In his Dec. 31 op-ed column, William Raspberry concluded that parental choice, for the time being, should be limited to public schools. As his source of insight, he used Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who contended that choice in education is too plebeian a concept for private schools, which are traditionally like country clubs -- it's not enough to want to join the club or possess the financial wherewithal, you have to fit the membership profile.
Mr. Raspberry would have gotten keener insight into this issue if he'd consulted with his fabled cabdriver, who would be more likely than Mr. Shanker to have children in a failing public school system. Perhaps the conversation would have gone something like this:
"Mr. Raspberry, let me ask you something about this choice in education issue."
"I can see we're in for one of our long talks."
"Yeah, and a long ride. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but is Mr. Shanker saying that private schools should only be an option for the children of people who can afford the tuition?"
"Well, kind of, but not really. In removing private schools from the choice-in-education equation, he is arguing that private schools are elite institutions that have a track record of excluding children of modest means."
"Sounds a little shaky to me. A lot of low-income children go to Catholic schools to get a good education, and my own church runs a school. I know of other churches around town that do too. They sure aren't country clubs. And what about that lady in Chicago?"
"You mean Marva Collins?"
"Yeah. She doesn't run a country club."
"You've got a point. Most of the private schools in the country charge less than $1,500 per year. Only 5 percent are so-called country clubs."
"So what's Mr. Shanker talking about? I bet if more parents had the money, they would start up neighborhood schools."
"But that would increase segregation by race and class."
"Are you trying to tell me that with public schools we get increased integration?"
"Well, no. But there's a case to be made for protecting the existence of public schools."
"Come on. Why is it that every time poor parents start talking about taking their children out of public schools, it's seen as a threat to the system? But when doctors, lawyers and government bigwigs place their children in private schools, not the slightest peep is heard. I read once that public school teachers send their children to private schools twice as often as the general public. They must know something, wouldn't you say?"
ROBERT L. WOODSON President National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise Washington