The Public and the Private

Following a recent and brief phone conversation that I shared with Jeff, I got to thinking about the very nature of the argument that is ripping at the fabric of our country. Specifically, I began ruminating on the two general sides of our society, the public sector and the private sector. We’ve all been raised having taken for granted that America is a “free country”, but when one steps back and considers the idea, what does that really mean? It’s supposed to mean that each man is free to chart his own course in life, which, of course, entails either greater or lesser degrees of risk. Each man and woman in this land has the right to his or her own life, choices, and privacy. The government is supposed to be a non-factor in any of this.

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama had at one point referred to conservatives as “selfish” in one of his speeches. I was rather stunned at the assertion. I can’t speak for any fellow conservatives, but I can tell you that the last thing that I am is selfish; those who know me know this to be the truth. I simply have the individual choice with whom I share what I have. It goes without saying, based on nearly three years of his administration, that this president doesn’t experience all that many crises of conscience when it comes to leveling personal attacks.
Our culture, society, and economy have now evolved to the point at which those employed in the civil service of this country – the public sector – no longer feel as though they are obligated to take any degree of risk. Truth be told, I kind of agree with the general sentiment; if an individual consciously decides to make the choice not to risk any of his personal resources (money, time, or assets) in an effort to improve his life and opts for the “safer”, more secure route, then there should be little risk and requisite “capital” required of that person. There is, however, one simply irrefutable part of this argument that those in today’s public sector simply cannot or will not grasp: if you choose to risk little to nothing, then the rewards you earn in life should be commensurate with that choice. In short, if a person opts to work in the public sector, he should understand that he is willingly trading potential future prosperity for reasonable comfort.
How is it that we’ve now gotten to the point at which those who risk little to nothing are being lavished with the greatest rewards this country has to offer, while those who are willing to risk near to everything in their wealth, time, and assets are being asked to hand over more of what they’ve created? I’m really confused. I know that I’m a dumb, stupid, conservative – and selfish, too, don’t forget that – but one of those really peaceful and intellectual Leftists needs to explain this all-too-seeming contradiction to me. After all, I want to be really, really smart, too.
As I mentioned at the outset of this piece, I got to thinking about this following a recent conversation that I shared with Jeff. The conversation had nothing to do with my eventual thoughts; on the contrary, it was my destination that early evening that led me along this line of reasoning. Jeff happened to call me while I was on my way to the opening of school mass for the Catholic, all-boys’ college preparatory high school at which I’m employed, which led me to thinking about private schools and public schools; further, I had been in a meeting earlier in the day during which I couldn’t help but feel both vindicated and incensed at the current predicament of private schools specifically but by extension the private sector more generally.
At one point during that meeting, the chief financial officer for the school related to the rest of the administrators a brief “story”, for lack of a better word, that perfectly illustrates the struggle that is currently taking place at the heart of America. Mind you, he wasn’t bringing this to our attention for a political purpose; he was merely informing us of such to show us how well things are going for us at this time. Prior to my passing to America’s Right readers the very telling pieces of information from that meeting, some context with regard to our school might help.
On several occasions during my time here at AR, I’ve commented upon the nature of the excellence at our school – an excellence that is expected on the part of not only the students but also the faculty, staff, and administration. We expect this from ourselves, and the parents – paying tuition at $11,600 a head, many with more than one son attending – certainly expect it as well. The school has been in existence since 1959, and for at least the past 25 years, it has come to one of the best – if not the best – college preparatory high school in our region. The administration demands accountability of its teachers, and the teachers push our young men toward excellence. Should anyone ever care to witness this for himself, I’d be happy to arrange a tour. In fact, a college representative from the University of Chicago (yes, that pains me a bit) happened to visit our school for a recruiting visit just recently and happened to walk in during one of our mandatory fire drills, drills that have become quasi-legendary around the state - one can hear a pin dropping while the students are lined up outside. Might be a good time and place for a Sprint commercial.  In any event, after having walked into the building and being greeted by some of our students, and then having witnessed the fire drill, the gentleman commented to me, “You know, this is quite a school you have here. The boys are polite, hold doors, are dressed up….and that fire drill…I’ve been in secondary and higher education for over 25 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that.”
All of which, of course, begs the question – in the rapidly devolving morality and personal responsibility of our culture, how is this possible?
At one point during that administrative meeting, we were informed of a conversation that had taken place between our chief financial officer and the gentleman who occupies the same position for the entire Diocese, who showed  him the general numbers that lay bare the essential financial conditions of all Catholic schools in the state.  Obviously, it goes without saying that nearly every public school is in dire financial condition, never mind the private ones.  The Diocesan employee simply said, “It makes no sense. You guys are not only in the black financially right now, but you’re solvent beyond the wildest dreams of practically anyone else in the state, private or public. In this economy and with the tuition that you charge, it makes no sense. It’s little short of a miracle.”
It really isn’t a miracle. When people are truly free to make their own decisions in life, they will almost always choose what they perceive to be the best product available. Are we perfect? Heavens, no; we have made mistakes, but we always try to learn from them. The constantly changing “future shock” of social networking comes to mind as an area in which we sometimes struggle, as the line between the rights of the private institution and the privacy of the individual become understandably blurred at times. We do, however, try our best – not in the sense of, “Ah, well, we did our best” and then proceeding to throw our hands up in the air but more like we actually strive to do our best. In the end, the current educational product and experience speaks for itself.
I could go on and on about all of the minutiae that makes this come together, but I think the two most general things upon which everything else is built are very simple ones: there is no union here, and all members of the faculty, staff, and administration work on one-year contracts. In short, everyone is motivated to do his or her very best, and because both attending school here and working here is so enjoyable, everyone wants to be here. As a result, teachers and administrators don’t mind taking slightly less in compensation, because they can come here and actually do their job. Take myself, for example: I’m an educator of two decades with a Master’s Degree. I’m currently the Assistant Principal. In a public school I’d be getting approximately $20,000 more than I make here in annual salary. Some people say I’m crazy; I simply tell them that I’m happy. Believe me, I’m not wanting for a thing. If I were to take a job in a similar position in a public school, I’d be doing so merely to keep a chair warm and to fight unwinnable battles.
I did say, though, that there were two pieces of information that came our way in that meeting, one that overwhelmingly vindicates the creative and productive contributions of the private sector of our economy, the other that clearly demonstrates the perspective of those in the public realm. The former I’ve already presented; allow me now to present the latter. Two of the direct and natural consequences of the culture of our school are academic and athletic excellence. Academically, our graduating seniors are annually accepted to the very best colleges and institutions around the country (which, in all honesty, may be either a good or bad thing. We can only hope that the foundation that we’ve helped to lay for them withstands what is more than likely tantamount to brainwashing over the course of their next four years of education.); athletically, we are, quite simply, a powerhouse. Having the ability to draw on any region and from a pool of all boys obviously has its advantages. If we didn’t have such a strong overall program in the school, however, do you really believe those parents would still opt to send their sons here, when they could get a similar experience for their son(s) for free at their local public school? Common sense answers that one.
Nonetheless, the athletic situation has bred incalculable degrees of resentment from all over the state for nearly three decades. Accusations of illegal recruiting and improper contacts with junior high students are now daily fare. There is never a shred of evidence to back them up. Of course, this doesn’t stop some of the public schools, and in some instances even the state athletic board, from trying to make things difficult for us. To wit, it was during the aforementioned meeting that a letter from one of the officials of said athletic board was read aloud to us, a letter that said, in so many words, that from this point forward our school would be held to a separate standard when it comes to any considerations of perceived recruiting violations. I kid you not. Naturally, the letter did not literally say that. These people are obviously too smart for that. Without going into excruciating detail, the reason for this “decision” was based on an anonymous source that informed state officials that we had apparently broken a minor rule when it came to the summer coaching activities of one of our coaches. No evidence, mind you; just an anonymous letter.
We were all, quite simply, stunned. The ramifications of such an intention were catastrophic. This was little short of a declaration of war against the success of our school. We had the nerve to “make everyone else look bad”, words that have emanated from the mouths of more than a few public-sector, union employees. Obviously, we’re taking the steps that we deem necessary to combat this turn of events, but what does that say about those who opt for life in the public sector, when they suddenly realize that their lives aren’t all that great – with the exception of the dollars? I suppose it is true that money certainly cannot buy the image of success.
Here’s my question: in a free country that values a person’s rights and privacies, why does the public part of our society demand so much from those who simply want to be left alone? Barack Obama referred to conservatives as “selfish” – no doubt to whip all of his sychophants into a frenzy against successful people – but who, exactly, are the selfish ones here?
It’s no wonder that the teachers’ unions are adamantly against charter schools and any type of voucher system for parents. It only shows that public sector unions are little more than jobs programs that fuel political power and must be protected at all costs. In the end, they sometimes get their money, but they can’t put any kind of a real shine on the wreck of a car in which they’re tooling around town. The people with less money but perceived success must, therefore, be pulled down to their level in order to vindicate their own poor choices.
In the end, the parents who send their sons to our school have made the choice to risk their capital in the hope of a better life for their sons. I’m sure the Department of Education would love nothing more than to take that choice away from people.   I’ve a feeling, though, that in any debate about the staying power of a school like ours and all the little planners populating state education boards, freedom of choice will be the resounding victor in the end.


  1. Jeff Schreiber says:

    Nice piece, John. Keep ‘em coming!

    NOTE: For those who don’t know, some new construction around the corner from our apartment has interrupted my Internet service for a little more than two weeks now. Shortly before the interruption, I noted to a bunch of folks that I was as proud of what was on the front page at AR as I ever have been … I look forward to getting back up to speed once my service is restored.

    (I made a promise to myself and my employer that, barring emergency breaking news or something, I would never update AR from work. It’s not fair to my employer. So, once service is restored at home–likely Friday–look for new material from me here at AR.)

    Thank you for your patience.


  2. scp says:

    It’s not public/private that matters. What matters is the distinction between the voluntary sector and the coercive state.

    When you understand that, you’ll have the answer to your question. The coercive state exists to coerce. Anywhere that voluntary participation thrives is a vacuum for the coercive state to fill.

  3. Kahleeka says:

    Enjoyed the article! Well written and a joy to read! Thanks!

  4. cali says:

    It is also a ‘values’ battle, the left having created their own god in their statist taste and actions. It can not compete with the true, faith value-and therefore that statists need to destroy, even lowing the boom of condemnation. Why are you so surprised, that the statists intimate, agitate-it’s their mojo, always has been, always will be. Alinski rule #13, look it up, the book being dedicated to ‘Satan/Lucipher’.

  5. whats_up says:

    @ John,

    I enjoyed this piece very much. However I take umbrage with this part of it:

    “Here’s my question: in a free country that values a person’s rights and privacies, why does the public part of our society demand so much from those who simply want to be left alone?”

    Many conservative dont want to “be left alone”. More importantly they wont let me “be left alone.” Conservatives want to tell me what I can and cant watch in the name of their “morality.” Conservatives want to tell my Uncle that he isnt allowed to marry the man that he loves based on their “morality”. Conservatives want to tell my cousin who was raped that she must carry that child to term, damned the emotional consequences to her. Doesnt sound like many Conservatives want to be “left alone” at all. Otherwise they would leave the rest of us alone.

  6. Jordan Bell says:

    Your mistake in this is the thought that we are a free country that values a person’s rights and privacies. We are anything but that. We lost that title close to a century ago. With laws like the Income Tax and Patriot Act you have no rights or privacies. We are in a fascist country that deems any person who doesn’t support the State as an enemy.

  7. John Feeny says:

    @What’s Up:
    I agree with the principle of what you say; contrary to what you may think, I have no issue with any of the ideas that you mention. One would be quite correct to say that there’s some hypocrisy on the right as well, when there are those conservatives who want to be “free” but don’t want to allow certain others to enjoy that same sense of liberation. However, your argument there strikes me more as based in a problem with the abstract culture – one can’t “force” people to accept certain things. I may have no issue personally with any of the ideas that you mention, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily approve. For example, I may be firmly against abortion (your cousin’s case excepted), but I’m also not going to go to a Planned Parenthood location and throw rocks through its window. I’m willing to allow the natural course of legislative activity to take its own path. I’ll never force my worldview on another; all I ask is that others never do the same to me.

    @Jordan: Yes, you’re correct; I probably should have said “allegedly free”.

  8. whats_up says:

    @ John,

    Thanks for the honest answer.

  9. Boston Blackie says:

    Excellent article, John, I’ve missed the viewpoints from AR. You explained my feelings perfectly to whats_up. We all have the rights to our beliefs. I don’t force mine down anyone’s throat, don’t force yours down mine. I can accept without agreeing with others’ beliefs. Sadly, most who scream tolerance the loudest are usually the least tolerant.
    I am happy to say that I am one last tuition payment and less than six months away from my daughter’s college graduation. From someone who has made the choice to pay for her child’s education since kindergarten, it was quite the investment. I would struggle and go without certain basic things to do it again. One of the main reasons is due to the dedication, commitment and personal involvement from the teachers she has had over the years. I know that it would have been quite different if I had taken the public education route. I have family members who are teachers and they would never send their children to public schools as well. I remember when the local teachers union threatened to strike a few years back, a reporter asked the union rep a simple question and got an eye opening honest response. “What do you say to the students that this strike will affect” His response was ” When that kid gets me a raise, then I’ll care what he thinks”.
    As for the threats from the athletic board, the same is happening here in MA. Like your all male school, the state board has always made it harder for the private all male schools that dominate in sports to advance. Yet somehow they continue to, guess it’s kinda like the little train that could.

  10. Randy Wills says:

    To “whats_up”:

    As I’ve said before, I enjoy hearing your perspective on pertinent issues, and yes, there are usually two sides to every argument and we should be able to give each other’s position(s) sincere consideration and provide an honest repsonse, as John has done.

    I would suggest that the point of conflict in our relative positions on “social” issues is that those of us who might be classified as “religious conservatives” see a very real negative impact on society as a whole by significant deviations from God’s laws of personal conduct. It is not to restrict other’s choices or their pursuit of personal “happiness” that causes me to condemn certain “immoral” practices on the individual level but rather to preserve a sustainable and orderly culture that is based on the template of “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God”.

    In other words, my “opinions” are not really of my own making but are informed by an unwavering faith, confirmed by a lifetime of observation, in a reliable roadmap for a truely productive, peaceful, and fulfilling life. The question is, as you rightly point out, how far, and by what means, do I try to project my beliefs in the public sphere of engagement? As I try to “leave others alone”, do I honor their choices at the expense of preserving the sanctity of life, regardless of the means of conception, and do I do good by condoning perverted sexual lifestyles at the expense of the destruction of the traditional family structure? A worthy argument in which I’m always willing to engage.

    One thing that I am quite confident of, however, is that a coherent, orderly, society cannot exist wherein all individuals can act as they see fit in all aspects of their life. There MUST be an agreed-upon template. The issue is what should that template for public governence looks like? As the laws of physics would indicate, the natural order of things tends towards chaos, not order, so I would suggest that unrestricted human nature will follow the same pattern, resulting in societal chaos.


  11. Anonymous says:

    Give me 208,800/year for a classroom of twenty, just watch the caliber of student I can produce. A 10% discount to your tuition!

    One simple caveat, grant me the merit based disciplinarian power non-existent in public schools.

    The apples and oranges argument, when there isn’t even a societal crate to hold them, legally speaking.

    PS. John, respectfully, might it be possible to contact you, anonymously? I’d like, if you’d be gracious enough, to pick your brain about this subject in private. I, in California, thank you Gov. Brown, have not only been reading the writing, but now know it is time to start running hoping to avoid what I now ‘knew’ was the inevitable light in the tunnel.

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