244. Private Schools

When children are ready to go to school, many parents are faced with a decision: public school or private school? If public school, which town or city has good schools? If private school, which one? It can be a complex decision, and there’s a tendency to try to simplify it by leaning on stereotypes. Some towns, for example, have reputations for having public schools that are “like private schools.”
Let’s take a look at some of the stereotypes. (“stereotype,” by the way, originally referred to a kind of type used in printing presses. Interestingly, the French word for this kind of type is “cliche.”) According to these stereotypes, private schools are for the children of wealthy snobs who don’t want their children mixing with the children of common people. And public schools are chaotic zoos. In this article, I’ll focus on private schools, and in my next one, on public schools.
The stereotypes about private schools don’t fare so well under close scrutiny. It’s true that parents usually have to pay a lot of money to have their children attend private schools, but some parents, who are far from wealthy, consider tuition a high priority, and do without other things for the sake of their children’s education. And some private schools provide some scholarships for families who can’t afford tuition.
Some private schools have admissions policies that put families through a kind of torture. I don’t know of any children who have been rejected by any private schools, but I suspect that’s because families tend not to go public with that information. I’ve sometimes filled out recommendation forms, knowing that children who got accepted wouldn’t be around much any more. I’d miss them, so my heart often wasn’t in it, but I did the best I could.
There were times when I thought about teaching in private schools. Some private schools are committed to philosophies and approaches that sounded attractive to me. But just as some families couldn’t afford to send children to private schools, I didn’t think I could afford to teach in a private school. Public schools usually pay teachers more. This may seem confusing: where does that tuition money go if not to pay teachers? But private schools have to rely mostly on tuition; public schools are funded by the whole community, which includes people who have no children, people whose children are too young or old for the schools, and people who send their children to private schools.
My wife and I seriously considered enrolling our children in private schools. We didn’t do it, but there were times when we came close. We didn’t want to be snobs, but sometimes our children came home with stories about negative things children or teachers had said or done, and we fantasized that our children would be safer from trauma somewhere else. Money and the snobbism factor started to seem less important. And there were private schools that seemed made for us and our children. In my next article, I’ll tell you why we and others kept deciding to stay with public schools.

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