Do Parents Have a Moral Obligation to Send Their Kids to Public Schools?

How much should parents invest in public schools to make them better? Are private schools the better alternative for parents?


(Editor's Note: This piece, soliciting reader opinion, posted Wednesday on the Half Moon Bay Patch site. By Friday afternoon, over 200 readers had voiced their opinions in a poll attached to the article, and 16 readers made comments.

Clearly, the issue hits a nerve with many parents and non-parents.

We wanted to get a wider range of opinion from all our Patch sites in San Mateo County. After reading the article, please let us know what you think, either in comments or by voting in our poll that follows the article.)


It’s the end of April, when many soon-to-be Kindergarten parents have already made their school choice for this fall.

For many, deciding between public and private school for their child was a big part of the grueling process, and a political one, too. A recent article on www.babble.com by Rhiana Maidenberg has left some parents still wondering about their school choice, bringing up questions like:

• Is it a moral obligation as a parent to send your kids to public school?

• Is being a part of the public system really going to fix it?

• Will I sacrifice my child’s education to be the one to make things better at the local public school?

• Will the private school be socially and economically diverse enough to help my child grow to be a well-rounded world citizen?

In the article, Maidenberg explains why she’s sending her kids to public school despite the public system’s flaws such as budget cuts, large class sizes, minimal resources to support the influx of English Language Learners, and the standardized testing of the No Child Left Behind mandates, which are intended to narrow the achievement gap, but has subjected children to an endless regimen of test-preparation drills instead.

Maidenberg says she’s making the choice “to be a part of the greater system, hoping to see a trend of more families with the time and means to invest in public schools actually doing so — because if we don’t take the time to make quality public education a possibility for all children, who will?”

The moral obligation idea is altruistic and lovely in its concept of personal sacrifice for the collective common good — that we have a moral obligation to educate all children — not just our own. But is supporting a public institution, which for some parents has failed to impress them, at the cost of their children's education beyond the call of duty?

What are your feelings?

We know parents want a quality education for children, and many private and public school parents would both agree that there is a great and pressing need to invest in the public school system.

But why do some parents opt out and choose a private school? Are those parents “immoral” or un-politically correct for not sending their children to the local public school? Is going to a private school instead of the local public school a disservice to the community? Do parents have a moral obligation to send their kids to the local public school?

Please take the poll below and tell us your thoughts in the comments section.

Kali April 30, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Excellent post.
Kali April 30, 2012 at 10:34 PM
The public school system in California has basically turned into a high-priced babysitting service where their parents send them to get free meals, free medical, free mental health screenings ( yes, I have seen the pay of some of these school psychiatrists, really?? ) and so much more. A great % can barely speak english, so how can they get an education. I agree with other posters that we should shut down the system and start again. Like a bankruptsy ( pensions ). Out with old ways, and start fresh. Then maybe some of us who have no kids can keep our hard earned money instead of paying a good portion of our income to schools through state, local and parcel taxes. Let the parents pay. I can't afford to educate? your kid. Also, no more ESL. If your child cannot speak english when they get into school, they can learn on their own dime, not mine. I think R.H Norman above also had a good take on the issue.
Kali April 30, 2012 at 10:54 PM
First, love your ID. Second, your post is right on.
ART THOMAS May 01, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Mr. Fogel, Thanks for responding. To answer your immediate question, private mediation is a flourishing business. Many disputants choose mediation over government courts for many reasons. Mediators earn their living from willing customers who if they are not satisfied take their business elsewhere. The relationship between us and our governments is not consensual because our consent is not required for them to tax us confiscate our property, and impose their rules and regulations on us. Why is it right for politicians to treat us this way when it is wrong for us to treat each other this way? Do we need these monopolistic governments to provide the services of justice, police, and defense, or is there alternate way that is ethical, would provide incentives for more ethical behavior and better practical results? If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend a close reading of a book by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, " Democracy, The God That Failed", subtitled "The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order". He explains why monarchy and democracy have failed to protect liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, i.e. social order, and how the natural order would succeed. Very Unorthodox interpretations and conclusions. But very persuasive.
Chris Fogel May 01, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Mr. Thomas, Private mediation doesn't exist in a vacuum -- it exists within an already-present legal framework. That is, private mediation has the force of law because of a stipulation, contract or legislation... ultimately back-stopped by the courts and other governmental enforcement mechanisms (ie, the police, sheriff, marshalls). Let's get at this another way: let's say you and I sign a contract and I decide not to honor it. How do you propose to force me to obey the terms of the contract or punish me for not doing so without the assistance of government? With no courts, no police, no mediators, etc. I just don't see how it works -- I could just tell you to pound sand and walk away. I'm not saying this is you, Mr. Thomas as I don't know you and can't charactize you, but I've found that people with anti-tax and anti-government views tend to also hold strong views about individual and property rights. The trouble is that enforcement of those rights requires government and when a band of gun-toting malcontents camp out on their lawn, it's the state that citizens turn to for assistance. Without a government that provides a framework of laws and enforcement we're faced with a society where anything goes, might makes right, and those with the most money and the loudest guns win. It's an interesting discussion. Thanks for book suggestions and for your views about ethics and governing.


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