Karen de Coster on Matt Yglesias on Public School Funding…

Hmm..some flying fur:

Matt Yglesias has a blog post called “School for Rich Kids Isn’t Charity” to which Karen de Coster administers several unkindest cuts.

The gist of Yglesias’ argument is that private school tuition money should be taxed because it’s money that really ought to be going to public schools, if those varmint parents only knew their duty to the state.

Well, first, as Ms. de Coster points out, those private school parents (and everyone else) are already paying for public schools through property taxes. So what Yglesias is asking for is a punitive second tax, for the sin of opting out (with your own money) of the free goodies the state wants you to have to make you yet another dependent. A dependent who will then be a reliable vote for expansion of the state.

Ms. de Coster is a CPA who’s probably (?) never taught in a school, private or public. I have.
[Note: this seems to have come off as a brush-off. It’s not meant to be. Just explaining why I think I have something to add, from anecdotal experience, to a theoretical debate].

So let me toss my two cents in.

From my experience (and it’s not extensive), public schools have problems but they’re not caused by lack of money primarily For my part, I made better money teaching in a public school for troubled inner-city children than I ever did teaching in private schools. There was grant money coming to the school. Whether it was usefully spent or not I don’t know. Everyone worked, but the students came from such difficult backgrounds (routine gun fights in their neighborhood, missing parents, pervasive drug addiction, an AIDS patient in one case, malnourishment, street life with its attractions and traps, it was an uphill and probably futile task. The school folded up in three months when the funds suddenly vanished.

Private school wasn’t always much richer but it was different. One of my first jobs teaching in the US was teaching music at a private boy’s school. It was supposedly part-time but I got into the classroom at 6:30 and left only at 3:00, with my time entirely taken up by classes and prep. I was paid $4000 a semester for that. (Fortunately it was only one of three jobs I held at the time). It was probably the hardest work I ever did. There were between 20-35 rather rambunctious boys between the ages of five and 14 who didn’t take kindly to choral instruction, music theory, or my accent. One asked me with disdain why I didn’t look like Vanna White, his heroine (he was nine). Another was so disruptive I had him stand in the corner, where he created more disruption by announcing sotto voce that the art teacher was being undressed by the geography teacher, and he could see it through a hole in the wall. (There was no hole in the wall. Like Saki’s heroine, he was a specialist in romance at short notice).

He was all of five, had a tow head and a face like a cherub, but it didn’t stop him from calling everyone a “d*** face” whenever he had a chance. I finally had to talk to his mother, who received my complaints frostily. Angel-face had already told her that naughty teacher has used the word “wimp” to his preciousness (I’d jokingly told him not to be a wimp but to come up and join the rest of the band)…. which had left him too shaken, poor darling, to continue.

As for “d*** face,” she was sure he would never use such language, she said, in a tone that let me know she was sure I would…..

What I’m saying is that private school can be as tough and underpaid as any public school. And there can be just as uncooperative parents and difficult children.

Money isn’t the main problem with public schools. The problem in the inner cities is the environment in which the school and the children are forced to function; the administrators who have no conception of what’s needed; and a culture that doesn’t support learning.

My high school in India was half-built and lacked running water in one of the labs. I remember sitting on sand in one class. We had no xerox machines, no computers, no type-writers or calculators in the class. There was a broken-down piano (an enormous luxury in India), old books sent to us from America for the library. We loved them for the glossy pictures, lively text and smooth pages. Our own Indian text-books were printed smudgily on cheap paper, rarely had pictures, and tended to be litanies of facts. It was in those old discarded text books that I first read about Robert Fulton and the steam ship and the duel between Burr and Hamilton. It didn’t make a difference that I read it leaning against an old pile of bricks, doodling in the sand, while a nineteen-year old, in a green sari and a huge rose in her bun, sang out the endless details of the Tree-tee of Ver-sigh-liz, while the boys tried to catch her eye.

It didn’t make a difference to our education because there was a culture of learning. The students came from households that were often struggling to pay the bills, for whom uniforms and books and lunch boxes on small middle-class Indian salaries was an enormous sacrifice. But those households placed an extremely high value on learning and accomplishment. They were largely professional or academic families. If a teacher scolded or punished us, our parents took the teacher’s side (for the most part). We didn’t have television to distract us. We had structured time to study at home. We had standards demanded from us. We had people who had a firm grasp, if not of their subject, of the role they had to play in the class room.

Matt Yglesias often has interesting things to say. But on this one, Ms. de Coster is right. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Money isn’t the central problem in public schools. I doubt that it’s even really a major problem.

4 thoughts on “Karen de Coster on Matt Yglesias on Public School Funding…

  1. Lila — whether or not I have ever been a teacher is entirely irrelevant to the issue. The problem with public schooling is clear: it is compulsory, socialist, and based on a flawed concept of public goods. Not to mention that administering any government program necessarily siphons off the majority of monies that are stolen to fund the system. The negatives of private schooling are irrelevant to my point because it is a voluntary choice as an alternative to public schools — not a forced indoctrination. Yglesias, a fascist-leftist establishment hack, is never interesting. He represents everything that is the opposite of freedom.

  2. Hi Karen –
    I agree with you..
    It wasn’t meant as a criticism of you at all

    Just a segue..to explain why I thought I’d add something…
    I’ll rewrite it if it sounds like I am brushing you off..
    quite the opposite..
    The part about private schools being just as difficult and low paying as public schools was to prove that money isn’t the problem or the central issue..

    I was just adding local color to your point..
    Hmm..where did you get it was a criticism of you?
    Lila

  3. I didn’t view Ms. Decoster’s statement as a criticism of you except to the extent that you implied that her lack of direct experience unqualified her to have an informed opinion, which would have occured had you came to a different conclusion, but you didn’t.

    Your experiences as a public/private teacher are interesting but are irrelevant to the issue of compulsory education and government schools. There are motivated and unmotivated student in both and indoctrination and enforced “socialization” also occur in both, the latter probably because private schools serve various functions and are not immune to the mores of the police state.

  4. My post wasn’t about compulsory public school education…

    It was a comment on Yglesias’ post..
    which is about funding.

    I was criticizing the common liberal position that it’s lack of money that underlies the problems with public school education.

    The compulsory nature of public schooling is irrelevant to that.
    I don’t see how you could miss that from the
    title of my post..

    I’ve posted on the anti- libertarian aspect elsewhere….

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