It’s a complaint I’ve heard some people make about taxes: If my children are in private school, why should I pay for the public school system with my taxes? Why does the government mandate that I support the education of people I’ll never meet and don’t really care about? Now, there are probably completely reasonable answers to this question that involve civic duty or altruism or the importance of a well informed electorate, but for the purposes of this blog post I’m not interested in those. Instead, I want to answer this question from a completely egoistic and selfish perspective. What does paying for the public school system do for me?
The answer to this question hinges on a John Donne quote: "no man is an island," which is to say that no matter how independently we live our lives, other people will have an effect on us. We’ll visit doctors when we feel sick, talk to lawyers when we need counsel, and almost all of our children will almost all be educated by teachers. However, the vast majority of those professionals will have gone to public high schools.
Only about 10% of American high school students attend private schools, which means that the majority of college students, and thus the majority of medical and law students, are the graduates of public high schools. As of 2011, about 72% of medical and dentistry students were graduates of public high schools. The percentage is likely similar for lawyers, and undoubtedly higher for teachers. In other words, the professionals you will depend on in your times of need, as well as those to whom you will trust the education of your children will, more likely than not, be public school graduates.
But, for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, let’s imagine that somehow you avoid this impact the public high school system has on your life. You thoroughly vet all doctors you visit, lawyers you consult, and teachers your children have, attempting to completely purge your life of the public schools. At this point, after going to this immensely unrealistic (and also remarkably elitist and obnoxious) amount of effort, can you say that you have reason to protest paying for the public school system?
This is because, at the end of the day, your life will be affected by public school graduates in ways that you have absolutely no control over. As explanation, here are some people who went to public high schools:
80% of Congress
No matter how hard you try to avoid their influence (and there's no reason why you should), graduates of the American public school system will have an impact on you.
In light of this, the reason we should pay for the education of others via the public school system becomes pretty obvious: It is an investment in our own future. Every year, a great many brilliant children enroll in public schools all across America. Any one of them could become your next doctor, lawyer, or teacher, and quite a few of them are truly capable of changing the world. The system they’re enrolling in will, over the course of their adolescence, teach, shape, and prime these young minds for the lives they’ll lead and everything they’ll achieve in college and beyond. What could be more worth an investment than that?