Should Obama's kids go to public school?

Barack and Michelle Obama send their children to the University of Chicago’s highly regarded Lab School. Why not public school, asks “PTA mom” Sandra Tsing Loh on the New York Times blog.

Let us just say that if Mr. and Mrs. Obama — a dynamic, Harvard-educated couple — had chosen public over private school, they could have lifted up not just their one local public school, but a family of schools. First, given the social pressure (or the social persuasion of wanting to belong to the cool club), more educated, affluent families would tip back into the public school fold. And second, the presence of educated type-A parents with too much time on their hands ensures that schools are held, daily, to high standards. . . .

Volokh Conspiracy’s Jim Lindgren, who sent his daughter to the Lab School, defends the Obamas’ choice.

Personally, I compliment the Obamas for not using their children as political pawns to get elected or to reform society two children at a time. In my opinion, that makes the Obamas good parents.

The Obamas live in Hyde Park, a middle-class enclave surrounded by a low-income black neighborhood. The local schools are not very good, though Chicago has some excellent magnet schools. In fact, Michelle Obama is a product of the city’s magnet schools.

John McCain and Joe Biden sent their children to exclusive private schools, leaving Sarah Palin as the only public-school parent in the bunch, Tsing Loh mourns.

She sends her children to the neighborhood (non-magnet) public school in Los Angeles and has worked hard to improve the school for all students. That’s admirable, but not always possible.

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  1. Boy–the NYT closed those comments down quickly! One commenter pointed out that since both parents were working at UofChicago, chances were good that they paid little or no tuition.

    And all the commenters were quick to defend the Obama’s as not playing political football with their kids. But the truth is that the NYT crowd is very quick to play “do as I say, not as I do”.

  2. I guess I would have more sympathy for sending the kids to private school if I was able to do the same with my kids. I spent enough money in taxes last year to put every one of my kids in a nice private school, but can’t afford it on our budget. I live in a nice middle-class neighborhood and the school system is good. It could be better, but my daughter managed to get into the U. of Texas at Austin. The area here is majority minority (hispanic). She might also have got in because of the top 10% rule, which is why we love that rule so much. This is just another reason to not vote Democrat.

  3. If Obama showed such a lack of judgement to send his kids to the Chicago Public School system, particularly on the south side, rather than one of the best known education school run lab schools (run by a university that he and is wife either went to or worked for), he’d lose my vote so fast.

  4. Public school is right for your kids – not theirs.

  5. Should the Obama’s live in public housing to demonstrate their support for public housing? Should they sell their cars and ride the bus to show their support for public transportation? I am very happy to have my tax dollars fund public health clinics, but that doesn’t mean I am a going to stop taking my children to a private pediatrician’s office for medical care. Sandra Tsing Loh is overly optimistic about parent’s ability to create meaningful change within a reasonable time period. Some schools will improve and some won’t, no matter how hard parents try.

  6. Should leftist politicians like Obama, Clinton, Gore, et al. castigate ordinary Americans as racists for sending their kids to parochial or other private schools when they themselves do likewise?

  7. For Obama et. al. to deny other parents a chance to send their kids to a better school (via vouchers) is rank hypocrisy.

  8. Charles R. Williams says:

    It would cost the public NOTHING to give every child in Chicago a chance at a decent education through vouchers. The special interests behind Obama’s campaign oppose it. So Obama must oppose it. Of course the Obamas’ make big bucks pandering to these special interests and playing the political game at the public’s expense. Naturally, they would want their girls in the neighborhood elite school and they have the money to pay for it, (if they really do have to pick up the tab).

    Obama-style liberalism is all about squeezing money from the most productive and innovative sectors of society to fund a lavish lifestyle for the elite guardians of the nanny state and pushing the middle class into a state of blissful dependency on their kind masters.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    The first question is can someone who never attended public schools and whose kids attend private schools really lead to a change in public educaiton. Senator Obama thinks of schools and education as being places will with ambitious capable people who are upper class. He probably has no idea what it is like to attend, teach, or have a child in a class with a disruptive, unintelligent student with no desire to learn. That is why his personal life and his policy positions are so opposite of teach other.

  10. To wonder why people don’t send their kids to public schools makes about as much sense as wondering why people don’t eat that nasty “government cheese” that the USDA used to hand out. The real question is why the Obamas don’t support other parents (who might not have their financial resources) having the same choice. (Just as a side note, some people are lucky enough to be in places where the public schools are quite good, but there’s usually something better if you have the cash to pay for it.)

  11. Charles R. Williams:

    Your second paragraph was a masterpiece, sir.

  12. Should leftist politicians like Obama, Clinton, Gore, et al. castigate ordinary Americans as racists for sending their kids to parochial or other private schools when they themselves do likewise?

    They don’t. You’re an idiot.

    Obama-style liberalism is all about squeezing money from the most productive and innovative sectors of society to fund a lavish lifestyle for the elite guardians of the nanny state and pushing the middle class into a state of blissful dependency on their kind masters.

    No, but Bush-style conservatism is all about squeezing money from the most productive and innovative sectors of society (the working and middle classes) to fund a lavish lifestyle for the McCains and Bushes of the world, and it’s idiots like you who are their enablers.

  13. The democrat’s policy on vouchers reflects their overriding concern with protecting old money and walling out the nouveau riche. Just as with their tax policy of raising taxes, not on the rich most of whom have very little actual income and live off inherited wealth and trust funds, but on the outsiders trying to break in who have a good year and earn a little money or the homeless guy who finds a winning lotto ticket, their policy of preserving exclusivity for private schools is designed to keep the money in the family. Its a shame how badly Obama degrades himself to win favor from the likes of the Senator from MBNA.

  14. Mike, why would you bring up Bush and McCain in responding to Charles R. Williams? Just because he recognizes Obama’s hypocrisy doesn’t mean that he doesn’t also see the hypocrisy of the Bush/McCain crowd. I don’t know how he feels about Bush or McCain, but your comment makes it clear that you see the situation as a dichotomy between the hypocrites on the modern Left and the hypocrites on the Neo-conservative Right. Charles’ statement about Obama and the nanny state doesn’t say anything about Bush-style conservatism. By making such a broad assumption about the other person’s position (while calling him an idiot), you call into question your own intelligence.

    As for me (and an increasing number of people), it’s a pox on both their houses. Both of the mainstream parties are pandering to selfish and irrational interests (and the people on each side honestly believe that they’re on the side of the angels). I understand the impulse to continue to believe the lies that both parties feed to you, but I hope you’ll eventually see that there are TWO groups who are BOTH enabling the current situation. And you seem to be part of one of them.

  15. Ah, Mike, your eloquence is hard to match!

  16. If elected, we will see if he can make the necessary changes to improve our public schools, and make them appealing enough to send his own children.

    Hall Monitor

  17. Is Obama really a hypocrite?

    He doesn’t seem to believe in vouchers. But he’s not asking any government agency to reimburse him for his children’s education.

    He believes that public education in America requires serious fixing, and his choice definitely reflects that belief.

    He hasn’t forgone his ability to provide a better education for his children, but I don’t recall him suggesting that people who can afford a better/different education should attend public schools anyway.

    Sure you may disagree with Obama’s policy choice that everyone has to fund public education regardless of whether one makes use of it, but that doesn’t seem to be grounds for calling him a hypocrite.

    Does it mean that he’s not leading every educational effort in America, I’d say yes! But I’d still like to think that we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, so I find nothing wrong with that.

  18. Bill Leonard says:

    I daresay virtually every member of Congress sends or has sent his or her children to private schools — and why not? Virtually every member of Congress is wealthy, or at least far better off than most of us in middle-class America. They’ve done their best to stay that way by voting themselves ultra-generous pensions, health plans and perks.

    If he’s elected, I would be very, very surprised if Obama did anything contrary to the wishes of the teacher’s unions. So don’t expect any sympathy for vouchers.

    As to the matter of the children of a sitting president attending public schools, that will never be in the cards in this day and age. The media barrage, security concerns and similar issues preclude it.


  19. I think Obama would be a fool to put his girls in Public School.

    I have a lot of problems with him, but this ain’t one of ’em.

  20. Mike –

    Parents who move to the suburbs or pull their children out of poor schools and send them to private schools certainly are accused of racism. It’s generally implied with words like “white flight” and with arguments that suburban parents don’t want school choice that would allow inner city kids to go to their suburban schools.

    Anti-busing, lop-sided funding, NCLB, etc have all been used to paint white parents as racist. They’re not acting any more racist than Obama or any other politician who wants the best education possible for their children.

  21. Sen. Obama in the past has spoken in favor of vouchers, but he changed his tune about the same time as he won the Democratic nomination (guess it was too politically unpopular with the NEA crowd).

    I really don’t get this idea that affluent parents should send their kids to mediocre government-run schools as a type of “noblesse oblige”.

  22. good job Mike – you present a fine example of the nuance, tolerance and character that Mr. Obama wishes to present as the central guiding force of his campaign.

  23. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Analogous arguments:

    Since McCain/Palin advocate the right to bear arms, they should carry guns themselves, instead of using the bodyguards most Americans cannot afford.

    If one of Obama’s (or Palin’s) children get seriously sick, they should take said child to an inner city ER and wait in line like everyone else.

    Seems silly to me.

    How about this: I am rich. I will take advantage of being rich. I can’t make all of you as rich as I am. But I can try to improve your lives.

    Sounds much better.