The Magazine

The Obama Girls' School Days

The joys of private education.

Sep 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 02 • By SAM SCHULMAN
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But most of all, Lab School has always--relatively speaking--welcomed the children of Chicago's black elite. Certainly by the beginning of the 1950s it stood out in this respect from other Chicago private schools (such as Bill Ayers's alma mater Lake Forest Academy). My class of 1967 was 13 percent black--and many of the black children began with me in first grade in 1956. During my extended family's seven decades of attendance, we and our children went to school every day with the offspring of intellectual royalty such as Bruno Bettelheim, Daniel Boorstin, Emily Buss, Joseph Cropsey, Richard Epstein, Gene Fama, John Hope Franklin, Nicholas Katzenbach, Heinz Kohut, Edward Levi, Richard Lewontin, Richard Posner, Janet Rowley, Cass Sunstein, and George Stigler. Also sitting beside us humble Schulmans, Diamonds, and Biedermans were the offspring of dozens of prominent black businessmen, doctors, and professors, of Joe Louis, of great black lawyers like Earl Dickerson (who himself attended Lab in 1907) and Judge Ann Williams, of artists like Ramsey Lewis, Dick Gregory, and Oscar Brown Jr., of the families of Congressman Gus Savage and the Johnsons of Ebony magazine, and many others. For decades, the Lab School has been home to people exactly like the Obamas.

Sandra Tsing Loh, too, had her spiritual antecedents among my parents' generation. Some of them moved to the suburbs "so that our kids won't grow up to be racists," as one father told my parents at a dinner party in the 1960s. Others sent their kids to the public Hyde Park High School, then a 97 percent non-diverse school, where they were, as whites, isolated, frightened, and forced to keep strictly to themselves. My friends who underwent this demonstration of parental conscience tell me that their parents were oblivious to their real--and unnecessary--suffering.

One senses that Senator Obama has had to make many compromises with his better self to get to wherever it is he is today. As Dreiser knew, that's not an uncommon Chicago story. But to the Obamas' credit, these are compromises that they have spared their daughters. Sending his children to a private school that most of those whose votes he needs will never be able to afford may be the finest thing Barack Obama has ever done.

Sam Schulman, a writer in Virginia, is publishing director of The American.