The question of schooling can be a divisive one for those privileged enough to be able to contemplate it.
For every parent who insists co-ed schools provide a hotbed of adolescent sexual distraction, there is another who believes segregating genders can lead to an obsession in each with the other. For every horror story about a delinquent public-school culture, you hear a variation on the theme from the private-school corner. So, what is a parent to think?
“Would you send your kids to the school you went to?”
For the majority of my friends from school, this question has been answered with a definitive and resounding: ‘Yes’. All their daughters are enrolled in, or already attending, the same private girls’ school we attended.
The real question is: “Can you afford to send your kids to the same school you went to?”
The cost of putting a child through 13 years of private education in a major Australian city is now $298,689. To be educated in the Catholic system costs $127,027. Government schooling is $68,727.
Private schooling is an expense most parents I know are willing to meet for their children — somehow, anyhow — just as our parents did for us. Presumably, our folks had hoped our exclusive schooling would leave us in a financial position to pay the favour forward to the next generation.
Is private schooling social insurance?
Despite my dad’s objections, my mum was staunch in her loyalty to private schooling. Raised by a single mother, her grandparents had provided the funds for a private education, and it became a non-negotiable for her own kids. In fact, she insisted on particular schools based on family tradition. She had many reasons for this, but there were always several subtexts running through her arguments. Sure, she believed a private school offered better educational opportunities, but she also wanted the social status that came with a private school education. She believed mixing with other private school families would ensure a certain cultural advantage.
Single-sex, private schooling was seen by my mum as an expensive, but essential, social insurance. Trouble was, it came with no guarantees. My partner attended a public school and I can’t see a huge difference between his experiences and mine.
Alcohol, drugs, teen suicide, bullying, risky sexual behaviour, eating disorders, brushes with the law, unwanted pregnancies — none of the dangers of adolescence are confined to a particular type of schooling. There is no uniform that can shield a young person from the big, wide world. No matter how desperately a parent wants to buy one.
So, forget the idea that a private school puts your child in some sort of protective bubble—but what if your primary concern is ensuring your child is set upon a successful career path?
Does a fancy school uniform guarantee a corner office?
I know lawyers and CEOs from both government and private schools, but I do wonder if the pressures and expectations placed on children differ depending on their schooling environments.
I know of at least one highly qualified professional who has looked at her job with a critical eye in her late 30’s and wondered why she pursued that particular career. She had gone to an excellent school, she had achieved the marks to study a prestigious discipline. It seemed the right thing to do; lucrative, respectable. A solid return on her parent’s investment—just one she has never enjoyed. Would her career have taken another turn if she had attended a different school? A school that didn’t place the same high value on a corporate career?
I know many people, myself included, who went to university thinking they were taking strides towards career success yet ended up barely using the degrees they earned and paid for. It turns out this is not a historical phenomenon either; a recent study found that more than half of young Australians believe their degrees are a waste of money.
So, if a particular school cannot guarantee your child won’t fall in with a toxic crowd, and if a tertiary education can’t guarantee a particular upward trajectory, what type of success are parents really shooting for when choosing a school?
Taking a different perspective on education
Perhaps what we have to ask ourselves is not what a school can promise in terms of high marks and material success, but how it can teach the whole student?
Does the school value the individual? Do the teachers do their best to meet the needs of each child? Does the school embrace and celebrate the diverse talents of each student, no matter if those skills are in the classroom, art studio or on the sporting field? Is this an education that will set a child up for a self-determined future of happiness and fulfilment?
I’m beginning to think the master stroke is not the school we choose for our children but how we model fulfilment as parents; how often we allow acceptance and contentment to blot out the quest for more. Maybe the best thing we can offer our children is a home and sanctuary that honours each and every person as they really are. Perhaps then, they can go to school—whichever school—feeling free to follow the clues of curiosity, rather than simply following the herd.
Would you send your kids to the school you went to? Share your answers in the comments below.