The Sidwell Friends School in Washington is in the news: once more, important and powerful people are sending their children there. It is by all accounts an excellent school. It has the resources to assure the best in teachers, in equipment, in curriculum, and in caring parents. In all these areas Sidwell, like other such private schools in the District, stands in sharp contrast to the public schools of the nation’s capital. These are struggling, and, the affluent and influential having deserted them, are now ghettos for the non-white and non-privileged.
Like other non-profit institutions, Sidwell would be exempt from local taxes, and contributions to Sidwell would be deductible from income taxes. So taxpayers, including the poor who cannot afford to send their children there, are nevertheless asked to pay for some of its costs.
But many of Sidwell’s parents are on record for improving the lives of the poor. This is certainly true of the powerful politicians that are now preparing to send their little ones to Sidwell in the coming year. Sidwell’s own Board of Trustees has voiced similar sentiments:
We cultivate in all members of our community high personal expectations and integrity, respect for consensus, and an understanding of how diversity enriches us, why stewardship of the natural world matters and why service to others enhances life
It isn’t cheap to go to Sidwell, in fact it’s downright expensive. Tuition and fees come to over $30,000 per child per year (with twenty-two percent of the student body receiving some degree of financial aid). At these prices, “service to others” means, primarily, others who are well off.
And here is another disquieting thing about the Sidwell philosophy:
We seek academically talented students of diverse cultural, racial, religious and economic backgrounds.
Those who are not “academically talented,” whatever that term may mean, what are those students, chopped liver ? Is that the meaning of the “Quaker way” that is so proudly touted by Sidwell ?
In other words, there is a bit, more than a bit, of a disjunction between the high-minded sentiments of parents and Board on the one hand, and the elitist nature of the program on the other. It doesn’t look good.
But wait… this blog has some solutions.
Sidwell and its parents have tremendous resources that they could make available, to some extent at least, to that vast majority of District children who have no hope of ever becoming Sidwell students. Here are some ideas, submitted with all the humility for which this blog has become justly famous:
● Sidwell parents could be asked to make financial contributions to enrichment programs at the public schools. Whenever a Sidwell parent makes a tuition payment, a “Service to Others” (STO) surcharge could be added.
● At least some of Sidwell’s resources could be made available to all students in the District. Perhaps there could be classes in art appreciation, or college-entrance preparation, or music, or whatever, free of charge to all children. Perhaps the STO funds could be used for these services.
● Some of Sidwell’s parents command considerable venues on their own. The White House itself will soon be one. Perhaps such facilities could be used for regular enrichment programs for all of the District’s children.