The Fallacy of Private School Education

There is a common perception that private high schools are better than public schools, by and large.  “Better” is a relative term, implying one of several meanings.  An obvious assumption is that children in private high schools outperform their public school counterparts in academics.  Hand-in-hand with that notion is that their quality of education is much improved.  A private school, especially those based on any one of the major religious institutions, are ideal for raising children in an environment that enhances morals and values.  If nothing else, private schools provide a safe haven for children, away from the jungle of uncertainty of inner-city schools.

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However, these are myths that have been routinely disproven. Worse yet, they serve to perpetuate the overall myth of “better” for these institutions. Countless studies through the years have shown that public schools have often equaled, even trumped, private schools, in just about every category except SAT and AP prep scores.  While the last two might be telling, all it means is that more resources are spent on the extra testing – not Basics.  Big whooping deal.  As for a better quality of education, the jury is still out.  While a more scientific study has yet to be done, it’s been my experience, as well as many other teachers and students, that most of the improvements done are on the countless new building projects these school’s owners or administrators have set up — which would only benefit current students, but in their dreams.  By contrast, quite a few public schools in certain areas exist, that have state-of-the-art equipment that are readily available for all.  Since there is little or no accountability by private school administrators to their tuition-paying constituents, money could easily be diverted to useless or altogether illegal projects. Something that would find itself melting under the searing eyes of public accountability. Follow my drift so far?

Private schools, especially those built on Judeo-Christian principles, should be ideal for raising our children to right morals and values, correct?  Only if the leaders themselves are incorruptible.  Which, unfortunately, does NOT hold true.  After all, private schools are still a business.  While teachers are admonished to discharge their duties to the best of their abilities, and to practice fairness towards all – the administrators and the owners have an obligation to please their tuition-paying parents. Need I repeat that? Didn’t you also know that some parents pay more than others?  Seriously, did you think that private school administrators could follow their teachers’ best recommendations if it meant losing their high-paying clients? Why, it would just be bad for business!  What about God? Nothing more than an abstraction, a functionary tool for ceremonies, an excuse to instill fear.  After all, one cannot serve two masters.  We know what masters these people are serving.

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Do private schools provide a safe haven for children?  Generally, that could be true.  Your child might be safe from the gangbangers and the thugs, the junkies and what not. However, that doesn’t account for all bullies: there’s one in each block, even in Beverly Hills.  They just happen to have big-shot CEO parents who hold your parents’ lives in their hands.

Will your children feel any better about themselves, living in an atmosphere where the privileged scions flaunt their status and get preferential treatment, where students are granted their A’s with strings, instead of working for them?  Will children feel any happier, knowing that they’ll do no better than a public school, and have to settle for the scraps that the rich have to offer?  If who you know and which parents you have matter more than hard work and integrity, will we feel any safer, knowing that these pricks will run our country someday?  Just look at some of our Ivy-Leaguer presidents and their track record; the jury’s out and – sorry, they don’t feel your pain.

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Are ALL private schools bad? No, and that can be attested to. There is at least one out there that is safe and good, even fair.  However, would they generally be a better alternative to public schools, assuming all else was equal?  The case for better education and standards in private schools is a lost one.  Safety, while a primary issue, is a weak argument.  It’s when one gets to the issue of whether equity and fairness, and above all else, integrity, rules the environment, that is really damning.  This is not to say that public schools are a paragon of virtue; far from it.  The difference is accountability.  The wonderful thing about the public school system is that, really, it’s what one makes of it.  Parents and children have a choice – and a voice.  Since everyone has paid for it in taxes, there is a sort of democracy at work in public schools, even during hard times.  No such voice really exists for the “poor” parents in private schools.  The “needs” of private schools may depend on an actual existing need of the school. Or a high-paying parent’s own agenda.  It depends on how badly that school needs the money, and how strong enough are they, to withstand that temptation.  In a public school, a poor but determined and hardworking student has more of a fighting chance, relatively free from worrying about proving themselves to their privileged peers.  Horatio Alger’s alter ego should be focusing on improving himself, not over-dressing.

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A rough-and-tumble environment might be what is needed to build a person’s character.  We have been wussified beyond belief in the past few decades.  No one bothers to expose themselves to the elements anymore, insulated by tall buildings, smog, and small-time corruption and other small misdemeanors that bring food and comfort on the table.  People are too easily cowed into believing that safety from the elements is of paramount importance, and not growth.  If the tradeoff is seeing the young become morally bankrupt — then No Thank You.  I’ll save the money for their future, and train my children the same way the Spartans did with theirs: harsh, but strong, inside and out. Everyone will have varying degrees of harshness; however, there should be no argument that our children should be raised to be strong and productive citizens, not dependents or leeches of the state.  Until private schools disprove all the secret talk about the corruption and inequity of their systems, your child can do no worse than to go public.

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Leave the myths of comfort and quality education behind. Your child’s education is really what both of you make of it. You can assign all that responsibility to an institution then try to control them all, as an afterthought. Or you can live and appreciate your life, and that of others, and your environment, and strive to work in balance with them from an early age.  That, My Friends, is an education that far outlasts all the pedagogical lessons in the world.

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Copyright Anabasius 2009

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