Despite What Slate Says, Never Apologize for Sending Your Kids to Private School
I read Family Building with a Twist’s post about the guilt she feels over sending her child to private school which was compounded by the Slate article with the link-baity title and opening:
Title: If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person
Lede: 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.
Right, not link-baity in the least. I purposefully am linking to Family Building with a Twist’s post and not the Slate one, though you will find a link to the Slate one from KeAnne’s post.
Perhaps it is indicative of the poor education the author claimed to get, but her reasoning was so simplistic and dismissive that I don’t really think you need to actually read it to get pretty much the gist of it from this: whether you are sending your kids to private school due to family traditions, a care about their education, religious reasons, behavioural reasons, learning differences, or problems with safety in the local school, you are a terrible person for not opting in to your public school.
As a former private school teacher and product of the public school system who has now sent her own children to both private and public schools, I think I have a fairly decent scope of the situation.
I’ve worked at hoity toity, almost-$40,000-per-year-tuition private schools that served a gourmet lunch on china plates with silverware. I’ve worked at experiential education schools that had no permanent buildings on campus in order to have complete respect for the environment. I’ve worked at happy, friendly, community-building private schools that churned out free-thinkers rather than focusing on hardcore academics. I even taught college for two years at a nice, sprawling public institution.
And I’ve experienced public school my entire life: from kindergarten through graduate school.
And all I can say is that the school should fit the child; not the other way around. All schools are like huge ships, too big to turn quickly. Private school or public school — they cannot cater to a single child. So just as not every body type fits every article of clothing despite it being the correct size, not every learning type fits every school despite it containing an appropriate grade for your child.
And it’s a parent’s job to make sure that they’ve placed their child in their best learning environment. THIS is more important than public vs. private because in either situation, a child in their wrong learning environment does more to tax and disrupt the system than removing kids from public school. A child scared of the outdoors can’t thrive in an experiental outdoor-ed program, and if placed there, sucks out resources such as the teacher’s attention at a rate that depletes the system. A child who is a free-spirit can’t thrive in a restrictive, traditional, uniform-wearing school. Place them in that environment just because she has a legacy at that school, and what you’ll have is a student who detracts from the community, negatively impacting the education of the students around her.
And the same is true for placing a child who won’t thrive in public school in the public school system.
Of course, there are times when that can’t be helped. Financial realities get in the way. Your home base doesn’t have the resources for your child. There are children who end up needing to remain in public school despite the fact that public school clearly doesn’t fit them. Unlike Slate’s author, I’ll never say the choices are easy. That they’re all do-able. Sometimes, when it comes to your child’s education or their special needs, you have a kid who clearly doesn’t fit the system but there is very little you can do to get them out of that system.
And those are the times when I think we need to offer those kids an apology: I am so sorry that the world is so unbalanced that we can’t even get a child into an education system that fits them.
For the most part, I think public school is a little bit like vanilla ice cream: most people wouldn’t pick it as a first choice, but we can all agree that it serves as a decent base for a host of other toppings. I know kids who go to public school, and that is the extent of their education. And that is fine: just like a plain scoop of vanilla ice cream. You’re still getting ice cream, and who (except for the lactose-intolerant) is going to complain about ice cream in the same way that you are getting a basic education, and who is going to complain about a basic education? But the people who end up really enjoying that vanilla ice cream are the ones who layer on the toppings: in-school extra enrichment programs, after school activities, or kickass volunteers who come to the school the same time your child is there to bring their expertise for everyone’s benefit.
I think private schools tend to be like flavoured ice cream. The flavour actually matters. You can’t ask someone who hates pistachio ice cream to eat a big, heaping dish of pistachio ice cream and enjoy it. Can they gag their way through it? Sure. But they won’t thrive. But give someone who likes pistachio ice cream that dish and they’ll lick it clean. And they’ll figure out ways to improve the ice cream for other pistachio lovers. The same goes for Rocky Road or rum raisin: preferences (and learning styles) matter in the ice cream shop. Not all options are equally great for all customers.
I enjoy other flavours of ice cream more than vanilla, but I’m a perfectly content vanilla-eater and a perfectly content product of the public school system, so much so that I went to a public college and public graduate school. For myself, I would always choose vanilla because I like the flexibility of building my own flavours by adding or removing toppings.
We’re still trying to figure out our kids, whether they’re okay with vanilla (with a heap of toppings) or whether they would really do something amazing with a differently flavoured school. Some of that changes from year to year.
I agree with the author of the Slate article who says that we need to commit to schools beyond paying taxes: we need to get in there and bring our personal expertise to help the next generation. I go into my local public school and volunteer two days per week teaching writing — for free. I do this because I believe strongly that all children should have a lot of exposure to writing at a young age, because I am a decent teacher and can convey the information to them, and because I enjoy teaching and this is a way I can teach without having to commit to a daily classroom. I can do this because I have a flexible job, timewise. The days I volunteer, I end up working from 9 pm to midnight. That’s my choice, and I would never ask another person to make the choices I make in terms of giving to the community and having a fairly sucky schedule in return. There are plenty of other things a family could do that goes beyond contributing money that could benefit your local school, whether or not you have children there.
But volunteerism: that’s not a sustainable change. That change is only in place as long as I am there or you are there or Jim down the street is there. No one else can fit the me-shaped spaces we create when we give back to community. So for Slate to suggest that it’s as easy as pie; we’ll all just pitch in and help out and all will be fine in a few generations is reductive. When we’re gone, our work is gone too. And in the case of charter schools — a whole extra bucket of fish that Slate never taps into within their article — while they are more sustainable, they truly serve more like life boats during the Titanic. The kids who get in them get rescued from the school system while the rest of the school — the main ship in this analogy — sinks under the water, dragging down the people who remain trapped in that system.
As a whole, just as we should take people on face value and realize that while there are certain characteristics that may change but people don’t overhaul a whole personality, we should also recognize that schools may tweak tiny aspects of their program, but overall, their personality doesn’t change.
So choose a school based on what fits rather than asking the child to conform to the largely intractable personality of the education program. Doing so not only is best for YOUR child, but for the children who needs to be around your child since a child in the wrong education program tends to be a child who disrupts and taxes the system, destroying it for others. So no, I don’t think you’re a bad person if you put your child in private school. I think you’re a good parent for paying attention to actually raising your child vs. just keeping them alive. And I think you’re a good citizen for choosing a school that fits your child rather than putting them in the wrong system that detracts from all around them.