Why Care About Other People’s Children


As a vocal critic of charter and voucher schools, one of the most frequent questions I get from readers is this:

“Why should I care about other people’s children?”

One reader put it this way:

“Why should my child’s education and safety have to suffer because of difficult and violent students? …it isn’t my responsibility to pay for a miscreant’s education.”

The question says more than any answer could.

It shows quite clearly that school choice is an essentially selfish position.

That’s why some folks champion privatized education – they only care about their own children. In effect, when a parent sends their children to a charter or voucher school, they are telling the community that they don’t care what happens to any one else’s kids so long as their kids are properly cared for and educated.

It is the root cause of most of our problems in education today and has nothing to do with children. It’s all about adults – adults lacking empathy.

On the one hand, I get it. As a parent, you can’t help but love your child more than anyone else’s. You would beg, cheat and steal to make sure your child has enough to eat, is clothed and sheltered, has everything she needs to succeed in this world.

That’s a position for which few would show any embarrassment. It’s just being human.

But it shouldn’t also mean that you don’t care at all for other children.

I’d like to pose a radical thought – loving my child does not mean I’m indifferent to yours.

Children are innocent. They haven’t done anything to earn the hate or enmity of the world. They see everything with fresh eyes. Many of them haven’t even learned the prejudices and ignorance of their parents. And even where they have, it is so new it can be changed.

When you look at a babe in arms do you feel the same indifference? I don’t.

Perhaps it’s just the way we’re built. I feel an immediate nurturing instinct. I want to protect and provide for children – any children – even if they’re not mine.

If you saw a baby all alone crying on the side of the road, would you stop to help her? I would. I couldn’t help it. I can do no other.

If I saw a toddler in distress, a tween, even an unruly teenager in need, I would try to help. And I think most of us would do the same.

Doing so wouldn’t hurt my child. In fact, it would show her how a decent person acts towards others. It would teach her empathy, kindness, caring. It would demonstrate the values I try to instill in her – that we’re all in this together and we owe certain things to the other beings with which we share this world.

Why would you not want to do that?

We do not live in a world where you have to choose between your child and all others. There is a middle course. We can do for all society’s children without unduly sacrificing our own.

And if we can, why wouldn’t we?

Public school is essentially a community endeavor. It is an attempt to give everyone in your neighborhood the same start, the same opportunity, the same advantages.

It means allowing all children who live in the community the ability to attend the community school. That’s better than selecting the best and brightest and to Hell with the rest.

It means the community pooling its wealth to help all students. That’s better than dividing that pool up and pitting one group against another so that some get what they need and others don’t.

It means having an elected school board who holds public meetings, deliberates in the open and has to offer almost all documents to the light of day. That’s just better than an appointed board of directors who hold private meetings behind closed doors and who aren’t compelled to show any documentation for how they’re spending public tax money.

When you send your child to school – any school – she will have to deal with other students. She will meet children who are mean, unkind, unruly and a bad influence. But this is true at all schools – public and private, voucher or charter, secular or parochial. The biggest difference is racial and economic.

Our educational institutions today have become so segregated by class and race that even our public schools offer white middle class and wealthy students the opportunity to learn in an environment nearly devoid of children of color or children who live in poverty. This divide is drastically widened by charter, private and parochial schools.

So when people complain about the class of children they want to keep separate from their progeny, it is always imbued with a racist and classist subtext.

What they mean is: I don’t want my child to have to put up with all those black students, all those brown children, all those unwashed masses of impoverished humanity.

I proudly send my daughter to public school for the same reasons that many withhold their children from it. I want her to experience a wide variety of humanity. I want her to know people unlike her, and to realize that they aren’t as different as they might first appear. I want her to know the full range of what it means to be human. I want her to be exposed to different cultures, religions, nationalities, world views, thoughts and ideas.

And I want it not just because it’s better for my community – I want it because it’s better for her, too.

I want my daughter and I to both live in a world populated by educated citizens. I want us both to live in a society that treats people fairly, and where people of all types can come together and talk and reason and enjoy each other’s company.

Only under the most extreme circumstances would I ever subject her to charter, private or parochial schooling. And things would have to come to a pretty pass for me to home school her.

Imagine! Thinking I could offer my child all the richness of a public school experience, all the knowledge of a district’s worth of teachers, all the variety of social contact – how vain I would need to be to think I could do all that, myself!

Some people want their children to become little versions of themselves. They want to create a generation of mini-me’s who’ll carry on their way of thinking into the future.

That’s not my goal at all.

I want my daughter to share my core values, I want her to learn from my experiences, but I don’t want her to think like me at all. I want her to be a new person, special and unique.

I want her to be her.

If you stop and think about it, that’s what most of us want for our children.

It’s a common goal that can be achieved with a common mechanism.

So why should we care about other people’s children?

Because it’s better for ours. Because doing so makes us better people. Because all children are ends in themselves. Because they’re beautiful, unique sparks of light in a dark universe.

If those aren’t reasons enough, I can’t help you.

36 thoughts on “Why Care About Other People’s Children

  1. During the last 16 years of the 30 I was a classroom teacher, I taught high school English and for seven of the high school years, one section of journalism.

    The high school where I taught had an in-house suspension center with this acronym, BIC. BIC was where teachers sent difficult to control students on a period by period basis. The teacher who ran BIC, known as Mr. D, kept detailed records. At the end of every school year, he’d publish a report with the total number of referrals that were written by classroom teachers to send those challenging students to BIC.

    The average number of referrals per year worked out to be about 22,000, and Mr. D. says 5-percent of the students who attended that high school earned 95-percent of those 22k referrals.

    When I was teaching there, the high school had about 2,800 students. Five percent works out to be 140 children out of 2,800.

    I think BIC meant Behavior Improvement Center. Students that went didn’t sit and do nothing. Mr. D. handed out worksheets that matched the class they came from. If one of the BIC students came from math, he/she got a math worksheet. If they didn’t sit quietly and work on the worksheet, Mr. D would assign after school detentions or Saturday school. Mr. D referred the repeat offenders to their counselors. At the time, the high school had one counselor for each grade level. That means if there were 900 ninth graders, they had one counselor to take care of them. The counselors were also responsible for scheduling students into their classes but that was not the end of their job responsibilities. The four counselors often arrived early before the first class and left late several hours after the last class and final bell rang.

    Why punish millions of teachers, almost fifty million children, and destroy an entire national community-based, democratic, transparent, traditional education system because of the 5-percent that need a lot more counseling time than what’s available?


    • Chances are really good that those 5-percent have been through more in their young lives than we have in 50+ years. A better question would be why can’t we provide what that 5-percent needs to cope with their lot in life. With that many repeat offenders, I’d say your BIC program did not improve behavior. But that doesn’t mean that their behavior could not have been changed with the right intervention. Every child is worth saving.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Whatever the right intervention is, it would cost money because most people don’t work for free. They ain’t billionaires, and public school budgets across the country are being cut, cut, cut to the bone and into the bone.

        In addition, that intervention might be different for each child.

        The high school where I taught had a child poverty rate of 70 percent or more. The streets around the school were controlled by multi-generational street gangs. Once recruited into a gang, there are few interventions that will correct that tribal mindset.

        It is so easy to suggest a solution but so difficult to make one work even when there is no shortage of funds for intervention programs.

        The best intervention program would be a universal, national early childhood education program that is not handed to corporate America but is kept in the community-based, democratically controlled, transparent, traditional public schools.

        That is what France did more than 30 years ago and poverty was cut more than in half.


      • I completely agree with you about universal early childhood education. This makes the most sense both from a moral stance and a financial viewpoint.

        You make another good point about finances. We must change how we finance schools. High poverty areas that need the lowest class sizes and most resources are frequently the lowest funded. And channeling money off to vouchers will just make things worse.

        Liked by 1 person

    • “…difficult to control….”

      ‘Nuff said. It’s not about working with kids, helping them or any of that bleeding heart nonsense. It’s about controlling them. Thank you for your honesty.


      • I earned my teaching credential through a year-long, full-time urban residency in 1975-76. My master teacher started by teaching me how to control my classrooms.

        I learned from her that if you don’t have control, you can’t teach and not much learning takes place. My master teacher taught me to talk softly and she said never lose your temper because the kids will sense you have lost control and they won. Once the children perceive the teacher has no control, the classroom becomes a libertarian’s insane and brutal definition of what they think paradise is.

        If a teacher talks softly instead of attempting to outshout the noise of an unruly classroom, then the children have to get quiet to hear what the teacher says. I also learned how to stare at the few children that would not shut up when I wanted them to. That cold, brutal stare where I said nothing worked most of the time. Those students would stop talking and lift their textbook to hide their face. With trembling voices, they’d say, “Don’t look at me like that, Mr. Lofthouse.”

        I’d reply, “Then stop talking.”

        When that didn’t work, I went to the phone and called the parent/guardian. If I couldn’t reach them, I wrote a referral and called security to pick up that offending child. The schools where I taught had a squad of police or at last one officer on campus at all times. The high school had a squad of six or more. The grade schools usually had one officer. They carried a badge and were paid by the state. They did not belong to a private police force.

        That advice served me well for the next 29 years.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I taught for 40 years in schools in neighborhoods of poverty in Philadelphia. I learned that the most important personality trait of a teacher should be empathy. Without it, you cannot make a meaningful connection with a student. I worked with children in grades K-12 in those years. They were very perceptive in analyzing the authenticity of a teacher’s concern for them. They would accept or reject you based upon how open and true you were with them. Also, the most difficult lesson I learned was to take my ego out of everything I did with students. I didn’t need to assert authority or demand respect if I showed true concern for their well- being and learning. Students knew by my behavior that I could be trusted. They knew that I cared a great deal about their daily growth as learners. It took me quite a while and a lot of frustration and anxiety to be comfortable in my skin as a teacher. The lack of empathy is apparent in the me- first attitude in choosing charter and private school placements. The lottery system that’s used in Philadelphia for picking charter school placement makes education a win- lose proposition, which is antithetical to the goals of teaching children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Unfortunately, it’s not just parents caring about their own children. Those same parents only care about themselves. We live in a morally corrupt society from the top down. Look at what used to be called neighborhoods?…..they are just housing developments where rarely anyone knows their neighbor. It’s a “me” kind of world. All of this brought to you by politicians creating free market enterprise to allow the money to flow to a certain few. Money (GREED) is the root to ALL evil….unfortunately, it is a necessity in life. GREED is a 5 letter dirty word.


    • Real communities are endangered because of the spreading cancer of virtual communities where one can be so-called friends with hundreds and/or thousands of people scattered across the country and around the world that will probably never meet face-to-face.


  4. Oh, and another reason to care about other people’s children? We will be old someday and need our adult diapers changed while living in that run down nursing home or assisted living facility, or someone to help us out of bed after surgery, or someone to get us to our Dr. appointments. If we don’t care about these kids now, what makes anyone think that they will care about us when they grow up to be the working population. Junk in, junk out.


  5. I agree yet didn’t want my child to be forced to read and do only math and science with tons of homework from kindergarten on. This is why I chose public Waldorf education. She got to have a childhood…to play…to do lots of art and music. I wish our public neighborhood schools in Colorado were different. We definitely missed the diversity economically and racially….but, Waldorf Education should be free and in our poorest neighborhoods.


    • And that is a big part of the coercive lie of choice, a situation where only the wealthy or somewhat wealthy can help their kids escape from the bad choices offered by those anti public education profiteers and ideologs who know less than nothing about how children learn, about education itself.


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