Private Education. The words bring an image to mind of gothic-style brick buildings, suit jackets with logos worn by students and professors, a beautiful green campus, and students earning top grades in classes taught by top-of-the-line professors while competing in extracurricular academic activities like the debate team or writing for the school’s newspaper.
Public Schools. These words yield an image quite different from the ones above. You envision crowded hallways, dented lockers, dirty floors, and students with a high disregard for their teachers and rules set out by their administrators yelling profanities across the hallways in between classes.
Obviously, there are exceptions to each and every rule and stereotype. A private education isn’t always going to be so picturesque and high-quality, and a public education can actually prove to be very high-quality, efficient, effective and beneficial to the student.
Personally, I have gone to public schools my entire life, earned a degree from a public university, and I am a big advocate for public education. A few months ago however, I was doing some class-assigned reading in an Anthropology class for the completion of my degree, and I was floored by the differences between public and private educational institutions.
Needless to say, even though I remain an advocate of public school systems, I quickly adopted the perspective that private schools do provide a better education, and this is why: in general, private schools are funded by the elite of the elite of society. They live in a different world, have different life experiences and different expectations from even the upper middle class. Below are some detailed points explaining what I mean.
Public schools are funded by, you guessed it, the public. We all pay taxes, and public education is part of what our tax money goes to. Education through high school graduation is free to students in the United States, and the cost public college or university education is highly subsidized by the state government.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in upper-middle class suburbia. There, public schools are sometimes hard to distinguish from private ones. Many are even requiring students to wear uniforms now. But then you get to the inner-city and poor rural ares. Areas where people living in a given education zone are unemployed and do all they can but still can’t land a decent job. Here, there are little to no taxes coming in to fund a good education for the upcoming generations. Teachers, as passionate as they may be, don’t have money to buy supplies and are very limited in their styles of teaching. Equipment, technology and textbooks are out-of-date, creating an out-of-date education for the students. The brutal cycle of inadequate education and employment that their parents and grandparents went through will be repeated on them, with no good way to escape.
Private schools, as the name implies, are funded privately, i.e. not by state and local taxes. Funding comes from wealthy, aristocratic patrons and the thousands upon thousands of dollars charged in tuition per student per year. In private educational institutions, teachers and administrators can afford not only up-to-date books and technologies, but they actually have enough to go around. This provides a high-quality educational environment that fosters genuine and unique learning that is often not available to public school students.
Family Expectations and Socioeconomic Class
Typically, most students who attend public schools come from hard-working, wage-earner parents who have had to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into everything they’ve earned. There was no inheritance money for them to purchase a top-of-the-line education or to buy their first home. They had to put the hourly work in to pay for it themselves.
As can be expected, the family values of hard, honest work get passed on to the children. Not only for idealistic purposes, but also for reasonable ones. When a teenager turns 16 and wants to drive, they’re going to have to provide their own gas money, spending cash, and maybe even the car or insurance payments, so they get a job at a local grocery store or restaurant.
Most importantly, this isn’t something that these teens are even necessarily forced to do, they just know that it is something they will have to do. Much like you know you have to eat in order for your body to function properly. There’s not even much of a question about it. That fact just is. This value and work-study attitude carries over into their education at public colleges and universities as well, leaving them less time to pursue educational extracurricular activities that their more privileged peers take part in so readily.
On the other hand, private school students typically come from a world of money. It’s almost an inverse world. Just like the need to get a job just is for their public school peers, for them, access to money, and a seemingly endless supply of it just is. They know that until they land on their own two feet, it’s never too much to ask to get free, continued financial support from their family’s investments.
In a public high school, you have three different tracks of study: Career Prep for those going straight into the workforce after high school, College Tech Prep for those headed to a community or two-year college, and College Prep for the smart kids whose parents are either middle-middle class or above. Even if you are one of the ‘richer’ smart kids, no one expects you to make it into Harvard or Yale. If you do, that’s great, but you’re definitely in the minority. The ‘dream come true’ for you is to graduate in four years from a state university and land a decent job. If you do end up going to a private school, it’s going to be on a scholarship, and it’s probably not going to be one a prestigious one.
In a private high school, you have one, maybe two tracks of study. One is Ivy League Prep, and the other, if it exists, is college or university prep. If you’re smart and you work hard, you will graduate high school and transition into one of these $50,000+ USD per year institutions of higher education.
Like everything else, this too comes down to money. Public and Private schools and teachers have been raised with and still maintain two completely different mentalities; one of which fosters furthering and higher education much more than the other one.
Individuals who attended or attend public schools have the mentality of “Work hard in school for the sake of getting smarter in order to be able to earn money to support yourself in this world.” This is not necessarily a bad mentality to have, but it is clear the focus is on the end result of good employment and not learning for the sake of becoming a more educated individual.
Individuals who attend private schools, on the other hand, have the general mentality of “Work hard in school for the sake of learning and becoming a more well-rounded, educated member of society.” This is definitely the ideal outlook of any student within an institution of higher education, but economic pressures in lower socioeconomic classes prevent it from doing so.
The gap is continuing to widen. And it doesn’t look like the process is going to start going in reverse any time soon. The rich are getting richer, and their education is getting better. The poor are getting poorer and have less and less money to spend on education in hopes of a better future.
As sad of a simple truth as it may be, money is what makes the world go round. If you have money, you have privilege and access to bigger and better things. If you don’t have money, you’re shut out of the world of privilege. It’s that simple. So, it’s really not surprising to understand why a private education is typically better than one provided by public schools, if you can afford it.
See also: http://bit.ly/csRsbw and http://bit.ly/aV7W97