I was speaking to an ivy-educated friend (and parent) the other night about Philadelphia elementary school choices. He halted the conversation when he said (I’m paraphrasing), ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but I essentially am looking at one thing in a school. How likely is it that my child will be able to get into an ivy or near-ivy level college?’
The politically correct side of me was immediately taken aback. What about diversity? What about community? What about supporting the local public school effort? Then I became jealous of his clarity. His family is fortunate enough to be able to afford private school, but when it comes down to it, so am I, and so are many people that I know, whether we care to admit it. It is certainly more socially acceptable to downplay our economic status. Parents spend in the neighborhood of $10K a child per year for day care, it’s not that great a financial leap to most private schools for kindergarten. Over the last couple of months I am learning about the school choices of many of my friends and casual acquaintances who have children starting this Fall. These are people who I know share my values. If you had asked me last year, I would have guessed that they would have chosen a public school. I have been surprised not only by the number of people who have been choosing private school, but by the fact that they all seem to be choosing one particular private school. What is that about?
It made me think about a possible scenario. Let’s say that tomorrow, private school cost 80% less than it does today. Would the majority of the population choose it? More specifically, how many people who express a belief in public education today would be selecting private schools for their children tomorrow? I think that a lot of us would be changing our tunes. Myself included. I admit it. I like to tell people that I went to public school and advocate for public education in areas like diversity and community. But how much of that argument is genuine? Do people rationalize their preference of public schools because they consciously or subconsciously don’t want to spend the money? I am not pointing fingers at all, I am talking about myself. In my heart and mind, I believe in community and diversity, but I believe in giving my children the best opportunity to succeed in life more. I act like those goals are not mutually exclusive, but are they? Certainly those goals could be achieved with a carefully chosen private school, with more assurance of the opportunities available, right? I look at myself and realize that it is kind of a joke for me to cite my own public school experiences. I went to an all-white affluent suburban high school. It was public for people who could afford to live there, which of course meant that it wasn’t really public at all. My hypocrisy has not been conscious. On the contrary–I think that the conversation with my friend opened up my mind to the idea that I have these conflicting thoughts and ideas, and that money is a part of the equation, that achievement is part of the equation. I suspect that the common choices that many of my friends are making is simply reflecting the fact that they are coming to terms with their conflicting attitudes toward community, diversity, and public versus private education just like I am. The fact that they are coming to a similar conclusion as one another may reflect a choice that reflects a honest balance of their similar educational values.