A few months after the publication of an article I wrote for The Atlantic exploring what the education system would look like under an all private or all public school scenario, I was contacted by the editor of a publication called Ensia. Would I consider applying the same hypothetical scenario to fuel economy standards? I thought it was a great idea. The result was this article that discusses the potential impacts from proceeding with tough standards or abandoning standards altogether. In 2012, the Obama administration put in place fuel economy standards — phased in over time — that would roughly double the fuel economy of cars by 2025. President Trump has begun the process of rolling back the standards even though some automakers don’t support that. Statements from Honda and Ford indicate those companies are not asking for a rollback, while General Motors has said it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supports an all-electric future. With the contentious fuel economy debate currently unfolding, it was an opportune time to engage in this thought experiment. I had the chance to interview those of all different types of ideologies and backgrounds who provided their varying perspectives. I believe this approach of allowing experts to discuss these types of issues in a more academic context, outside the political fray, leads to important discourse. It’s anybody’s guess as to what ultimately will happen with the standards, which have already significantly improved the fuel efficiency of cars. But the more information that’s available to the public on the potential implications, hopefully the better informed the discussions will be.
When the Atlantic’s education editor asked me to pursue an article focused on private vs. public education systems, I didn’t hesitate. The assignment was intriguing. The Atlantic was launching a series called, “Moonshots,” where editors posted hypothetical questions that journalists would investigate. My article must answer the questions: What if all students were required to attend public school? And the contrary: What if all students were required to attend private school? The idea was to facilitate a conversation that would lead to insights on what makes for the best educational experience. I spent much of August researching the issue, speaking with leading educational experts, those working for both liberal and conservative think tanks, teachers, parents and students. The result was this article.
As the child of a public school teacher — my mother taught high school English in the Detroit Public Schools for 35 years — and as the sister of a middle school language arts public school teacher, I admit that I had some preconceived assumptions about private schools: that they catered to elite, affluent, mostly white students. But in the course of speaking to those on every part of the education spectrum, I learned that private schools are often more diverse than their surrounding public schools. Wealthy school districts are usually equated with pricey real estate that only the affluent can afford. This means that these districts are often have far less socioeconomic diversity than in private schools, where the school has the ability to ensure a diverse population of students. That’s not to say that private schools are perfect. Administrators can be far more selective and potentially discriminatory; they may not take in those with disabilities or other special needs. Large public schools turn away no one. And they’re often are able to offer a vastly more comprehensive curriculum, as well as a plethora of extracurricular activities.
What I took away from this fascinating exploration of our education institutions is that, in pitting private schools and charter “schools of choice” against public schools, we haven’t taken the time to focus on what each has to offer to students. Each system has its drawbacks. But if we would consider more the strengths of each type of learning environment, we could learn a lot about how to improve today’s systems — ultimately creating a far stronger educational system for our students.
I wanted to stand up and shout a resounding “amen!” after reading Tim Kreider’s article in The New York Times that exposed the way publications try to get experienced writers to offer their services for free. This was also exposed by Nate Thayer, who blogged about being approached by The Atlantic to write an article without being compensated even one penny. In an e-mail, Thayer told me his post received thousands of responses. It clearly struck a chord. This is a huge pet peeve of mine as well. Like Kreider, I’ve been approached numerous times by publications – including many upstarts – to write a blog for free. Like him, it astounds me that journalism is one field where editors feel no qualms about exploiting labor. There’s no question that so many publications are taking full advantage of the fact that there’s a plethora of inexperienced writers out there, many of whom are eager to see their name in print. And the promise of “exposure” is a great lure. As Kreider does, I also use the offers as an opportunity to enlighten editors on how I earn a respectable living as a freelance journalist and can’t possibly afford to work for free. The one exception is blogging for The Huffington Post, which I do feel reaches a large audience. Still, I oppose in principle their model, which does not compensate bloggers, so I don’t contribute often to the site. I also go a step further. When an editor asks me to research an in-depth article and offers a meager amount of money, I don’t hesitate to turn them down. I let them what a fair rate is for such an article, written by an experienced writer, I know that my responses often fall on deaf ears, as there are plenty of other writers out there happy for the work. I was intrigued by a recent discussion of freelancing on the Diane Rehm Show, which discussed a freelancers union. It will take some formal measure like this to get freelancers to unite and challenge the slave labor trend.