Perspectives in Parenting: Choosing Private School

Motherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child. We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them! We are continuing our series, Perspectives in Parenting, with a look at education. Five of our contributors will share their experiences of choosing schools for their children. Don’t miss our other perspectives on public school, charter schoolhome school, and special education.

Private School

Some of the most important decisions we make as parents are those involving our children’s education. These decisions are not easy, as parents must factor in their values, resources, options, and opportunity costs. The good news is that, today more than ever, parents have a variety of options from which to choose. This post is directed to the parents who are considering private school for their children but have concerns.

I attended the same private school for 14 years. I got an extraordinary education, and I value having my children share my alma mater. With these inputs, my school choice largely made itself, and—for the most part—my husband was willing to defer to me on this decision. In making the case for private school, I have virtually no basis for comparison. Thus, rather than explain why private school is The. Best. Option, I will address some of the private school criticisms I have heard over the years.

“Private school is expensive.”

You’re telling me. It’s so expensive. I am extremely fortunate that private school is even an option for my children. I could go on and on about how parents should focus on the value, not the cost, but that doesn’t help when you’re looking at a tuition bill with a comma in it. And the first digit’s not a 1. In fact, it rounds up. And that’s for one child. For preschool.

So, yes. It’s expensive. Ultimately, it’s a consumption choice. My husband and I forgo a lot of things so that our children can attend the school we have chosen.

I recognize that for many families, no amount of belt-tightening will get them within reach of a private-school education. I cannot change that fact. I will point out, however, that many private schools offer scholarships and financial aid. Typically, schools direct their resources toward high school students. If you are a parent of young children, while you may not find much financial support during the early years, be aware that aid opportunities may be available when your child is older.

“Private school kids feel entitled.”

Children who are brought up to feel entitled will feel that way regardless of what school they attend. A lot of parents work hard and make sacrifices to give their children what they believe is the best education that they can afford. Sometimes that means funding a private education; sometimes that means getting into a better public school district.

To me, it sends a powerful message to my children when my husband and I prioritize their education over other things. Any sense of entitlement that comes from a parent paying for a child’s private education is likely much less than the one that would arise if the parent spent the same resources on material goods.

“I want my child to experience diversity.”

When I visit the campus of my children’s school, the student population appears to be reasonably diverse, by race and ethnicity. I’m sure I could find statistics, but this issue’s not a driver for me. When people refer to diversity in the private-school context, I assume they really mean socioeconomic diversity. In my experience, at the high school level, there is more socioeconomic diversity than the uninitiated would believe, in part because of financial aid and scholarships.

With that said, I can’t straight-faced claim that the average private school has the same “have-nots” that the average public school does. I will say this, though. If my child attended school in any of the public school districts in which my family conceivably would live, much of the socioeconomic diversity would be imperceptible. The diversity that was evident would hardly represent the full spread of human experience.

It is tremendously important that my children understand that only a tiny fraction of human beings are showered with the material wealth they take for granted. And I don’t mean swimming pools and ski vacations. I mean shoes. And food every day. And indoor plumbing. To me it’s a fallacy to say that a middle-class American child will understand his comparative wealth if he attends public school and can have no concept of it if he attends private school. Both choices reflect a limited band on the spectrum. My work in this regard would not be “done” if I sent my child to a public school in which the band is—in the real scheme of things—not that much wider than it is in private school.

“Private schools don’t have football.”

Some do. But you’re right: If 5A-level athletics are a priority for your family, a private school is unlikely to meet that need. What’s nice about private school extracurricular activities, though, is that a student does not need to be a 5A-caliber athlete to be able to participate in sports. And it’s possible to play varsity-level sports, and be in the school play, and sit on Student Council, and write for the school paper, if for no other reason than that bodies are needed. Small can be good.

“If my child attends private school, she won’t understand the real world.”

This criticism is the most specious, and the most confusing. As a parent, I will introduce my child to and teach her about the big wide world. School is one of the tools I use for that. Church is another. So are museums. And the public square. And travel. Why would anyone think that school is the sole place in which a child will learn about the “real” world, or that a narrower school experience cannot be supplemented with a more robust out-of-school life?

Or is the argument that the world is a tough place, and that by cloistering my child in the rarefied air of private school, I’m robbing her of the chance to learn by hard knocks? The fact that a student attends a private school does not prove that her life is charmed. The human condition is the human condition, and private schools are not populated by well-coifed, uniformed automatons.

Private schools do offer a more controlled environment, though. And I like that. My children attend school primarily for their academic education. I need to send them there knowing that piece of their development is going to be handled to my standard, without distraction from other things. We will learn about other “things” in due time, through other channels.

In San Antonio, we are fortunate to have a strong public school system, a range of private and parochial schools, and increasingly robust charter school offerings. Here’s to all the parents who make the best choice for their children and their families!

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3 Responses to Perspectives in Parenting: Choosing Private School

  1. Katy
    Katy January 27, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    Sarah and Kate, thank you for your kind words about the post. It’s a topic that I feel strongly about, but that I found it difficult to write about, mostly because of the cost “elephant in the room.” I’m glad the post resonated with you! –Katy

  2. Sarah B January 27, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    This is so well laid out and eloquent. I have heard many in opposition to private school cite the diversity and real world dispute. I agree with your assertion, ” If my child attended school in any of the public school districts in which my family conceivably would live, much of the socioeconomic diversity would be imperceptible. The diversity that was evident would hardly represent the full spread of human experience.” Thanks again for this thoughtful perspective!

  3. Kate Guinn Gonzalez January 26, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    Wow. Another great article on education decisions. I want to commend Alamo City Moms Blog. Keep up the good work.