Apr 132014

public-vs-privateDon’t Ask Politicians Why Their Kids go to Private School

Elections have this way of getting the worst out of people.  The line between the personal and the political can be both thin and fuzzy, and it’s easy to miss.

One topic that should remain out of bounds for all political candidates are the children of their opponents, in particular when those children are minors.  It doesn’t matter if those children are holy terrors, there is no place in a legitimate campaign to make an issue out of a child’s behavior, personality, personal appearance, hobbys or education.  The last example bears  repeating because while many candidates understand that calling a candidate’s child a spoiled brat is not acceptable, they think that it’s OK to question why a candidate is sending their children to private schools.

At first glance, the question may seem legitimate. After all, where a parent decides to send their kid to school may very well be an indication of their values.  Trouble is, it is just as likely that it’s an indication of the private personal needs of the child.   I know children that are in private schools because these serve their learning or developmental disabilities better.  I know children who have gender-identity issues and do not feel safe in public schools.  I know kids who had to flee public school because they were bullied, beaten or worse by other students and the school failed to protect them.  I know children who were taken out of public school to separate them from bad influences.  And I even know kids who were taken out of public school because they were the bad influence.

All these kids have a right to privacy.  Just because their mom or their dad is running for office, it doesn’t entitle us, voters, to know what specific issue challenges them.  It is also not fair, and not good public policy, to make parents have to chose between running for office or keeping their children’s condition private.

Sure, by not asking the question “why aren’t your children in public school?”, we might leave some candidates without good reasons off the hook.  But I think the greater goal of keeping the privacy of children makes worth giving up on that small bit of information.  Chances are that a politician whose values are different from those voters will show this in ways beyond where he sends his kids to school.

 Update:  A School Board member suggested that for candidates running for educational offices, their personal experience as parents in a public school district is very important, as it shows they understand the system from within.  I agree, therefore I will modify my suggestion to indicate that candidates can be asked if any of their children have attended public school, and leave it at that.

I also don’t oppose asking candidates who have previously used the fact that their children attend public school as a campaign issue, whether their children are still in public school.


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