February 18th, 2014

bilbo

Arguing Against the Defense of the Christian Private School Bubble

Over at ChristianityToday‘s Hermeneutics blog, Andrea Palpant Dilley wrote an interesting defense of her decision to put her kid in a private school. Her main point, and I think it’s usually a good one these days, is that we need to tone down the vitriol and actually see the complexity, the nuance in peoples’ situations.

To that end, Mrs. Dilley gives us some details about her own situation. She says she’s a good person, and as far as I can tell she actually is one. She’s involved in her community, cares about racial justice and equality and all the things those public school advocates apparently value so much. (In her words, “To public school advocates, I’m one of those people destroying the educational infrastructure of America, complicit in wrecking the hard-earned egalitarianism of a public classroom where kids of all creeds and colors can meet together in unity to learn about everything from planets to caterpillars.“) And yes, there’s a touch of seeing herself as put upon, maybe even a bit victimized, but that’s at least understandable. I think sometimes we underestimate a bit how hard it is to come from a position of privilege and want to work for a more just world where you’re not so privileged, but at the same time are fighting a very natural drive to do what’s best for the people you’re closest to. Your family, your kid, even your neighbors. I’m not saying this tension makes everything we do in the name of it okay; but I do see how you can look at people proclaiming form on high that all private-schoolers are selfish, elitist, etc. and think: if she just walked a day in my shoes, she’d see it just wasn’t so simple.

So I’m sympathetic to Mrs. Dilley’s position. I’ve been there, not with education but with other things, and like I said, I do agree with her central point that we need a more nuanced, merciful way of approaching public policy questions like to private school or not to private school. I’m also a proud beneficiary of private parochial school (grades 7-8 + the tail end of grade 6), and while I went to public universities most of my social life was anchored in the Campus Ministries building. So I get the value of Christian bubbles, the real value of them and also the pull of them psychologically. That’s what makes my reaction to Mrs. Dilley so frustrating. I agree with her conclusion, but I found the road she took to get there, pretty thoroughly muddled.

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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.