The constant battle between public and private rages on. But is private school really that much more wondrous than the public-school option?
Jeanne Sager: The dream went something like this: Great uncle I never met (and therefore am not saddened about) dies a not-in-the-least-bit-horrifying death and leaves me oodles of cash. After some never-before-known knack for investing turns it into quadruple oodles, I, in turn, plunk it down on tuition at a fancy private school where they speak in hushed tones about nurturing my daughter's "inner spark" and where they wouldn't dream of quashing her boisterous spirit like a mayfly on the windshield.
But there always lingered in the back of my mind a few hard, cold facts. I live in upstate New York, where, even if such a school were to exist, it would probably be a good hourlong drive from my house, even if it wasn't snowing. (Pour on the powder, and we'd be talking two hours of Mommy's knuckles gripping the steering wheel while Mommy curses her idealism.)
Just like that, the fantasy would be gone -- and along with it, the sense that going to a private school would be the thing that makes or breaks my daughter's future.
I went to public school. My husband went to public school. And we aren't, ahem, destitute idiots with no "inner sparks."
In fact, most of the parents who kvetch about the drive to private school, the tuition and the state of the local public schools went to public school themselves. And few of them have even given the local public school a try. Their kids entered private school in preschool, and there they will remain.
Because while our government's economic straits may not have been kind to our public- school systems in terms of resources, these days there's one thing the schools are never short of: students. According to a recent USA Today report, private-school enrollment has declined by 2.5 percent -- and that number is expected to grow. According to a recent Harris Interactive Poll, one in four parents are rethinking the type of school their kids should attend from now on.
For the families wanting to save themselves a wad of cash, not much has changed. If they were the types to supplement their kids' educations with piles of books to read at night, science projects in the toy cupboard and cultural trips taken "just because," they're still doing it.
Believe it or not, whether kids are inside a public school building or a private one, they're still the same kids. In a public school, they might even be kids with a bit of spunk and a flash of spirit.
Public school was where I spent eleven years, but it isn't who I am. I am a product of a household where the bookshelves were never empty and where the library card was never out of sight. I am the woman who chose to take college courses via my public high school -- while many students opted out. I am the woman who paid attention in class while some passed notes. Yes, I was (am?) a geek. You can blame my parents.
That said, a private school wouldn't have made my brain any more likely to make heads or tails of a quadratic equation -- or less inclined to lose myself in a book.
Private school is a nice dream, and for a certain few, a pleasant reality. But when an extra $20,000 is sitting in your bank account this September, you might find it a little easier to buy some extra books and at-home science kits.
|Jeanne Sager is a mom to Jillian and a writer from upstate New
York. She's strung words together for Babble.com, Kiwi Magazine and AOL's Holidash, and she shares her award-winning weekly newspaper column on her blog, Inside Out.