Thursday, April 07, 2005

Movie-like absurdity

So this Sunday we are visiting the local Montessori school to try to enroll Sophie in their toddler program for the fall. I hope if they are reading this they accept this in the spirit of general social commentary and not hold it against Sophie. We need to apply for this on Sophie's behalf indicating her strengths, our talents and hobbies, and answer questions you would likely see on a college application.
I appreciate that there are a limited number of spaces, and they want to have the best students, but Sophie will be less than 2 years old when.... if.... she is admitted.
Carly and I are stressing over this which seems absurd. It reminds me of those movies or television shows where this sort of thing happens, the parents struggle to look good for the school, and everything goes wrong. So of course, we are kind of freaking out. If she doesn't get in here now, then her chances of getting into the elementary school go down, and so on. If we don' tfill out this form correctly our daughter may be forced to go to Vassar. †
Still, we both went to public schools and came out reasonably well, but then we both know what public schools now offer.
So we are doing our best trying to answer the toughest question.
"What do you hope your child to get from a Montessori education?" Any advice?
The ironiy of all this is that back when I was a childless single person in San Francisco, I made fun of my boss Philip, for stressing about his daughter getting into the 'right' kindergarten. Now I am like, could he wait so long??!!

†Okay I know I promised not to bad-mouth Vassar. Sorry, but this is my daughter we are talking about. (Gratuitous Simpsons Joke)


At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about something like "to learn the joy of learning"? That is, to go to school to set the foundation for a life of learning, not just to learn what they have to teach? I think you know what I mean...
Also, "to think for herself" - esp. since you've got that crit thinking class...

At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how about something honest like: well, we hope to track our daughter into a program of priviledge that will provide her with better opportunities in academic, economic and other social terms over her lifecourse. let's be frank: those who go to private schools are less likely to die, more likely to succeed academically and more likely to pull in an income (with all kinds of benefits following from these). we live in a society that provides all kinds of barriers based on class and social status: a montessori education at the start will give her a leg up in a system designed to provide for the few at the expense of the many. you can imagine some future educational institution considering sophie versus some other child w/o a montessori education (say, with just kindergarten, from a public school) who is the gatekeeper gonna choose? all other things being equal: the kid with the fancy pants academic credentials.

to be frank,

At 12:21 AM, Blogger Scholz said...

hmmm, I am not sure, but I feel like I was a just insulted.
I know some people go to schools like Harvard and Yale so that they can make more money... but there is more to education than that, I hope.
I have had many many students who are embarrassed to admit they know the answer to a question I ask in class. I think this is because in many schools, that is seen as a sign of complicity with the 'enemy.' It would be insanely anive to imagine these people as 'revolutionaries' fighting a repressive bit of social engineering (though there may be some truth to that). These are people who've been radically failed by the system. I really do not want that for my kids. Selfish bastard.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We failed to get Sabrina into my first choice school - a local co-op K-8 (it's by lottery so nothing I did wrong.) We're going to try the public school and see how it goes but if we're not happy we're either going to look at Montessori-like schools or homeschooling. (My motto: Homeschooling - it's not just for religious nut-jobs!)

I suspect that Sabrina will do better in a less structured learning environment. She really needs to do things at her own pace -- but that's not something I could see when she was only 2.


At 11:41 AM, Blogger jeff said...

Well, I'm not sure what Lex's intentions were, but regardless, I don't know that you should feel insulted, Steve. I'm pretty sure that you and Carly have most likely talked about the class issues involved--you're pretty conscious of such things (I remember your ethical dilemmas regarding your parents' money and your college education, for instance).

Of course BOTH of the things that Amanda and Lex point out could be good reasons for trying to get sophie into the school. And they're not unrelated--it might help a person live longer to love learning, for instance.

I would be curious to hear what your discussion with Carly was like regarding what to do about Sophie's education, though...Jessie and Kareem are going through a similar discussion regarding max already--talking about alternatives and the like. There are all sorts of potential advantages for public school that have nothing to do with learning any particular subject--all of the social stuff that will be different if she goes to a private school for the rest of her life. For instance, if she's eventually going to be working out in the world, she'll mostly be working with people who DIDN'T go to a private preschool--what effect could that have on her, negatively or positively? Too many freakin' factors to look at, I'm sure, but I'm curious what your take on all of that stuff (and Alexis' analysis) is--or perhaps I should ask Alexis: Given that the priveledge of private school leads statistically to all of the goods that you noted, Lex, what would you have parents who CAN send their kid to private school do?

On the other hand, I also think your making fun of your old boss and his stresses should be taken into account: You knew intuitively something then that may now escape you because of your closeness to the situation (i.e. it's your kid): It may not matter much what school she goes to. Probably it matters more the attention to what she did at school that day from HOME will matter much more. So, for instance, if one were deciding to work longer hours so that one's kid could go to private school (sacrificing time with the kid)...that may not be the best solution, etc.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger jeff said...

Oh, and, I'd go with Amanda's solution, thought I think it's sort of ironic, because I'd pick that idea simply because I'm pretty sure that's what they want to hear (you can tell I learned how to play the public school game of telling them what they want to hear).

At 12:20 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

When we tried to think of the benefits of a public (non-magnet/charter) school, we didn't come up with many. I don't really like the 'knows how to deal with other products of the public system' argument.
If we stay in North Carolina, I suppose our kids will encounter all sorts of victims of the public school system, as well as fanatical evangelicals, right right ideologues, capitalists, and other things that we object to. But that hardly gives me reason to want her to be like them. Would her life be easier if she were? Yes, but that doesn't mean she should be like them.

It is a good question: what benefits of a unjust society can one reasonably enjoy? Or must we, out of solidarity, live like the victims of the injustice in order to be just ourselves?

I think I've already made my choice on that question. I've found a compromise I can live with.

I am less worried about our family passing the 'admissions' test now (after going to the open-house). I am more worried about the financial features. About 20% of our family income if we were to pay it ourselves, for a toddler program, even more as Wililam gets in. They don't have much financial aide right now, so we would need to depend on family assistance. My folks have been very generous in that respect, but it may be hard to ask for that kind of money for a program for a child less than 2 years old.

At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it may be what they want to hear, but I meant it. The public schools in Louisiana, at least, are massively underfunded at the teachers don't have time to do much of anything except assign busy-work and easy to grade multiple choice stuff. High degree of burnout, too. & then there's stuff like my friend who went to class in a church down the road from her school because there were no fans in the classroom - which is no joke in New Orleans in September. And that was the public school known for being the best - all the smart kids transferred there.
I think parents should teach their kids all they can at home, but when school looks like a holding pattern to the kids, who can blame them for just coasting till they get out?
Part of the reason that I don't want kids may be b/c of trying to figure out stuff like this.

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


sorry buddy, no insult intended. and yep some of us go to yale and harvard (in part) as an explicit part of startegically situating ourselves within an injust power framework. the "frank" was exactly that: both class and status matter for the individual in ways that i outlined. perhaps performatively engaging with the institution (montessori) offers a route to social change (i.e. what social program is sup[ported by these schools, and can they serve not only to provide a top rate education, but to serve a wider good?). i don;t know the answer to that, but the performative tactic is one i have employed with strategic success in other situations. that and i'm big on illumination: lux et veritas, lux and all that.

jeff wrote "Given that the priveledge of private school leads statistically to all of the goods that you noted, Lex, what would you have parents who CAN send their kid to private school do?"

this is something i have been wrestling with for about five years (interesting, given that i don't have kids andf only for a week or so during that time thought that i was about to have one). the dilemma is that participation in non-public institutions available for tthe few itself perpetuates the problems of the public service sector (in a NIMBY sense)... it's really a matter of (expectations about) individual futures versus population/public futures. i imagine that the degree to which the public school choice would be the route i would take (note my primary, secondary and [cough] undergraduate education were all at public institutions), would depend on the degree to which i saw opportunities for entry and participation in community-level action in support of the public institution. homeschooling (or rather a co-parenting educational model--perhaps like the one involving one or two parents from each participating in the community taking over education for 3-4 months each year also has its appeals).


At 9:39 PM, Blogger jeff said...

Yeah, I don't think you're giving my point a very generous read, Steve, so I'll put it in a slightly more forceful way: Do you want your kid to have the sort of education that ignores class (and likely in your area, race) discrimination altogether, for instance--and even if it doesn't, only pays lip service to it because how can a private montessori school really practically talk to kids about race and class when the group will be pretty homogeneous? Do you want your kid to learn to be an elitist, and to use language like "Yes, but that doesn't mean she should be *like them* (my emphasis)" when describing people who have gone to public school?

Also, seems to me that the 'like them' talk is begging the question regarding whether or not one ought to send their kid to a public school.

I'm curious what your 'compromise' regarding enjoying the benefits of an unjust society amounts to, for you? What compromise are you living with?

At 12:19 AM, Blogger Scholz said...

1. The public schools, at least here in NC, are so strapped for fund, they spend ZERO time on anything but meeting the No Child Left Behind Test Guidelines, which only deal with Math, Reading and Writing... and some Bush approved list of 'facts'. The only education about race and class at the public school would be 'on the street'.
The Montessori curriculum is far more elaborate and inclusive of music, cultural studies, international studies, citizenship and community service, and the focus of the Raleigh school Peace and War studies. It's student body is pretty diverse 30 countries of origin, and people who need full scholarships (like my cousin) and people who can afford the hefty pricetag.
I deal with the students from public school education all of the time, every day. The present day system is not like it was, when I went to public school, although even then I my friends and I were subjected to ridicule, isolation and abuse because we were intellectuals. When I said 'like them' I meant kids that think of educators as enemies, who are suspicious and angry at intellectuals, who would feel inclined to hide any interest they have in knowledge or understanding. Those things lead to and support fanaticism, egoism, and brutishness, I think.
As to having contact with minorities and less privileged. I don't think that will be a problem. First this Montessori has a preety diverse group ethnically (30 countries for a couple hundred students) and classwise. They offer a great number of scholarships (my cousins being the recipients of one). Second, I work at an HBUC and live in an ethnically diverse, mostly lower middle class area, so I think that my friends and neighbors will provide some of that. The public schools in NC are actually somewhat segregated anyway. We have numerous magnet charter schools that tend to segregate by wealth anyway.
As to my comprimise?
I haven't yet reached the level of affluence that makes me worry too much about my own excess. I do not count money toward education or health as a luxury. I feel personally responsible both to and for my kids. So I want to do what I can to help them become the best people they can be. Will I work for progressive changes to our system? yes. I will try to set an example by doing something I think is good for society, even if it is not profitable? yes. Will I accept monies from my parents (derived from participation in an unjust economic system), yes, if it can help me live a moderate lifestyle and do what I want to do and feel is right. I am mostly comfortable with this decision. But, I agree that our system could be much better.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger jeff said...

There's a lot going on here; I'll try to take things point by point:

1. 'Social Learning' vs. 'Book Learning'-- "The only education about race and class at the public school would be 'on the street'." At the risk of sounding like somebody who hates intellectuals, I'd claim that you're overvaluing the power of a curriculum and undervaluing the power of simple experience. Being around people who come from different backgrounds, economically, racially and otherwise, can have huge value, I think, as far as living in a racially and economically diverse world.

2. Diversity -- You note that there are 30 countries represented in a class of a couple hundred students--I'd be curious to know the percentages, though, Steve. I would hazard a guess that the student population doesn't come close to matching the student population of Raleigh, racially and especially economically. I'd bet there are lots more white people, for instance. And I'd bet there are lots more people who are upper-middle class and higher. That there are SOME scholarships given is a red herring, in my opinion, along the lines of "hey, SOME poor african american women become Secretaries of State". Sure, some scholarships, but what percentage of students come with scholarships that are significant enough to make up for a huge economic difference?

Also on diversity: Your point about your kids experiencing diversity in your neighborhood and at your job is a good one--that was actually part of my point, though: You and Carly and the time you can put into 'informal education' is probably more important, in my mind, than whether or not they go to a private school. For instance, if you had to decide between working a lot more so that she could go to a private school and working less so you could spend more time with her (though she would go to a public school), my money would be on spending more time with her.

And, I think when you say "We have numerous magnet charter schools that tend to segregate by wealth anyway," I think you're offering up another red herring--I doubt that they segregate by wealth the way an expensive private school does, almost by definition.

3. Luxury -- I wish that I lived in a world/country where money toward education and health wasn't a luxury; but when you say that you don't count money toward education as a luxury, but you've already noted that you'll be asking your parents for the money for education, then that is a luxury, in the sense that neither you, nor most people in this country can afford it. Can your parents afford it? Sure. Is it a luxury to them? No. But it is to most people.

4. Influence -- I also think that you're ignoring the good that your kids can do in the public school system, as children of parents who are intellectuals. This would be part, in my mind, of setting an "example by doing something I think is good for society, even if it is not profitable".

5. Compromise -- As far as the compromise goes, I always have had a lot of respect for you for how you handled your parents' influx of money from big pharma. It is a practical perspective that you've taken, and I think lots of people who don't think about this stuff enough would have taken different roads. And I can understand that you're a parent who wants to do whatever he can for his kids; of course, that impulse is not always a good one, right? Your dad wanted to help you in ways that you weren't comfortable with,for instance. At any rate, I think teaching philosophy (instead of raking in the bucks) is a big compromise.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You answered your own question: "The Montessori curriculum is far more elaborate and inclusive of music, cultural studies, international studies, citizenship and community service, and the focus of the Raleigh school Peace and War studies"

That's what you hope to get out of the school.

It sounds like you've moved on already.

If the financial situation becomes untenable you still might consider either homeschooling or possibly organizing a parent co-op. One of the public schools here started as a parent-led co-op preschool that eventually became part of the public system.

At 4:56 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

I won't try to pretend that thus school is a cross-section of Raleigh. And I do want my kids to be exposed to a wide variety of people.
I am also deeply skeptical of the academic and extra-curricular ability of the public schools here.
I will look into the idea of parent co-ops since I feel uncomfortable asking for too much from my parents.
As to the ideaof using my kids to benefit the others. My Kantian leanings prevent me from doing so short of life threatening need. (I am not totally committed to Kantianism... say one of my kids needed bone marrow from the other, I would probably use one for the other). Likewise, I wouldn't use someone else's kids as "examples" for my kids, good or bad.
I want to apologise to anyone I was short with in this conversation. I am very touchy when it comes to my kids, and very protective and defensive. It is really hard just to raise the kids as best I can, that feeling like I am making a major socio-poltical statement by doing so is very stressful to me. I am trying to help my kids be thoughtful and caring and at this stage that is about as much as I can manage. I hope you can understand that.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger jeff said...

Given that you almost certainly understand Kant better than I understand Kant, I still think that one of the great misunderstandings of Kant is the whole thing about treating others as means rather than ends--I think people sometimes do treat others as means *only*, (and probably impossible to treat anybody, even oneself as an end *only*), I think that almost always we treat others as both a means to our ends as well as ends in themselves. As I understand Kant, one ought not treat another as a means *only*. And, of course, I wasn't suggesting that you do so. I said that I think you're ignoring your own children's possible positive influence. Whether you want them to or not, your children with have an influence on other children (and adults!) as they move through the world, so to say that you wouldn't use someone else's kids as "examples" for your kids is ignoring the reality of how we all interact, I think. (And, of course, this is one of the problems that is often attributed to Kant, isn't it...that his stuff implies an atomism that doesn't seem to exist?)

I'm thinking here not only of the kids that you think of as "them"--the kids who are learning to hate intellectuals and the like. I'm thinking about the kids of people like yourself who don't have parents who can afford to help, for instance. The more parents who decide to not opt for public schools for the reasons you've given, the fewer compatriots the rest of the 'kids of intellectuals' have.

I can understand the stresses, and I'm taking nothing personally in that regard. But, being a Kantian to whatever degree, I'm sure you realize that choosing a school IS a major socio-political statment (as well as being a practical decision regarding and individual)...I mean, for Kant, you can't even pick a freakin' flower without considering all of humanity.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

Of course, it is virtual impossible to treat anyone, even our friends and family as ends only (one reason refused for a very long time to marry.. until his sense of citizenship convinced him it was his duty.)Suppose for example that my cousin's kid was being beaten up in 6th grade, and I had a 7th grade kid, I could have my kid held back to be a body guard for my cousins'. But that would be using one for the benefit of the other. I am not saying the analogy is perfect, for one thing my kids would undoubtedly get something themselves from meeting the outcasts of the public system (some of my closest friends joined me in that group).
Of course, there are also the suicides and homocides committed by the outcasts (Colombine, Red Lake...) as well, so I am not sure we know which way the influence will go, and who will benefit the most.
Maybe a neighborhood kid will be introduced to the idea of a private school education by my kid and thus get something she didn't even realize was available. Or maybe my daughter will use her great education to become an evil genius and develop a horrible virus. Consequentialism is a little iffy.
I would argue that all kids should get as good an education as they can. In our society that gives the firt responsibility for that to the parents, I think parents ought to try to get the best education for their kids they can so long as doing so doesn't hurt others directly.
I will still vote against vouchers, even though, with vouchers we could probably afford to send the kids to Montessori, and without them we probably won't be able to. But when I vote I am specifically practicing public reason, what is best for society as a whole. When I decide where to send my kids, I need to think about what will give them the most opportunity to excel in whatever they choose, what will give them the greatest autonomy.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

Oh yeah. And Kant didn't think you needed to consider Humanity when you pick a flower. You just needed to consult Reason.

At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

steve and jeff,

detour time: louise fitzhugh, queer author of the children's books harriet the spy and the long secret wrote once in the later book (from memory, usual caveats about fidelity here) after a comments about ends and means: "there aren't any ends. only more means." this idea has had a lot of appeal to me, and seems consonant with a lot of what i would call my dialectical leanings. for example, it's a useful way to recognize that the ideas of story and narrative (in literary, and much broader social senses) are, in fact, both epistemological and ontological tools, and not actually the reality they are intended—even subjunctively—to represent. in this i mean that "happily ever after" and "then they all died" or even "then they had a wedding and all hapiness died." aren't particularly valid, though they may serve well as narrative ends. i point to sondheim's into the woods in which the song happily ever after concludes the first act, wherein the major dramatic tensions (will the ends be met?) are resolved. the second act, by directing attention to what happened next examines the (more and less forseeable) consequences of those "ends," revealing that the "real" story has not, of course ended, is continuing, will continue after any conceivable end has been met, failed, or transformed.

having read neither the prince, nor retained much from kant's crit of pure reason, i can't say whether such ideas about means and ends are off base or not. but given how much i like the "and what came next?" question (including in an ethical sense), i wonder what your thoughts are?


At 2:14 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

Kant's idea of an End is notoriously hard to pin down. So don't feel bad about that. I don't really have a good way of explaining it.
But it has more to with autonomy of the will, than of some end as in consequence. Treating someone as an End means, I think, giving them the choice to determine for themselves whether to puruse some course or another.
Treating them as a means, is either using them for your own purpose or for the purpose of another, even their own. For example doing something to someone for their own good, is treating them as a means. Letting someone choose (having the appropriate knowledge) to do something you know (or believe) is bad for them is treating them as an end.
Now one may argue that doing so, in effect, is deciding that autonomy is valuable (even if the person himself doesn't agree and would prefer to by heteronomous) but Kant thought that doing so was respecting the dignity of a human being.
Kant would have endorsed, I think, Cap. Kirk's decision to blow up the alligator god/computer on the planet of blond idiots, even though doing so probably exposed them to untold hardship and suffering, because it let them be autonomous dignified beings as they contracted disease, starved and killed each other. (I am not one hundred percent sure where I stand on that issue now that I phrase it that way).

At 11:07 AM, Blogger jeff said...


Regarding Ends and Means: I'm not sure that there are NO ends, only more means, but I think that idea is on the right track. Whenever one starts to analyze in a simple way what one's own ends are, for instance, one usually ends up within a few steps with something like 'happiness' or 'peacefulness' or 'joy'. For instance, why go to school? Well, to become better educated. Why do that? Well, it's a joy in itself (end) OR Well, so I can get a better that I can make more that I can live more that I can be happy...

So, I think it is the case that most ends are means to something else. And I also think that the things we often count as 'ends only' are sort of abstract and probably are still RELATED to other ends, even if they aren't exactly means to them.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger jeff said...


Re: Picking the flower.

Yes, but Reason tells you that you need to ask yourself, "Would I will that everybody pick flowers in this way?" before you do it, right?

And, since you brought it up again (heh), how does Kant's Categorical Imperative play into your decision about private school vs. public school? What happens when not everybody CAN choose private school (vs, of course, the fact that everybody CAN pick a flower). I'm not enough of a Kant scholar to know how this works...

As far as your 'body guard' analogy--it doesn't address what I was trying to say because it assumes that the kid being held back will be negatively affected--I think your analogy really depends on that fact rather than on treating somebody as a means (only). I was arguing that choosing public school could be beneficial both for sophie (which is why I brought up wanting one's kid to go to school with kids of various racial and economic classes--which you admit would happen in public school in a way it wouldn't happen in private school) and for the other kids in public school. Given this, and given my point that you're not treating Sophie as a means (only) in either case (public or private), I think that public school is a viable moral option.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

True, you are correct, Kant would have us ask ourselves, would we will that others do the same. Of course, how we frame that question can make a difference.
If my maxim is as Lex put it, would I will that all parents spent extra to give their kids an advantage over their peers, I would see that is not universalizable. Since, if everyone tried to gain advantage over the others, no one would.
If my maxim is parents shall give their kids the best education to help them become the best people they can, well that seems work.
As to the treating Sophie as a means, I was assuming sending her to public school for the sole purpose of helping other students by her example. If she wouldn't want that for herself were she an autonomous adult, then I think that would using her wrongly.
If it would, be in her best interests, as you seem to be suggestion, despite the substandard academic environment, then presumably it would be what she would want, so I should do it.
The general Kantian attitude to people who can't choose for themselves is to assume that they would want whatever is in their best interests.
I figured that the cultural exposure argument was not enough to override the poor education, so you were offering the public service as additional incentive. That is the sort of thing Kant objects to.
Now of course, public service, setting a good example are 'imperfect' duties according to Kant, so we cannot avoid doing some of them 'ourselves', we should not try to force or coerce others to do them (we are allowed to force people to perform their 'perfect' duties however).

At 4:51 PM, Blogger jeff said...


Thanks for explaining Kant to me a little better than I understood him--I didn't know of his distinction between 'perfect' and 'imperfect' duties.

What I was trying to do was offer up several reasons that you might choose public school over private school for Sophie. One reason is the diversity she'll get is a 'good'for her, as well as for others. Another (related) reason is that her being in public school could help other children. Another reason is to fight classicism in general.

You have indicated that you don't think that these reasons outweigh the poor education that you believe sophie will get, as well as indicating that (being a Kantian in this way) you don't think that one ought to EVER do a public service if it affects one negatively (if I understand your take on Kant properly).

And you and Carly, of course, are the only good arbiters of such a decision, given that you're Sophie's parents. I just like to press that the social learning that comes in school (in both private and public, of course) is just as important as the 'book learning', and that Sophie will get a poorer education in that regard going to a private school. And that has to be considered. And you have considered it and decided that I"m not quite right regarding the amount of good learning that will be done in a public school and/or it's not worth what she will lose in other ways.

Do I have it about right?

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

Gotcha, there are several reasons that support sending to a public school, lets not forget that it is already paid for by the good people of North Carolina. But I agree with your other reasons as well. Still, in terms of her benefit alone, based on our research, we think she would benefit from the private education more than the public one, and where she won't we can fairly easily supplement. Of course this may be a moot point, since we may not be able to afford a private school education in any event.
As to the Kantian rationale.. I don't know if you are trying to be the devil's advocate or not. Assuming not. No, Kant is no Egoist. You are often required to do good things, even at your own expense, but not so much for the public good, but according to the moral law. We have imperfect duties to help others (beneficience) but they are imperfect in that one cannot put to a specific instance and say, you are obliged to do this good here, that would be a perfect duty. rather we are obliged to do some beneficial acts, to the degree that it would be irrational for people in general to do less. Kant is never very specific about that. But following Wolf, we don't need to do everything good we can, but we do need to do some good. I choose to wile away some hours playing Halo, rather than volunteering at a local shelter. However, I do volunteer, at school and elsewhere. I chose not to subsidize the education of my neighbors' kids (except through my minimal taxes), but I do donate to a schoarlship fund at my college, and to the YMCAs programs.
The main Kantian point here is that I shouldn't decide for YOU what is the appropriate way to satisfy your imperfect duties, that is up to you. Likewise, with regard to Sophie, I shouldn't decide for her, that setting a good example is to be her way of giving back, as it were. When I am in a position where I must speak for you, or her, I should do what I think is in your best interest, then if you chose otherwise that is your choice.

Your point about Sophie getting a poorer social education in a private school is interesting. On what do you base this claim? Do you have experience in both, or are you assuming that a diverse population guarantees a good social education. That isn't implausible, but in our studies we've never seen a study showing that. In fact I've seen at least one suggestion that the main social value taught from public schools are conformity (but that may also be at private school). It may be that in a public school races and classes are segregated and isolated into cliques which use stereotypes to inspire violence or hatred. My friend Ben was bussed to a mostly black school in Pittsburg, but the whites there seemed to glom together for whatever reasons, perhaps as a result of television or other media.
The schools we are looking at also focus on social development in a way public school either shy away from for political reasons, or are unable to do because of financial ones. They learn to resolve conflicts themselves rather than seek out adults or resort to violence, they teach independent but cooperative learning, we saw students of many ethnic backgrounds all working together there when we observed the students, without the kind of ethnic group formation we see at our parks and in our neighborhood. They try to teach good citizenship through hands on projects in the community, all students go to old age homes to work with the elderly, go on cleaning projects in parks, rather than force the kids to recite the pledge of allegiance and or view the ten comandments. So I don't know. There may be a certain factor of street smarts that you won't get at the public schools. There are certainly cultural elements (the music, the lingo, the clothing, etc..) and that is a sacrifice. But all things considered, will my kids be worse off lacking that, I am not sure.
So then we get back to the issue of social justice. We may very well be in the group of people denied access to the kind of education we want our kids to have, although to some degree by choice, since I won't push my parents for the money. Of course, if we can afford it by use of scholarships and the like, are we then failing to be just by taking advantage of opportunities available to all? That I am not so sure of. I feel a little uneasy taking a scholarship away from someone who might not be able to beg the money from her parents. But I think I should free at some point to refuse help from one source while asking from another.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger jeff said...


Regarding Kant, I suppose I'm still not getting some of this, because I'm not understanding what the difference between doing something 'for the public good' and doing something 'according to the moral law' when the moral law is some version of the categorical imperative. But I'm sure there are lots of shades of meaning here that I could get from actually reading some Kant again.

One worry I have bout the Wolf rationale is that it's too subject to becoming a rationalization. I don't go help out at a shelter, but I do own a multi-national corporation from which wealth eventually trickles down. Sure, I eat out every night while others starve, but I leave my doggie bag on the curb for some person to find and eat. See, I'm doing some good. On the other hand, I don't really see any way out of this with any moral system, so it's probably not really a critique of Wolf.

One strange consequence of the final Kantian point you make (about not choosing imperfect duties for Sophie except by what is in her best interests) is that, when we are faced to make decisions for somebody else, we can NEVER choose the 'greater good' over the good of the individual. That seems ad hoc to me.

Regarding my claim that public school provides a better social education is based on two basic things: Anectdotal evidence based on my experience interacting with people who went to one or the other (or both) and the fact that the assumption that diverse popoulation leads to a good social education seems to me a pretty good one. Even if there is self-segregation in the way you are pointing out (and I think that there is), given that environment coupled with parents who discuss such things with their children (rather than the children simply falling into that pattern unthinkingly) would lead to a better experience than kids 'learning' that people often self-segregate, in the abstract, and then learning what to do about that.

By analogy: How many 'academics' have you known who, when they entered 'the real world' found that they couldn't handle it, that they had real trouble in social situations where people weren't separated by class? It's that sort of myopic experience that I think private school has offered at least some people I have interacted with. Now, perhapst he particular school(s) you're looking at would mitigate that, with the various tools you note. Still, I think that seems a poor substitute for the actual experience.

What studies are you reading, by the way?

As far as the social justice aspect of things goes, I think the decisions get even more difficult given some of the stuff you point out. That is, I think it may benefit both child and society for a 'poor' kid to experience the private school experience, for in essense the same reason I think somebody who isn't poor going to a public school might benefit both the child and society. In which case I'd say, if you choose to send Sophie to private school, take the parents' money over the scholarship. But of course, I think that it's right to take all of that into consideration before you decide to send her to private school, if you see what I mean.

At any rate, I appreciate your continuing to discuss this with me (ad naseum?)...even given that I am well aware that I'm talking about a kid I've never met and you're talking not only about the abstract 'child' but also your very own daughter.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Scholz said...

Kant Primer. Don't look at the consequences of the action, look at the motive. Of course, that doesn't help much.
Normally Kantians oppose making decisions for anyone, but obviously with kids and unconscious people we are forced to do so. Consider the Schiavo case. If she had a living will, Kant would say that over-rides either her parents' beliefs about what would be good for her, or any benefit society might get from keeping her alive (say as a perpetual blood donor), or for that matter killing, since her care costs money. When someone is put into that situation, lets imagine she might come out of it, or in the case of children, that they will grow up. Your duty is to keep open the most possibilities for them in terms of choices.
I don't think Wolf thought of her paper as anything more than a challenge to the Moral Saint-like people proposed as ideals by people like R.M. Hare, and Michael Smith. She does believe we have duties to others. And is not some Ayn Randian egoist.
On the point of imperfect duties and respecting the autonomy of others. Suppose you were at work and found some petty cash that had fallen out of the lockbox that had already been reported missing. You could return it to your bosses (the owners or managers of the business) or decide, well they will just use this to increase their profits, or on more advertising. Instead, You will just give this to a local charity you deem worthwhile, since they don't ever seem to donate to charities. Kant would argue that is an inappropriate disrespect (given the capitalist economy etc..). If it is their money, they should do with it as they please.
Likewise, I may see some kids about to go into a candy store an dbuy candy (bad for them). I would be wrong to sell them 'magic beans' that in reality do nothing, even if I thought this would promote better health in the kids. Why? Because I would be deciding for them, in a way that is inappropriate... even though in this case I would be doing something in their interest (though clearly not their best interest, since they'd be better off saving their money or using it for some other good).
As to the anecdotal evidence. I think that you are probably right when it comes to some schools. We will not be sending our kids to Andover, Exeter or Phillip's academy, no matter how good an education they might receive. Those institutions clearly seem to actively promote a sort of elitism that we reject. I am not sure Montessori does that, especially since it ends by grade 9, before most kids begin to appreciate class differences.
My view is that critical thinking kids, with a broad liberal education, and well meaning parents are likely to produce more socially responsible and less prejudiced kids than those with a shoddy education even if regularly exposed to and victimized by social injustices first hand. Most victims of social injustice do not become crusaders for equality, they become jealous guardians of whatever they have. You might be surprised to hear the sorts or moral principles some my students come up with. They'd make Ayn Rand blush.
I have only the research we did looking at pre-schools and some internet searches (one espousing home schooling as actually better for kids social development than some schools). But I don't have the citations for you.
I think the world would be much better if our public schools were much much better and private schools were unneeded and unwanted. (See my blog about the education society.) Likewise I strongly believe that all health care ought to be free (paid for by taxes). But I am not going to have my kids rely on public free clinics, so long as I can, barely, afford health insurance that gives them somewhat better care. Does that analogy make sense?

At 11:01 AM, Blogger jeff said...


I see the point of the analogy, but of course the difference is that your kids going to a free clinic would in no way help the other kids going there--in fact, it would harm them by taking away services, I suppose.

I think that your kids will end up thinking critically regardless of their formal education, given who their parents are. I doubt that they will end up prejudiced, either, given who their parents are--and I think that they would have more of a chance to practice those skills if they were in a public school. But this is probably just where we agree to disagree, I suppose.

I guess I think about it in this way: I could have very easily learned to be a bigot and a sexist given public schooling--instead, given my mother's influence, I learned to spot that stuff pretty early on as unjust. And I think that if I hadn't had that early training in spotting the stuff, I would have had to have learned it in a sort of 'crash course' once I was finished with school--or perhaps once I went away to college.

But that's just anecdotal. It may vere well be in the interests of both Sophie and society for her to go to private school. We should be sure to ask her when she's, oh, 35.


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