Americans love to debate what, exactly does it mean to be rich. This is probably because we don’t have a handy divider like the British class system.
Do you see this Lego person as rich? Did you say yes? You are right:
Which goes to show that when it comes to rich, it’s hard to define but we know it when we see it.
Yet still, we fret about even the middle-class label for ourselves.
As a career coach I talk to tons of people who earn $80K and feel like they are not going to be able to support their family. But I want to tell you something: That is more than the median income in the US, which is $60K. And it’s more than the threshold psychologists and sociologists have put for attaining happiness, which is $75K. So look, if you make $80K, you make enough money. Not for NYC or San Francisco. But $150K is not enough to raise a family in those places, so if you are concerned about money, you should just move out of those exorbitant cities and live like the rest of middle-class America, which is what you are.
Now that we know what rich means in this country, I would like to suggest that it’s immoral for families with an income of $80K or higher to send their kids to public school. Probably the number is lower, but just for argument’s sake, consider this:
We would never accept someone earning $80K using food stamps. We would never want a single mother earning $80K to be drawing welfare. We’d say that’s cheating, unethical, maybe immoral.
When the World Trade Center fell there was tons of money to be distributed by the Red Cross. There were also tons of well-off families affected by that event. I found myself somewhere in the middle and I was acutely aware of the moral imperative to not take money from people who were in tons of trouble financially because of 9/11.
Why is there not that same moral imperative when it comes to using public funding to accommodate rich kids for eight hours a day?
The reason we can’t fix schools in the US is because there are too many large groups of powerful people who benefit from schools the way they are. And, of course, kids have no power in the US power equation. I could list self-serving teachers’ unions, or the greedy politicians hiding behind a shroud of reform, or the textbook companies pushing for inane standards their books adhere to. But instead I’m going to point to the parents who are well off financially.
Look: we have literally no idea how to make public schools work is a society as culturally diverse as the US, we have no limit to how much money we waste in whiz-bang reform efforts that actually serve only to shield us from the reality that school functions as a babysitting system rather than an education system.
However there is a lot of evidence that if you make schools less diverse, by taking rich kids out, the rich kids will not suffer—because success in this country is so overwhelmingly linked to parental income—and then, with less diversity, our schools could perform more effectively, similar to more homogenous public school systems.
The US spends more per student on education than any country in the world, yet our educational system is not better for it. There is no correlation between increasing spending and increasing performance. But there is a correlation between family stability and increased performance. So school reform should start putting money toward keeping disadvantaged families together. We know the following services work to keep parents with children:
The biggest barrier to providing these services through schools is not money. We have plenty of money. The biggest barrier is that rich people are taking the school money, which they don’t need, and don’t even benefit from and there is not enough left to help kids in broken homes. This is why I’m starting to believe that it’s immoral for rich parents to put their kids in public school in the same way people believe it’s immoral for people who don’t need food stamps to take food stamps.