by Caitlin Flanagan published in The Atlantic
Read original on The Atlantic's website
There are over 1,600 independent schools across th...Show description
Posted 708 days ago
This was an absolutely fantastic piece of writing. Having gone to a private high-school on financial aid, I resonated with almost everything that Flanagan wrote in this article. She says that the "ruling class...salve their consciences with generous financial aid" so that the nonwealthy have "an opportunity to slip through the gloden doors and have their life change forever." The simple fact is that it does change you life, as it did mine. And this is just the problem: why do we allow something like this, so incomprehensible for young adolescents and determined by the decisions of their parents, to determine the possibilities that they may experience in life?
Private schools, both high schools and colleges, have come to dominate the public sphere through the belief in their prestige (whether illusory or true). It's a viscious cycle of access that the vast majority of the population doesn't take part in:
Less than 2 percent of the nation’s students attend so-called independent schools. But 24 percent of Yale’s class of 2024 attended an independent school. At Princeton, that figure is 25 percent. At Brown and Dartmouth, it is higher still: 29 percent.
On the surface, this isn't actually that crazy of a fact. It seems completely normal that the majority of students at private colleges would have attended private schools. But the implication to society at large is this belief that these are the institutions that everybody is vying for. We need to change that, and make public schools, who can make the admissions process transparent and just, be the places that we want to attend.
This is a system that screws the poor, hollows out the middle class, and turns rich kids into exhausted, anxious, and maximally stressed-out adolescents who believe their future depends on getting into one of a very small group of colleges that routinely reject upwards of 90 percent of their applicants.
I am in favor of their being private schools for the sake of religious freedom, private educational choices, etc., but these institutions should not allow the vast amount of wealth (through non-taxable donations and deducations) that pours into them. Their status as "non-profit" is absolutely absurd and they should have limits, as Flanagan says, on the "amount of money that individual parents can give." And those donations should be taxable to fund the public education from which their own wealth feeds off of.
The problem in the United States is that wealthy conservatives have managed to invent a rhetoric that resonates with large swaths of working class people who still believe in the American dream. They say that taxes and regulation infringe on their liberty, and that their wealth was achieved through their own grit, as if they don't take advantage of the public as employees and consumers. Any restriction on their desires is an infrigement on their liberty, which is their right as an American. Working class and middle class Americans resonate with this belief and therefore tend to not challenge it.
But I believe this is a trick of rhetoric and using American exceptionalism to bypass real harm done to society. Their liberty is being achieved at the direct removal of opportunity from other individuals. They want to make their resources private to perpetuate their wealth with the direct goal of excluding others. The harm done to others is a direct result of what they are falsly saying are their rights and freedom. The amassing of wealth in private schools actually reduces the freedom of opportunity for the vast amount of public by exlucding them from better resources. Why is this fair or just?
Conservative America posits that anybody could achieve this wealth, and therefore restricting the freedom of the wealthy is equivalent to restricting the freedom of everybody. This is absurd as it's very clear that wealth is not achievable for the vast amount of the American public. We must change this distorted view of freedom from what it has come to be see as to providing equal opportunity for everybody to have a chance at the American dream. Accumulating wealth, power, and knowledge into private institutions not accessible to the public (obvious through the clear statistics that Flanagan provides) is contrary to any hope at true liberty. These institutions should not be torn down, but taxed and regulated appropriately so that opportunity is given to all those who want it.