private school has nothing to do with academics and everything to do with the school naturally working faith and reverence into each day. That is important to us. For others it might be a school with a world class music program.

We donate beyond the required tuition and will likely send money long after our child has graduated because we want to see the religious framework of that school continue. Many of the children attend for free based on economic need. And you should see the children who graduate. They are concerned about social justice, have a sense of right and wrong internalized and have the academic framework to be able to make a difference. And that is good for everyone.