Not Selling Out, Buying In

In a recent Atlantic article, a public school teacher describes why he’s a private school parent. His tagline is, “I’m not selling out; I’m buying in.” In the end, he still really believes in public schooling saying, “I’ll give my taxes, my lifelong employment, and just about anything else they need.” He even describes how talented and often better equipped public school teachers are, but his issue is with a learning environment where it’s really difficult to get students to “buy in” to learning. When describing the difference between the school he chose for his daughter and his public school classroom experiences, he states:

In general, the teens at the public school don’t appear to have bought into an educational environment like that at SLOCA—and for good reason: There's nothing to buy. It’s difficult for them to show personal choice in their schooling because they’re obligated to be there regardless of whether they want to.

Godsey describes this lack of ability to buy in as the catalyst for the “cool kid” learning environment. He argues that when students are not obligated to invest time, energy, etc., they are allowed to play it cool, creating an environment where it is “uncool” to want to invest and be engaged.

Seeing his daughter’s love for learning, he wants a different learning environment for her than what he believes a public school can give. He’s not spending his own money to give his daughter a leg-up or unfair advantage. Instead, he is making a choice based on where he believes she will thrive and not be the target of bullying.

His perspective is a thoughtful look into the individual heart of a parent weighing the options in today’s education system. He acknowledges the pros and cons of both public and private schooling, recognizing in both cases no public or private school is exactly alike or perfect. However, there is an interesting argument to be made based on what he has to say about buy in.

The truth is if we pay taxes, we are technically “buying into” the education system, but we have no real choices in our children’s education. Unless a family is able to fork over money beyond taxes for tuition or pay the high price for a neighborhood with the best school, we are obligated to send children to school and pay up regardless of whether we would have chosen the particular assigned school or not. So similar to the lack of personal choice in the classroom, we are often resigned to the environment we feel like we’re stuck with.

So, what if there was a way for every family to have a chip in the game, to really “buy in” to education? Ultimately, at its core, this is the idea behind school choice. Allow families to invest in their preference in curriculum, emphasis, values rather than being sorted by zip code. Give families room to consider what the best learning environment is for their child, and then buy into that specific culture, be it public or private. Sure, families who can afford to, can do that now, but we know that this practice of leaving the poor behind in bad schools not only leads to sociological rifts, but it also has major population sorting implications that often concentrate  poverty in certain neighborhoods.

And what would this mean for teachers like Godsey? Sure, there would still be behavioral issues in classrooms, but maybe there would be more balance in the classroom attitudes, allowing both public and private school teachers to spend more time sharing their knowledge and less time on classroom management.

In the end, Godsey states,

My girl deserves to be in a place where she won’t face diatribes from judgmental students who call her names just because she chooses to buy into her own educational aspirations. She should have the opportunity to read Whitman with sober, like-minded friends knowing that they, too, are getting what they bought in for.

But is it too much to hope for a culture of education where every student has bought in to their education? Take a minute to read Michael Godsey’s full story, and decide for yourself. Is he selling out or buying in?