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.

Belmont April 29, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Hi Justin, you must be a public school teacher in the BRSSD since you seem so agitated by what I am saying. Just for the record, the BRSSD has a very low number of children who are identified, I think it was 70 students for the entire K - 8 2010-2011 compared to San Carlos 150 for the entire K -8 2010-2011. BTW, if PBS Nightly news, who covered learning differences just last month, thinks it is a worthy story...than maybe it really is a national problem that has been going on for generations.....Cheers...
Gary Baker April 29, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Ms. Kelley, I must respectfully disagree. While some children indeed have learning disabilities, many of the worst schools either do not establish or maintain a decent learning environment. Sometimes this is a result of parental pressure. Sometimes it is indifference by the teachers. Sometimes it is poor administration. Sometimes it is disruptive kids. Whatever the reason, if a school is failing the students, it should be closed. Period. School choice does not guarantee that every school will be good, but it does give the parents the ability to leave a failing school in search of something better. That is bound to improve the quality of education the same way it has for almost everything else.
Alice Stoddard April 29, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Mary Beth, Justin doesn't have kids...he has no idea what you have been through. Ignore him.
B April 29, 2012 at 01:55 AM
When the share holders of the federal reserve, US presidents, etc and so on send their children to government run schools, then maybe there is a point. But the government schools were not created for them. They were created for us, for us to learn how to obey and become fungible human resources for their use. Shocking but true. The Prussian school model was adopted and pushed by those with political and economic power in the USA all those years ago wiping out the very local schools the people had control of for a reason. A reason that benefits them, not us. It is designed to create resources for corporations, government, and military. Private schools often have to meet government requirements and may end up being much the same in the experience. If there are ever vouchers for private schools, government will then take full control. Moral Obligation? Just another term to tell us how we are supposed to be "just another brick in the wall".
Jim McClarin April 29, 2012 at 02:10 AM
We have a moral obligation NOT to fund public schools because they offer inferior education and are full of experimental PC bull bleep and group-think. Why, if I decide to have a child, should my neighbor be forced to help pay the costs?
ART THOMAS April 29, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Never! Compulsory education is a contradiction. It's immoral and arrogant : We allow a group of people to decide what education should be for all children and to force us to subject our children to their system; we allow them to extort the fruits of our labor to finance their own lives and create this system. Any of us who choose a path of education not approved by these bureaucrats, who do not follow their rules and jump through all their hoops are subject to jail time and having our children kidnapped by the state. If we were to treat each other like free human beings there would be no compulsory education and therefore no political control of this most important aspect of our's and our children's lives. Instead, we'd be free to educate our children according to our own wishes and theirs; to send them to schools of our own choosing; to create schools according to our own vision of education; to persuade other parents, by voluntary means to adopt our methods of teaching. And of course to keep the billions of dollars the state steals from us every year and spend it as we see fit: on this school and not that; on these books and not those. Real democracy in a free society is voting with our pocket books, making our own choices, taking responsibility for our lives and leaving others alone to do the same. Education base on consensual relations is ethical and in harmony with the lives of free people. Compulsory education is a crime masquerading as law.
R.H. Norman April 29, 2012 at 05:00 AM
A parent's moral obligation is to avoid government schooling for her children at all costs. What right does "the community" have to sentence my child to 13-years of hard-time in barbed-wired fenced penal institutions, where they will be forced to: - Recite cultish mantras and swear daily allegiance to government idols - Endure endless rote memorization drills, while being conditioned to absolute submission to the arbitrary commands of authority ("sit down!" "stand up!" "no talking!" "to the wall -- go!") - Stunted social development through arbitrary confinement to the student's own age group, and isolation from older peers and adults - Psychiatric abuse and stigmatization - Constant humiliation and bullying by students, teachers and administration - Strictly regimented schedules, segmented into arbitrary periods and enforced by Pavlovian ringing bells - Prohibition of ideas and interests not enumerated in committee-concocted "curricula" - Prevention of acquiring skills with actual market value Frankly, lobotomies are more efficient and humane than continued funding of the Dept. of Education.
libertarian jerry April 29, 2012 at 05:19 AM
There should be a Constitutional Amendment on the Federal level,similar to the 1st Amendment that disallows the establishment of a State Religion, to also disallow the creation of any State education. In other words, a complete separation of education from the State. That within 3 years of the passing of this Amendment, all public schools,including State Universities, must be either sold off or closed and open competition mandated for education.
ART THOMAS April 29, 2012 at 05:27 AM
Jim McClarin asks why should his neighbor be forced to help pay the costs of Jim's child's education. The simple answer is it's THE LAW. And you know what happens to you if you break the law, especially the tax laws. Through the law politicians can get away criminal acts that would land a private citizen in jail. Taxes are legal, theft is illegal, even though both acts require the state and thief to initiate the threat of violence against the taxpayer or victim. To maintain their control over the people the state must convince the vast majority of us that taxation is just and theft is not, so that even if you realize that your consent is not required to be taxed or stolen from, you understand from the first grade on up that obedience to the state is a virtue and that paying taxes is fulfilling your obligation to the alleged "social contract" that we make with each other, which doesn't resemble anything like a real contract or agreement between real people. So one of the unstated but fundamental purposes of compulsory education in government schools is to indoctrinate innocent children to accept the existence of the state and its authority over them without question. The tax laws become the means of punishing the "criminal" who violates the "social contract". When in reality the tax laws merely masquerade the criminal act of theft on the part of state employees.
Antonio Catpo April 29, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Libertarian Jerry your proposals are hilarious ... no wonder Ron Paul got 0.3% of the votes
Justin April 29, 2012 at 06:28 AM
I agree with Alice. Just ignore me.
pp0rker April 29, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Parents have the moral obligation NOT to send their children to state schools or support them through their taxes. Parents have a moral obligation to provide the best education for their children which can only be through a free-market in education or to home school. State schools are by definition immoral institutions because their very existence is based on violence (monopolistic and compulsory) and theft (taxation). State schools do not educate; they indoctrinate.
Kathy April 29, 2012 at 03:34 PM
We have 3 children in a San Mateo public school , one in 5 th grade who has Dyslexia and Auditory processing issues. Before choosing a public school we looked at private schools for our Dyslexic child, only then to find out classes had between 30 and 35 students, and no services for learning disabilities. So on top of tuition , we would have to pay for tutoring. There is a Dyslexic school , Charles Armstrong, but I don't know many people who can afford 31,000 a year to attend. It has now been 5 years with our public school, and my son has thrived! The attention he gets from his teachers, and RSP is amazing. He has never felt "dumb" , because of all the attention our PUBLiC school has given him, as well as his parents and friends, he is a handsome and confident 11 year old who loves learning.
Greg Sobran April 29, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Bravo! Public schools have become a dehumanizing waste of money and time.
Chris Fogel April 29, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Mr. Thomas, Who would you have enforce your 'real contracts between real people?' Contracts require both a legal framework and an enforcement mechanism to exist. In other words, contracts can't exist without government. And, of course, government requires funds to operate and... I hope you see where I'm going with this.
Gary Baker April 29, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Kathy brings up just one of the strengths of a voucher/choice type system: Good public schools would thrive because good schools would thrive. Conversely, bad schools, public or private, would close. Tenure could not be used to protect incompetents. A teacher would have to depend on his ability.
Bill Baker April 29, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I agree.
Bill Baker April 29, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Spatton, you don't think that the "government" cares about public education? In the 2012-2013 proposed California State Budget, K-12 Education consumes $39,215,000,000 or 28.6% of the California State Budget. In California, K-12 education receives more taxpayer dollars than Higher Education (7.1%); Business, Transportation & Housing (8.2%); Labor and Workforce Development (.6%); Corrections and Rehabilitation (7.8%); State and Consumer Services (1%); Natural Resources (3.4%) combined! California's government spends only 1% of the California State Budget on Environmental Protection: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/pdf/BudgetSummary/SummaryCharts.pdf I think we can lay to rest the myths that K-12 education is underfunded in California or the government does not care about K-12 education.
George Muteff April 29, 2012 at 07:33 PM
1) "Do parents have a moral obligation to send their kids to the local public school?" A resounding NO. Parents have an obligation to educate their children to the best of their ability, by whatever means available and possible. 2) "Is going to a private school instead of the local public school a disservice to the community?" A resounding NO. As CA taxpayers, parents already contribute to the public school system in CA, so all taxpayers pay into the public school system regardless of where they educate their children. 3) "Is being a part of the public system really going to fix it?" A resounding NO. The public school system in CA is broken and has been broken for decades. CA public schools didn't drop from the best in the country to the worst overnight. It has been a very long decline, now spiraling into the abyss at the cost of all, present and future. Like most other government controlled programs in CA, the CA public school system needs a complete overhaul, a complete restructure. In the meantime, parents have to do the best they can with what they have access to, while continuing to fund one of the worst public school systems in the US. I have not read the other comments. I am quite sure there are some very good points held within those comments, but I did not want those comments to sway mine. This is a topic that I have more than a casual interest in and as one can see, some strong opinions on as well.
Bilejones April 29, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Anybody who refers to Government Schools as Public Schools is brainwashed beyond belief and shouldn't be allowed near children.
Kali April 30, 2012 at 10:55 AM
I agree with Jim.. I am so tired of paying Bonds, Parcel Taxes etc for these schools. Never had a kid in San Carlos, never intend to. So many parents ( esp non-english speaking ( a joke in itself ) send their kids to school to get free meals, and as a babysitter. The system is broken, and San Carlos now wants 52 million more in bonds to build new schools. Let the parents pay for it. Or, if any one in S.C. had a kid that went to the schools, they should be pay too. they used the system. Also, people over 65 should pay parcel taxes.
Eugene April 30, 2012 at 03:35 PM
really because private school kids act so much better?
Paul B. April 30, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Unless and until vouchers for your TAX$$ going to Public Schools is an outright theft to Parents with school age children! Fix the the Schools by 1st eliminate one or the other we can NOT afford both TENURE and Teacher's Unions one has got to GO!
sheri April 30, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I do not have a moral obligation to send my children to public school (which I did). I DO have a moral obligation to insure that my children receive a quality education (which they did, thank you BRWSSD and SUHSD). I choose to support public schools with my tax dollars and by volunteering because education is important to society as a whole.
Kali April 30, 2012 at 10:04 PM
I agree, and I have no children.
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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