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Out Take: Hypocritical parents

Last year, when I was biting my nails waiting to hear whether my daughter Josie had gotten into the public kindergarten I coveted, I nearly punched a friend in the eye. Her son was safely ensconced in a private school that he'd been admitted to when he was two. Hearing me hyperventilate with anxiety, she sighed, "Oh, everyone loves that school. I wish we could consider it for Phineas!" The implication: Public education's good enough for your kid, but not for my precious, brilliant flower. Do I detect the clamor of pseudo-angst-ridden parents, just wanting what's best for their kids? I wish they'd shut up, with their fake liberal breast-beating guilt and hothouse superiority. Did they even visit a single public school? Nope. Too many New York City parents, like my friend, operate on the assumption that their children will invariably get a better education in a private school. Not all are as nakedly mockable as the moms who troll UrbanBaby's message boards, pontificating about which privates are truly "TT" (top-tier), and painting public schools as an unholy cross between Mad Max and The Blackboard Jungle—a burned-out postapocalyptic landscape filled with smoking piles of ancient textbooks, knife fights in the cafeteria, pregnant fifth-graders and typhus-ridden gym equipment. I swore off UrbanBaby entirely after one poster, explaining why even a non-TT private school was better than going public, trumpeted, "You're paying for access!" You scare me, lady. Tarring all public schools with the same brush is like saying "Shoes suck!" It's so reductive as to be laughable. I mean, you've got your loafers, your driving mocs, your spike heels, your kitten heels, your do-me pumps, your gym shoes. And when it comes to public schools, you've got your progressives with small classes, your gifted-and-talented programs, your neighborhood schools with committed teachers and true appreciation for diversity. Don't parents owe it to themselves and their kids to take a few tours, talk to parents with kids in the system and see what else is out there? Note how I've waited until the fourth paragraph to mention the two giant, well-designed studies (one of 8,000 public and private schools, the other of 13,000) that found that fourth-graders in public schools did significantly better in math and just as well in reading as fourth-graders in private schools. Of course, I can hear the private-school folks harrumphing (imagine this spoken in Thurston J. Howell's voice): "Well, not all private schools are created equal." True. Neither are all public schools. Plus, the studies' findings were corrected for income—does that justify a desire to surround children with wealthy white people? If so, then knock yourself out. But given that we happen to live in a diverse city (and an increasingly global village), perhaps all those little Phineases (Phineai?) would have an even greater advantage if their parents took them out of the hothouse. Marjorie Ingall is a mom of two and contributing columnist. Please let us know your thoughts about Marjorie's column below.

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