Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Private Vs. Public Schools

Okay, so yesterday I was at a talk at a local private school (which shall remain unnamed). My reasons for being at this talk are unimportant (job stuff). The thing that got to me was that as the speakers were talking up their school and how great it is, they fell into a common mode of bashing public school.

Now let me add a disclaimer here. I have been known to do my own fair share of public school bashing. Back when I was a homeschooling mom, my fellow homeschoolers and I often spent our conversations pointing out the pitfalls of public schools. I think it helped us feel we were doing the right thing for our kids. Like we had to justify it or something. Now that I have had nearly ten years of having kids in the public schools, I can see things more objectively. I think.

So back to yesterday. The main speaker spoke about how the students at their school had extremely high reading levels. MY kids have extremely high reading levels. She talked about the fact that several of their students became National Merit Scholars. My kid was a National Merit Scholar. They talked about how their school aligns math and reading groups. Wow, they do that in our elementary school too. Virtually everything they discussed sent my brain into a tailspin.

What I decided was that those particular kids would have extremely high reading levels, would have been National Merit Scholars, would have been grouped in like math and reading groups, etc. even if they didn't go to this fancy private school. I think--and I'm generalizing here, I realize--that the private school just happens to have a skewed percentage of high performing students, who would have achieved those things no matter where they were.

I think a lot of what counts in education today is not so much exactly the method of the school in teaching, but the attitude of parents and kids alike about learning. My children are all smart. I'm not saying that to brag, but to point out that they were smart before they went to school. My homeschooling mindset tells me that they would be smart even if they never went to school. If they explored the world in their own way in their own time, they'd be smart.

I'm trying to downplay the wonderfulness of this or any other private school. I just think that the school's belief that their students' successes are because of the school is ridiculous. The students, as the head of school pointed out, come to the school already fully formed in their personalities and humanness, and as such, the school does not fill up their minds with stuff, but helps the students realize themselves. Yay for them. But my kids have been able to realize themselves despite the burden of having gone to public school. So what would she say to that?

As an educator, I hope to avoid the thought process that says one way of approaching learning is the best way. There are many ways, and probably all have their own worth. I hope I will be able to engage my students, excite them about our subject, and make personal connections with them. I hope they will remember my class as a time when they were jazzed about a subject, and if not that, at least jazzed to come to class because I made it interesting. What they do with their lives, what successes they become--that's up to them. I feel the same about my own children. I hope I have given them the space to explore their own interests, the common sense to see what needs to be done, and the support to follow their passions. I don't take credit for anything more than standing back and giving them the green light.

Have a day full of learning--you don't have to pay $8,000 a year for it.


1 comment:

  1. Scott and I have talked about this a lot (him having worked 25+ years in educational assessment). Most of the difference he sees in test scores fall not on public-private school lines but along socio-economic lines. Parents who are working two or three jobs to make ends meet aren't usually home to supervise homework or keep kids from playing too much Wii. And in that vein, families who can afford private school aren't the ones working two or three jobs.
    I think private schools use whatever evidence they can find to justify the expense. They do a good job educating kids--with test scores to prove it. But since they get the cream of the crop to work with, their results should be excellent.