Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s wonderful that the Obamas had such a broad range of public and private school choices available to them. What’s puzzling is that the president-elect opposes programs that would bring that same easy choice of schools within reach of families who lack his personal wealth. By his actions, Senator Obama is demonstrating that he is not willing to wait for his own policy prescriptions to “fix and improve” public schools, but he expects folks with less ample bank accounts to patiently await his hoped-for change.
And while many reports will no doubt trumpet the $25,000+ tuition at Sidwell Friends, implying that this is extravagantly beyond what is spent in D.C. public schools, they will be mistaken. As I wrote in the Washington Post and on this blog, D.C. public schools also spent about $25,000 per child in the 2007-08 school year.
It’s not that president-elect Obama is against spending a lot of money on other people’s kids — he’s just against letting their parents choose where that money is spent.
It is the Quaker ethos that is the most striking feature of Sidwell Friends School, the one chosen by President-elect Obama for his daughters Sasha and Malia. A sense of community, equality and friendship runs through every classroom: children are encouraged to strive for their best, but to value above all their relations with each other and their place in the school family.
For any president trying to ensure that his children enjoy as normal an education as possible, such an ethos is invaluable. However rich, influential or politically important the parents – as many at Sidwell are – what matters is the “inner light” in every child. Pupils are not ranked by academic scores, and Sidwell never releases its SAT scores or college admission list. In race, wealth and nationality and in all else, all are treated the same. The two Obama girls will find their White House address is officially all but irrelevant.
Sidwell, founded in 1883 and now enrolling more than 1,000 children from kindergarten to 18, was a committed pioneer of integration and coeducation. More than one third of its intake belongs to ethnic minorities and one fifth receives financial assistance to help with the fees. The only preference is to those with Quaker connections. Since my wife and I went to Quaker schools, our daughter spent three happy primary years there during my time as bureau chief in Washington.