An Open Letter

TO: Allison Benedikt

FROM: Pejman Yousefzadeh

RE: Activities of Your Arch-Enemy

Dear Ms. Benedikt:

Someone who truly despises you appears to be hellbent on trashing your reputation in the punditry world by having written this preternaturally awful piece under your name. As you are doubtless a significantly intelligent and educated individual, I am sure that you join me in cringing at the words attributed to you by whatever mortal foe is possessed by an Ahabesque hatred of your illustrious person. Words like the following:

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)

And this:

So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment. Your local school stinks but you don’t send your child there? Then its badness is just something you deplore in the abstract. Your local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better.

And this:

I believe in public education, but my district school really isn’t good! you might say. I understand. You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP classes, and in four years, I only had to read one bookThere wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.

And this:

Also remember that there’s more to education than what’s taught. As rotten as my school’s English, history, science, social studies, math, art, music, and language programs were, going to school with poor kids and rich kids, black kids and brown kids, smart kids and not-so-smart ones, kids with superconservative Christian parents and other upper-middle-class Jews like me was its own education and life preparation. Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools.

(All emphasis in bold italics mine.) I am sure I don’t have to detail just how absolutely terrible this “reasoning” is, or how much the attribution of this “reasoning” to your unquestionably great and good name serves to annihilate any semblance of respect for your in the punditry world. Or outside of the punditry world. Or amongst humans in general. Or even amongst hamsters, gerbils, and paramecium.

Some have claimed that this piece was written purely and exclusively as troll-bait, designed to get Slate some desperately needed clicks, pageviews, unique visitors and attention. But I truly believe that something far more nefarious is at work. I believe that some poor, benighted soul has taken it upon him/herself to play Khan Noonien Singh to your James T. Kirk, and to chase you ’round the quizzes of Ken Jennings, and ’round the bad arguments of Matthew Yglesias, and ’round Perdition’s flames before s/he gives up on making you a pariah in the field of opinion-piece writers. As such, I strongly suggest that you take decisive action to deal with this threat to your standing. Use whatever methods you must, whatever methods are available to you to unmask your personal Lex Luthor and salvage your standing as a pundit. Remember, it’s only a no-win scenario for you if you stand back and do nothing.

I hope and trust that this public missive has been helpful. Please do keep us all informed on your efforts to restore your good name.