This #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion hashtag on Twitter is lots of fun, and it got me thinking about what unpopular opinions I have.
The top five probably are:
1. Motorists should directly pay the full cost of the US parking supply (currently user fees and taxes cover about 3%.)
2. Mineral rights to subterranean natural resources like natural gas deposits should all be publicly-owned, not privately-owned, and we should levy confiscatory tax rates on gas royalties.
3. The state should make PA’s 67 county governments the smallest units of local government, and there should only be 29 school districts.
4. State government should pay moving costs for households to move to one of the top 5 largest metro economies – Scranton, Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley, Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia.
5. Home schooling, and possibly all private schooling, should be illegal.
I’m happy to argue about some of these positions in the comments or defend them in a future blog post, but for now I want to talk about home schooling because of this new Next City piece on the horrible new trend of bespoke hipster home schooling.
Conservatives have been shifting the debate in favor of home schooling and education privatization over the past few decades by propagating the idea that education is like a consumer service where you get what you can pay for, rather than a public service, where everybody gets the same thing.
The whole idea of education as a consumer service entails a lot of inequality, since some people/districts/catchment areas can afford to fund a much better public school service than others. When you give people the option of taking their kids out of the public schools, the wealthiest and most economically mobile people are the most likely to do that, and you’re left with schools full of disadvantaged kids.
One obvious reason is that states who let parents move their school tax share to a private charter or keep it for home-schooling are gutting the public schools of resources, creating a death spiral where fewer resources and crappier services lead even more wealthy parents to enroll their kids in private school.
It’s not just the money though. When everybody has to attend the same schools, wealthier, more highly-educated parents tend to do other things to raise the average level of quality in the area schools too, like getting involved in the Parent-Teacher Associations, and calling teachers and school administrators to demand better service. Kids with less engaged parents benefit from the hyper-involved parents’ attempts to raise the average quality of service.
The redistribution of wealth and the redistribution of giving a shit is what makes public education such an important tool in the fight against inequality, and that is what makes this hipster home schoolers concept so awful.
People from my generation are turning out to be a lot more interested in urban lifestyles than Gen X or the Boomers were at our age, but it’s still an open question whether we’ll see lots of young families end up reluctantly moving out of cities because the public schools are bad. There are some hopeful signs, like these Philly Millenials getting involved in the local PTA before they even have kids so they don’t have to leave Philly. But there are also negative signs like the hipster home schoolers keeping their kids out of the public schools even as they stay in the city, and denying less privileged kids the opportunity to benefit from their engagement in public schools.
Pure altruism isn’t going to get us where we need to be, especially as long as the state and city policy environments continue to encourage young families to self-segregate. Nobody wants to hear that taking away choices can make us all better off, which is what makes this such an unpopular opinion, but it’s plainly true that taking away the home schooling and private school options would improve the public schools by keeping wealthy and activist parents in the mix.
As a matter of political strategy, if liberal public education reformers want to win restrictions on private charter schools, it’s not enough to straightforwardly argue for that, given where the Overton Window is at right now.
If you look at the chart up at the top, the window of politically acceptable opinions on education currently brackets everything between “voucher system with public schools” and “private schools restricted.”
The goal has to be to shift the window down a notch or two, and put “private schools restricted” at the ideological center, making “tuition tax credit with public schools” the right wing pole of the debate, and “private schools illegal” the left wing pole of the debate.
If what you really want is restrictions on private charters, then you need to have people out there banging on about making private schools illegal. Only then do you create the space for politicians to do what you want, because you’ve effectively turned it into the moderate position.