In the book How not to be a hypocrite. School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent, the philosopher Adam Swift reflects on the dilemmas that plague middle-class families when they have to make decisions about the schooling of their sons and daughters. Swift explores the tension between the principles and values of social justice and equity of the progressive middle class and the individual decision to find and succeed in choosing the best school for their children. This dilemma places families before what he calls moral perplexity: feeling morally bound to meritocracy and equal opportunity while ensuring the best possible school. Obviously, this is not the case for many fractions of the middle class, who do not even feel any collective responsibility derived from their individual decisions. Obviously they are faced with difficult decisions about choosing a school, but not the moral dilemma experienced by those sectors committed to quality public education and equal opportunities for all.
Moral perplexity creates enough discomfort that in most cases it is handled in private, or at best in private. small committee with the most intimate or with those who are known to be facing the same dilemmas. When you end up making the decision to bet on a certain school ―which often leans more towards the private interest than the public interest―, the self-legitimizing reasoning multiplies: the fact that the discarded schools are too traditional and not very innovative, the state of the infrastructures, or excessive levels of concentration of “families other than ours” are some of the arguments used. Of course, all of them are legitimate, but they do not stop having segregating and differentiating effects in the school network.
What Adam Swift could not have foreseen when he published his book 20 years ago is that certain fractions of the middle class would go from the uncomfortable management of moral perplexity in the private sphere to claiming moral legitimacy over educational decisions and the common good at the public level. . From facing complex personal decisions regarding the balance between private and public interest, they begin to assign themselves a moral authority, not only for prescribing the best educational model, but also for being the voice of disadvantaged groups. This position has become especially evident in recent years, especially as new pacts and measures against school segregation have been taking shape in decrees and specific policies. The latest sample has become visible in two recent articles that attack the measures against school segregation of the Barcelona Education Consortium started in 2019, and that according to the latest Educational Opportunity Report of the Instituto Metrópoli have made it possible to reduce the school segregation of vulnerable students in the city (23% in the first year of early childhood education and 26% in 1st year of ESO). The argument that both Cecilia Bayo as Helena Lopez focuses on the perverse use of two school pre-registration lists, one for students with educational support needs and another for the rest. The sensationalism associated with expressions such as poor list either expelled from the neighborhood elevates the anecdote to the category of structural problem. His argument is as simple as it is questionable. First, the double list ―which is nothing more than a system to guarantee the reservation of places for students with educational support needs― is perverse because it stigmatizes.
Achieving heterogeneous social compositions through quotas for ordinary students and students with educational needs is not stigmatizing, but rather seeks precisely to reduce the labeling associated with schooling in ghetto centers. The second argument is based on the supposed reduction of the choice capacity of vulnerable families. Beyond the fact that it is surprising to prioritize school choice to defend an equitable and just public education model, in reality the reduction in the ability to choose is no less than that derived for ordinary students. If the reservation of places is well done, it must be proportional to the representation of each student profile in the territory. The third argument is based on the collateral effects of expelling the students out of the neighborhood. This is simply false, because proximity is one of the assignment criteria and 91.4% of vulnerable students who pre-register for secondary school in Barcelona centers go to school in their district of residence.
The fight against segregation requires courageous policies, which inevitably have some implementation problems that need to be corrected and improved. The planning of places and school admission systems is complex, and it is necessary to value that it is carried out based on criteria of educational equity. Beyond the inconsistency of the arguments of distribute poor either expel from the neighborhoodPerhaps most worrisome is the question of whether there is some plan B behind the moral high ground that delegitimizes desegregation. If the double list model – by the way, applied in Flanders for many years with success – is not the way, what is the strategy to end segregation and on what evidence is it based? Perhaps it is that the criticism of the desegregation policy simply hides an attempt to preserve the status quo and not a real change in the structural educational inequality of our system. In fact, behind major amendments there is usually immobility. And in any case, what we least need at this time are lessons in morality.
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