Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Carter or Clinton?

I've started letting friends from the neighborhood know that we're moving. It's tough.

We'll be leaving behind kids that grew up with my kids. The big extended family of the playground. Some families we'll probably never see again, though I'm sure that there will be many trips across the GW bridge to visit a few of the closest families.

The hardest part is telling the parents who are going to send their kids to the local public school. There will be one less middle class kid in the school. I feel like I'm letting down the cause.

I do very much believe in pubic schools and was very committed to the idea of working with the other parents to improve the schools for everyone. I believe in schools that have a diversity of children. I believe that high parental involvement can make average schools better. Without us, the remaining families will have one less advocate in their corner.

But is it right to compromise your kid's future for your politics? Is it better to be Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton?

Both Carter and Clinton were very vocal supporters of public education and close allies of the teachers unions. Both opposed school vouchers. Carter sent Amy to an average DC public school; his politics aligned with his life. Clinton sent Chelsea to a private school. Public schools were good enough for others, but not for his kid. He didn't want to sacrifice her education for his politics. Carter probably did the wrong thing for Amy, but was consistent. Clinton did the right thing for Chelsea, but was a hypocrite.

We're moving to a town with excellent schools. We're exercising a choice by moving; not everyone can afford to make that choice. Other friends are sending their kids to fancy private schools; only a small number of people can make that choice. The middle class and the rich have a choice in schools.

It is perfectly understandable that Clinton wanted to do the right thing for Chelsea. One should always put your kids above abstract political principles. Having kids really forces you to be accountable to your politics. A childless person might say absolutely that others ought to make the best of bad schools in the name of diversity, but when it's your little kid's future at stake, these decisions take on new significance.

If you exercise a choice, and move to the suburbs or go to Dalton, then you have to help others have a similar choice. To avoid being a hypocrite, you have to adjust your politics to reflect your life. You can't send your kid to Dalton and oppose school vouchers for the poor. You have to support school choice for everyone.

UPDATE: Russell Arben Fox has been wrestling with the issue of principles and his child's education. Comments by Jay and Erika.

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