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In Defense Of Chris Christie And Rahm Emanuel

Last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made headlines when he gave this characteristically brusque response to a question from a constituent that challenged his decision to send his children to a Catholic School rather than to public school:

This week, Chicago’s new Mayor, Rahm Emanuel faced the same question over reports that his children would be attending a well-regarding private school in Chicago rather than public school:

Both responses are about what you’d expect for politicians known for being blunt, but it brings up another question — should we care that a politician sends their child(ren) to a private school rather than utilizing the public schools wherever they happen to live?

In The New York Times this week, Matt Bai makes the argument that it’s a perfectly legitimate question, or at least that politicians like Christie and Emanuel shouldn’t get quite so upset:

For any politician to answer this question as if he were Harrison Ford in one of those hostage movies — “This is my family, you monster!”— is kind of ridiculous. Of course it’s a legitimate question for the public to consider.

For politicians who are proposing reforms for public education, and in some cases painful sacrifices, voters have a right to consider whether they are invested in those reforms and sharing in those sacrifices. If you’re going to profess to know what’s best for parents who rely on public schools, it makes perfect sense for us to consider whether you stand among those parents or not.

(…)

For politicians like Mr. Christie and Mr. Emanuel, there’s a reasonable answer when questioned about their family choices. There’s nothing hypocritical about saying some version of: “Look, I’ve said that the public schools are too often failing, and I’m fortunate to have options for my children. My intention is to make sure that all parents get the schools they deserve or the same kind of options that I have.” (Mr. Christie, a Republican, would probably be more open to the last part than Mr. Emanuel, a Democrat, would be.)

But for these guys to respond to the question as if some reporter has just been sifting through their trash or snapping pictures at their kids’ soccer games is just unseemly. When it comes to education, maybe they should leave the outrage to the people who’ve actually earned it — that is, all those parents who can’t afford to get their children out of crumbling schools and can only wait for help.

Bai’s point is perhaps well taken as a stylistically criticism, and surely Christie and Emanuel handled this question differently from the way that Barack Obama has, although in the case of the Obama children there are obvious security issues that make the idea of attending public school possibly impractical and at the very least difficult. Nonetheless, I think Bai is wrong to say that Christie and Emanuel were wrong to react the way that they did. I don’t think it’s an act in either man’s case, this is who they are in public and in private. Moreover, politicians have usually been very protective of their children to begin with and Emanuel in particular was right to react somewhat angrily to a reporters suggestion that his children were now in a public position. Why do voters need to know anything at all about the children of the Mayor of Chicago, or the Governor of New Jersey, or any politician for that matter? I can’t think of one myself.

To his credit, Bai does agree that the fact that a politician chooses to send their children to private school does not mean that they shouldn’t be involved in the debate over the future of public education:

I also don’t think it’s fair to say that a politician who sends his children to private school can’t possibly have standing in the debate over public education. Politicians make all kinds of consequential, and often controversial, decisions about programs they have no personal experience with. And there’s certainly nothing inconsistent about arguing that public schools need to be improved  — as both Mr. Christie and Mr. Emanuel do — and choosing, as a parent, not to send your children to them.

This strikes me as particularly correct in Christie’s case given that he’s made clear that the reason he and his wife choose to send his children to parochial school is because they wanted them to get the religious instruction that they wouldn’t get in public school. Why he should be criticized for that, or what Emanuel should be criticized for wanting to give his children the best education he can afford, is beyond me. Frankly, if I were in their position and the same questions had been asked of me, I probably would’ve reacted the same way.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. superdestroyer says:

    Two points.

    1. Politicians always claim that what they are doing is best for their children. yet, what is always right for their children is sending them to elite college prep private schools that are overwhelmingly white. Yet, when the blue collar families of places like Cleveland Mississippi use the rules to transfer their children from schools that are 80% black to a school that is 40$ black, those blue-collar whites are called every name in the book. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/03/justice-department-mississippi-segregation_n_856970.html If they do not want people asking about their children they cannot call other people racist for making the same decisions.

    2. For Democrats, it is much easier to tolerate teacher incompetence, social engineering, diversity when their own children are not affected by any crazy policy taht the public schools are pushing. Most politicians would support very different policies for public schools if their own children were attending them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  2. michael reynolds says:

    The school Rahm is using is apparently the University of Chicago Lab School. Depending on what grade his kids are in, the tuition is in the 22k to 25k range with thousands more expected in fees and fundraising.

    The racial breakdown is 64% white, 17% Asian, 13% black, 5% Hispanic.

    In order for this to be the straightforwardly racial thing superdestroyer (inevitably) assumes, those numbers would have to be out-of-whack with the numbers of the various populations that can afford to spend 25k a year.

    At a glance it looks probably balanced by race within the eligible income bracket. In other words, it’s a class thing, not a race thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  3. michael reynolds says:

    As for Christie’s school, he didn’t name it, but if it’s a Catholic school the Cathlolic school systems have been notable for being quite integrated and for keeping tuition down so that a lot of black kids can afford it.

    Mendham, where the governor lives, is almost all white as a community. Their public High School is 93% white. So if it were about race he could easily send his kids to Mendham schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  4. This is flat-out class warfare, and really, the only reason I can even fathom vouchers despite disliking everything else about them. “I can’t send MY kid to school, why can he!?” Look, there are ways to send your kids to private schools all the way through. It’s hard, and the child would have to excel, but it’s definitely possible.

    Besides, public school is not the death sentence some people make it out to be. I went to public school my whole life, even went to a state-run VOCATIONAL school for high school, then went straight to the military. I never stepped foot in a college classroom. Meanwhile, all of my employees have degrees.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    MR,

    The Chicago schools are 45% black and only 9% white. I doubt if more than a very few whites in Chicago who can afford to pay for private school send their children to public schools. In DC, the public schools are only 5% white and even the highly rated public schools in Montgomery County are only about1/3 white these days.

    I find it odd that progressive politicains who are very quick to call Republicans racist always seem to send their own children to very white private schools, very white private universities, and very white employers. Maybe people would complain less if the progressives would stop calling middle class whites who want to stay away from third world immigrants and gang-bangers racists, rednecks, and white trash.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer: Of course people who can afford better things buy better things. That’s not exactly news. And in some cases it’s a race thing. But mostly it’s a money thing.

    If I go to a sit-down restaurant instead of McDonalds is that a race thing? Maybe there are no blacks at the restaurant and the clientele is half black at McD’s. I don’t like McD’s and I can afford a nicer restaurant. Is that a race thing? Or is it just you seeing everything in terms of race?

    I buy New Balance sneakers and avoid Nikes. Nikes tend to be more popular with African Americans. Am I being a racist? No, I have wide feet and NB does widths while Nike doesn’t. There are other explanations.

    Race is a huge ongoing problem in this country. There are many, many racists. Based on previous interactions, I think you’re one. But your point doesn’t hold up, not when Christie’s own school district is all-white, and when Emmanuel is paying 25k a kid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Or is it just you seeing everything in terms of race?

    DINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDING!!!!! We have a winner!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. superdestroyer says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The bluest cities in the U.S. NYC, Baltimore, DC, Chicago, Cleveland, St Louis, Milwaukee, Boston, LA, SF all have the same thing in common with their schools. All of those cities vote overwhelmingly Democratic Party and all of the public schools are less than 20% white. A good rule of thumb is that any city where less than 50% of the public schools are white is a blue city. ‘

    Yet, the elected Democratic leaders in everyone of those cities sends their children to private schools. None of those cities seems capable of producing schools that the mayors, city council members, local state delegates, or local Congressmen are willing to send their children too.

    And yet, I have heared every excuse for those leaders to not send their children to those public schools except the one that there are far too many minorities and not enough upper class whites and Asians. yet, we all know that if there was a public school in Chicago that was 70% white adn 20% white and had an average SAT score north of 1300 that Rahm Emanuel would be spending their children there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  9. ponce says:

    I thought Gov. Krispy Kreme(love that name) was in trouble for taking a government helicopter to his kid’s sporting event and then needing a government limo to get him the remaining 50 feet to the stands.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  10. JKB says:

    Well, the difference here is Christie is working to improve the schools.

    Whereas, Emmanuel has as Chief of Staff worked to deny poor children in DC a way to escape the failing schools by canceling the DC school-choice voucher system. Plus, he has worked to keep the NEA and teachers’ unions in place which stalls, subverts and opposes any efforts to improve the schools. So his hypocrisy, which the Left claims to hate, is that hs chooses not to inflict the union-controlled, NEA perverted public schools on his kids while working to ensure poor children have no choice to improve their education and escape the failing public schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  11. ponce says:

    Plus, he has worked to keep the NEA and teachers’ unions in place which stalls, subverts and opposes any efforts to improve the schools.

    This is just fringe right idiocy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  12. superdestroyer says:

    Ponce,

    The teachers unions give 100% of their campaign contributions to Democrats. Of course, those same Democratic Party candidates never send their own children to any school where they will be taught by a teacher’s union member. That is another reason why people get upset about progressives screaming bigot every chance they get when middle class whites want to avoid minority filled schools but progressives get a free pass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  13. Eric Florack says:

    @superdestroyer: Exactly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  14. Eric Florack says:

    The fact is, govermnment schools don’t work… and everyone knows it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  15. superdestroyer says:

    elite progressives send their own children to schools that do about the opposite of how public schools work.

    1. Progressives say that testing is bad but send their own children to schools that require IQ type tests to be admitted to kindergarten and give entrance exams.
    2. Progressives complain about having to to drills, memorize facts and do lots of homework but then send their own children that require advanced math (had to have memorize their multiplication tables) and have to take a foreign language.
    3. Progressives love to talk about mainstreaming children with severe mental disabilities but send their own children to schools with no children on the left hand side of the Belll Curve.
    4. Progressives do not want to expel any disruptive students and spend a huge amount of their educational budgets on the worst students. Yet, at their elite private schools it is either perform or leave.
    5. Progressives support all types of social engineering like forced busing (See Lousiville from two years ago), quotas, disparate impact, and unequal standards at the same time that their own children attend schools that are overwhelmingly white.

    Progressives violate the first rule of leadership: Do not ask others to do something that you would never do yourself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  16. ponce says:

    Of course, those same Democratic Party candidates never send their own children to any school where they will be taught by a teacher’s union member.

    Just more fringe right spew.

    The American Right and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge share the exact same hate list:

    Teachers, journalists and judges.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  17. An Interested Party says:

    So superdestroyer, are schools that have an overwhelmingly black population inferior to all other schools? If so, why is that?

    Maybe people would complain less if the progressives would stop calling middle class whites who want to stay away from third world immigrants and gang-bangers racists, rednecks, and white trash.

    Maybe people wouldn’t think you are a racist if you didn’t use such words to describe such groups of people…

    The fact is, govermnment schools don’t work… and everyone knows it.

    And yet the overwhelming majority of American children attend “government” schools…I guess our country doesn’t work either…

    Plus, he has worked to keep the NEA and teachers’ unions in place which stalls, subverts and opposes any efforts to improve the schools.

    So the socioeconomic background of many of the people that live in inner-city neighborhoods has nothing to do with why their children do so poorly in schools? It’s all the fault of the NEA and teachers’ unions?

    Progressives say that testing is bad…complain about having to to drills, memorize facts and do lots of homework…love to talk about mainstreaming children with severe mental disabilities but send their own children to schools with no children on the left hand side of the Belll Curve…do not want to expel any disruptive students and spend a huge amount of their educational budgets on the worst students…support all types of social engineering like forced busing (See Lousiville from two years ago), quotas, disparate impact, and unequal standards at the same time that their own children attend schools that are overwhelmingly white.

    Who are all these progressives that believe all these things and send their children only to private schools? Far be it from us not to accept your usual blanket generalizations without any supporting evidence to back all of that up…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Even when black/white educational performance is corrected for parents educational and income, whites still outperform. The mean academic performance of the children of college educated, white-collar blacks is the same as the mean academic performance of the children of high-school only graduated, blue-collar whites. That is why middle class whites avoid schools with more than a small percentage of blacks.

    What is even more amazing is that the Department of Education refuses to study white students in majority blacks or majority hispanic schools. This is nothing but political correctness because the professional educators are scared to death of what they would find.

    IT is humorous that you say that most people in the U.S. are educated in public schools when the Obama Administration is full of prep school, Ivy league educated progressive elites.

    And if you doubt how the progressive elites run their schools just look up how the elite prep schools work in cities like NYC, DC, LA, SF, and Chicago. I wonder how many novels that the Obama daughters have already been assigned in school versus what the DC public schools would have assigned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  19. george says:

    The fact is, govermnment schools don’t work… and everyone knows it.

    What do you want to bet that if we go through the lists of the non-political Nobel Prizes (literature, physics, chemistry, and medicine) and look at their pre-college education, we find way more going through the gov’t schools (of various countries) than private schools? In fact, I’d bet its not even close. Some gov’t schools work just fine.

    The problem is not if a politician sends his or her kids to a private school, the problem is just if a politician either reduces funding for public schools, or takes away choice from others, while sending their kids to a private school.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Even when black/white educational performance is corrected for parents educational and income, whites still outperform.

    If true, what would you say is the reason for that?

    IT is humorous that you say that most people in the U.S. are educated in public schools when the Obama Administration is full of prep school, Ivy league educated progressive elites.

    What’s your point? I would bet that most (or at least a significant percentage) of the people in most presidential administrations come from prep school and Ivy League backgrounds…meanwhile, of course most people send their children to public schools because they cannot afford to send them to prep schools or the Ivy League…as if either of these facts is some kind of new development…

    The problem is not if a politician sends his or her kids to a private school, the problem is just if a politician either reduces funding for public schools, or takes away choice from others, while sending their kids to a private school.

    Proper funding and school choice aren’t the only answers to underperforming schools…further issues of concern are the complete conditions of students in underperforming schools…do they come from stable homes? Do they receive the proper amount of nurturing and mentoring from their parents? Do they live in crime/drug-infested neighborhoods? Are their nutritional and medical needs being met? In short, where do they spend most of their time and what do they do during all the hours that they aren’t in school? For some people, it is far easier to simply blame the NEA and teachers’ unions or look to theories like those advanced in The Bell Curve rather than looking at the full picture…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @superdestroyer:
    Let’s see, so far I’ve sent my son to a private school, a gifted school, a public middle (he pulled out,) home school for a while, and next year he’s going to a public high school.

    My daughter’s done two private schools, some home school, and will do a private next year that specializes in dyslexics.

    Literally none of those decisions involved race for the reason that we didn’t live in systems with large minority populations. Race didn’t come up. Race is your obsession — not mine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  22. steve says:

    1) Our universities are seen as the best in the world. We are raking in billions in tuition from foreign students coming here. Most of the professors and American students at those universities come from our public schools.

    2) Test scores for American schools have improved since we started taking them in the 50s/60s. Our middle class students perform at levels close to the top students around the world. Our real educational problems are with lower economic groups.

    3) The real problem for those on the right is that teacher unions donate to the Dems.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    MR,

    Progressives do not care about the intent of middle class whites when they make decisions about the children education. Statistical disparate impact is enough evidence for progressive to denounce middle class whites and Republicans as racist (See Cleveland Mississippi this year for proof, see the elimination of tracking in many school systems for proof, see forced busing as proof). Yet, when elite progressive make educational decisions for their own children, they always make a decisions that leads to their own children to be around as few as minorities as possible. Yet, the middle class is suppose to accept the excuse that it is for the children.

    I am not saying that Rahm Emanuel should send his children to a school that is 50% black. I am just saying that progressive elites need to shut up about calling Republicans and middle class whites racist when those middle class whites are making the exact same educational decisions that the elite progressives are making.

    If diversity is not good for the children of the elite, then it is not good for anyone. If forced integration is avoid by the elite, then everyone should be able to avoid it. It high stakes testing is OK for the elite, then high stakes testing is OK for everyone. If tracking is OK for the elite then it is OK for everyone.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  24. george says:

    I am not saying that Rahm Emanuel should send his children to a school that is 50% black. I am just saying that progressive elites need to shut up about calling Republicans and middle class whites racist when those middle class whites are making the exact same educational decisions that the elite progressives are making.

    And that’s actually a fair point – if choice is good, then it should be good for everyone, not just the elite. For every parent, your kids are your kids, not some statistic or some sociological variable. I can understand a system where no one (elite or otherwise) can choose their children’s school (I don’t agree with it, but I can understand it). I can’t understand a system where those with money can choose their school, but those without cannot move their children around within the public system – if that’s indeed what’s going on in the US – I’m now in Canada.

    In Canada you can send your children to private school, or to a public school. If you choose the public school system, you can choose which school your children go to (it is of course your responsibility to get them across town if that’s what you want). It would seem odd not to allow that choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @george:

    Making all schools open admission would just move the current college application process down to the kindergarten level. It would also make it every hard to be mobile in the U.S. is all of the good cities are oversubscribed and new children could only attend the worst schools.

    Open admissions to public schools would probably just lower the quality of all schools (no local commitment to schools) and would really hurt property values.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. george says:

    Superdestroyer: I don’t see how there would be any difference between allowing private schools and open public schools in the problems you note – other than it would allow everyone and not just the rich to play.

    I don’t think it would do much to change mobility (at least it hasn’t in Canada, and I’m willing to bet it hasn’t in Europe either) if there is a demand for good public schools in a city, then they usually are created. Good teachers are very valuable, but not rare geniuses; given an opportunity there are a surprising number of teachers (in every community) who are quite good.

    As for quality, I suspect if anything it would raise standards – at least locally, parents involved enough in their children’s education to care about which school they go to tend to be supportive of the school.

    I don’t know if it would make any difference in property values, but I have to admit I wouldn’t care if it did – having a well educated population is much more valuable to a country (and will become increasingly more valuable) than property rights.

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  27. george says:

    Err, that should be “than property values”, not property rights.

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  28. Alexandra says:

    Play infrotmaive for me, Mr. internet writer.

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