In Defense of Private School Education

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“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

We are all shaped by our experiences. That’s nothing new in the handbook of life. You kind of get a sense of that even at a young age and usually don’t even know it until you’re older. On your first day of school, you sit down and have lunch with the other kindergartners and find out that not every kid in the world eats peanut butter and jelly for lunch – but you have almost every day for most of your life so far. Some kids can’t even eat peanut butter (gasp.) When you get a little older in elementary school, you find out that not everyone has brothers and sisters, or even a father and mother. Wait…not everyone has a dog?!

So you get a little older and you’re in middle school. You start to learn more about the world, and decide for yourself what it is you believe in. Then you find out that some people don’t believe the same things you do. You’re thirteen years old, in the school band, have braces, and come home to a family every night. There are other thirteen year olds who go home to fighting parents, who skip school regularly, who don’t believe in anything. They might go to your school, they might live in your neighborhood, they might ride your bus. They’re in their own worlds, worlds that collide in public.

Some people might call this a “bubble.” Actually, a lot of people would call this a bubble. A bubble might be called the sheltered, exclusive environment that you are raised in with its own unique set of characteristics that differentiate it from the rest of the world. That’s a narrow definition. You won’t find it in Merriam Webster, but kids these days know what’s up. But I still think that definition is too narrow.

You grow up in a bubble, essentially. Your home is a bubble, wherever your home is. When you go to school, you enter into your school bubble. You also might have a church bubble, or a camp bubble, or friendship/relationship bubble. Exclusive bubbles.

People like to throw this term around in higher ed, though, more often than not. The College Bubble. Just imagine Stephen King’s dome but it’s around your college, and everything that goes on inside it is exclusive to your college. If you think about it, your life is a series of bubbles that you traverse through as you transition from one place to another.

There’s also the “Christian bubble.” The impenetrable Jericho-style barrier between being in the world and of the world. At least, that’s how some people see it. The fine line between legalistic, conservative “mama-raised-me-right” living and “the outside world” of secular community and sin.

Others see it as a membrane, where select individuals can travel in and out, but there’s still always outliers. In my opinion, it’s neither of these extremes, but we’ll get to that later.

Then why is being in a “bubble” a bad thing?

The title of this post involves school, so I might as well focus on school – private school, in particular. First things first: I honestly don’t care how you feel about private school. I want you to hear me out. I have my own biases about private school, and you might have some that are different than mine. That’s fine. But hear me out, and then maybe we can find some common ground. People like to think they’re radically different from one another, but really, we’re fundamentally the same, and sometimes go our entire lives without realizing that.

I grew up in private school. If you’re thinking white, suburban, Christian, and sheltered, you’re absolutely right. That was my upbringing. I don’t know why those words have gotten bad connotations. I didn’t feel suffocated. My suburban upbringing wasn’t just a glossy, gilded exterior with a nightmare underneath. Of course we had our troubles, but it wasn’t American BeautyIt was pretty happy and normal, “happy” and “normal” being relative terms, here. I can’t believe I’m even trying to defend myself here, because I can hear some of you through the screen saying, “Audrey, my upbringing was a living hell so you have no right to this and that and the other thing. You don’t know what life is actually like.”

I don’t know what your life is like, that’s true. Nobody does. I don’t pretend to know. But hear me out.

I am the product of private Christian schooling. And it was great. I was exposed to Christianity at a young age and was blessed enough to accept Jesus into my heart while in my single digits. I have two hardworking parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me and my brother to go to Christian school, and I am never going to take that for granted. They both forged their own faiths for themselves, having both grown up in relatively turbulent and godless homes. They wanted better for their children, and they gave it to us.

Therein lies my first point. I think some people go off about private school without taking into account the sacrifices made on their behalf. “But kids should be able to decide for themselves!” some may say. Okay, then sit down with your four year old and ask her if she wants to go to Christian school or public school. She probably doesn’t even know what those words mean yet.

My parents worked hard to make sure my brother and I got a Christian education (which is a lot of money, if you didn’t know that already.) Looking back, I feel horrible about the times I’d come home from school complaining. I was complaining to my parents after they’d had a long day getting the paycheck that funded my education. They never mentioned it or used it to guilt me, but looking back, I realize it now and it hurts to know that I did that.

Also, do you know how much Christian school educators get paid? Not much. Not much at all. But they show up every day because they believe in it. All teachers do.

I don’t want to sound like I think I’m better because I went to private school. I’m not. But I’m not less, either. My opinion isn’t any less valid because of my upbringing, because I went to a school that believed in something that’s radically different than what the rest of the world believes.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation with some of my college friends who also went to private school. It seemed as though they didn’t have anything good to say about them. It seems like no one has anything good to say about private school these days, given recent events and the concerns regarding the current administration. I won’t get political here, but I don’t think either of these things discredit private schooling.

“I’m not going to raise my kids as Christians,” one of my friends said. “I’m going to let them decide for themselves.”

“I don’t think private school gives kids enough opportunity,” another one said, “like with the arts and stuff like that. And it doesn’t give them enough opportunity to talk to people who are different than they are.”

“There’s really no difference between public school and private school. Kids are just as bad in private school.”

“I just think it’s a bubble.”

Allow me to assert the radical notion that if we are Christians, it is our obligation to raise our children as Christian. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent if you send your kids to public school (I’m not a parent at all so there are a lot of things I don’t understand.)

I’m just asking you to give private school a chance. Work through the biases you might have about it, try to understand where those biases come from. Was it one private school kid you knew a long time ago? Was it one headline you saw in the news? Was it one bad experience you had at your own private school?

I understand that private school is a privilege that not all people can afford. But if you think about it, education is priceless, no matter where you get it from. That might be kind of a canned phrase, but it’s true. It’s a privilege to live in the US and get an education here. We should never lose sight of that. It just so happens that the government pays for some school more than others, because the people who formed this country a long time ago thought that was a good idea. And it was, and it is.

If you went to a private school and hated it, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t mean that private school is fundamentally bad or not worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that private school is a “bubble,” at least not anymore than a public school or a church or a home is. It’s not a crutch, it’s not a handicap. It’s a school.

All education is worth it, and I would encourage you to see private school and public school as two sides of the same coin, not two unequal coins.

Whatever education you’ve had or are getting, don’t take it for granted.

That’s all I got for now, kids.

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