The Ivory Castle?

Salon publishes a fire-breathing dragon article this week about superintendents who don’t live in their districts or send their kids to public schools; such people, David Sirota writes, are

“…a permanent elite that is removing itself from the rest of the nation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in education — a realm in which this elite physically separates itself from us mere serfs.”

Which is funny. Because it seems that David Sirota, who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, may have attended William Penn Charter School in his youth: one of the oldest, richest, and most exclusive schools in the nation.  So I wonder if the evidence indicates that the phrase “us serfs”, while polite, may not be exactly accurate when it comes to Mr. Sirota’s education.

Nor is it accurate to lambaste public education officials simply because they choose to send their children to good schools that may bypass the public system– as it seems Sirota’s own family may have done. Public officials with children are, after all, parents, like many of us. Would David Sirota dream of writing a Salon column eviscerating low-income parents who move in order to send their kids to public or private schools where they won’t get shot? Would he accuse them of abandoning their communities? I doubt it.  The reverse discrimination implied in this column is both disturbing and fruitless.

A key point, however, is that David Sirota is critizing public officials. And there’s the rub.

Superintendents, mayors, lawmakers, and others who govern schools are not “parents.” They’re not even “rich parents.” They have agreed to become something other than parents: to be held to different standards. One of those is the highest level of publicly verifiable consistency: an unbroken chain between the decisions those officials make for the health of others, and the decisions they make for the health of themselves.

No fair-minded person would ask anyone– even a seven figure superintendent– to send their sons and daughters into a gang-ridden failing public school as a gesture of solidarity. Isn’t the whole point of the education debate to not sacrifice our kids to our political and social prejudices?

But what a fair-minded person can– and should– ask is why the rules public officials make for the schools under their care can be so vastly and inexplicably different from the ones that govern the schools of their children.

They can ask how those officials are balancing the safety and health of their kids with making sure they are working their asses off to give the very same rights– not privileges– to the families they serve.


As is my lot in life, I have emailed Mr. Sirota to get his take. I’ll let you know if I hear from him.

3 thoughts on “The Ivory Castle?

  1. Hey Pal,

    This is a strong bit — and I like where you’ve put the focus of the conversation.

    What should really bother us isn’t that elected officials are finding great schools for their kids.

    Instead, it should be that they are making so many conscious decisions that prevent every kid from attending a great school.

    As a parent, Obama would never settle for the kinds of content regurgitation that his Race to the Top decisions are foisting (forcing?) onto the children in public schools.

    That’s the REAL hypocrisy in this conversation.

    Anyway — hope you’re well!

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