For almost a year I’ve been struggling to articulate what it is about public schools that people — people-with-options, members of a once- though perhaps only now aspiring-middle class — what is it that compatriots of my own depreciated class reject as inconceivable for entrusting with their own children?

It’s a tricky question because not only is the answer difficult to articulate, but the existence of the question is slightly offensive:  there are plenty of folks who don’t, won’t and can’t shy away from public education.  Somehow focusing on that which characterizes people freighted with the opposite good fortune of “choice”, feels like, well, fiddling while Rome is burning – or worse, as if cake were being studied when the cupboards are barren of even crackers.

But the question matters, distaste aside.  First, we are all constituents of the city, and beneficiaries of public education, not to mention the democracy that supports it and is composed of and for it.

Second, it is another of these elephant-in-the-room matters, because nearly 75% of the students in LAUSD live in poverty, translating to a vanishing minority of middle class students who remain in attendance at district public schools.  Yet these students in addition to having all the rights of poor students to a good public education, are part of a demographic that is especially missed.  As a generalization, these are the relatively well-prepared children, with families well-poised to be members of the school community who are especially active.  This is not a judgment or a verdict, but an acknowledgement that socioeconomic standing has collateral effect in terms of disposable time, income and capacity for sharing within the education community.

So try as I might – delving deep within myself and studying friends, acquaintances and the abhorrent besides – still I fall shy of anything more sophisticated than this:  the public schools are just kinda yesterday.

One thing about our bright, new, ultra-modern consumerist society is, our clothes are cheap and changed out nearly constantly, our electronics are cheap and shiny and changed out increasingly faster, our food is cheap and doesn’t get cooked at home, by and large, because it just takes too long and winds up being so ‘the same’, ….  We have a whole new set of social habits and mores from yesteryear’s, and we’ve been well-schooled to think of our former schools as old-school.  If we can buy our preciouses brand new and shiny, then we must because that’s why we even co-habitate with preciouses – to buy them the best we can.  In this arena that means:  New Schools.  New Ideas,  New Methods of Learning;  New, Young Teachers.

Even that explanation is so … old.  But it is possibly as up-to-date as can be found.  We won’t send our precious children to a grubby old public dinosaur of a school because (a) we don’t have to and (b) we are exercising unalienable Rights in pursuing the liberty to Choose A School.  Simply because we can, therefore we find that we must.

What entails is a set of excuses justifying this simple prerogative coerced of ability:  my child needs the attention afforded by a small classroom, my child needs a highly structured environment, or a lowly unstructured environment, or serenity and verdancy, or any of a number of other self-evident truths that basically, everyone needs.  Only the difference is, the (formerly) middle class can insist on their rights to the extent that they empower themselves to be charged usuriously in order to obtain it.

What this translates to is, when someone is deciding “whether to “do” public or private” school, you know the fix is in.  People commit to public school.  But they decide on private or charters.  The decisions are not reciprocal.  The choice at hand is not the paradigmatic one between A and B, but instead an enervating struggle between A or not-A.  Rather than a reasoned or thoughtful choice between worthy competitors, attending public school becomes an internal scuffle with prejudice and perception.

The irony is that one inalienable right is the casualty of another.  In opting for private education as a Choice, this denies the inalienable right of others to a good education in the public sector.  Because at the end of the day, there is not enough money to go around, not enough education “resources” to survive uneven distributions unscathed.  There is room only for so many in the private-charter school world of volitional deception.  The rest must line up elsewhere for the tailings.