Public vs private

Back in the old country, while some parents send their children to private schools, most don’t. Only about 4% of New Zealand children attend private schools. The rest just go to their local state schools, and a very, very small proportion, less than 1% (based on my own calculations – I’m very happy to correct the figure if I have it wrong) are home schooled. (Not an option that appeals to me – I would go crazy within a week. But we both hold PhDs, so we figure that we could homeschool them if they want to do degrees.)

It’s a different matter in the new country. About 33% of children in Australia attend private schools (data table downloadable here). That’s a huge proportion.

People give various reasons for wanting to send their children to private schools – better education, smaller class sizes, religious education, the “right” environment. And it hurts – private schools cost a lot. Of course, they are more affordable now than they were say, twenty years ago: John Howard and his Liberals pumped a lot of money into the private school sector (44kb pdf).

It’s that “right” environment that I find difficult. In the few weeks that I have been here, when we have said to people that our daughters will be going to the local public primary school, and then the local public secondary school, both of which are within a few hundred metres of our home, we have gotten the raised eyebrow treatment. I find it hard to understand why. Both schools enjoy a very high reputation, both have dedicated staff, the secondary school gets some of the best academic results in the state, it has a thriving arts programme, and it has rich programmes for non-academic children. Children from all over Adelaide apply to go to the school, but very fortunately for us and our girls, we are in the zone for the school. So we will be able to access an excellent public education for our daughters.

People acknowledge that the schools are good, but nevertheless seem just faintly disapproving. It seems that any private school would be better than even an excellent public school.

I have been puzzled about how to respond to this. I feel immediately forced onto the defensive, yet I know I shouldn’t. I have good reasons for wanting my children to go to state schools. I don’t want them sequestered in a precious environment, I am committed to state education, so that every child really does have a chance, I am concerned that the more children exit the state system, the weaker it becomes, with the poor thereby being excluded from a good education. I am also concerned about funding structures – I have no problem with people choosing not to educate their children in the public system, but I see no reason for the state to support their choice to go private with taxpayers money.

In addition to all that, I can see no reason to send children on a bus or car trip across town, when there are good, if not excellent schools within a few minutes walk of our home. What is it with people who think that it’s a good thing for a child to spend 90 minutes commuting every day?

These are all complicated, complex reasons, and they are hard to deploy at short notice in a polite social, getting-to-know-you conversation. But at last, I have come up with a “stop-them-in-their-tracks” quick one liner response. As it turns out, all the private schools near enough to our home in Adelaide are religious schools. Even the ones that say they are non-denominational claim to be “non-denominational but teaching Christian values.” Nice. Would those be the values of the crusades then? Or the hierarchical, misogynist church? Maybe it’s just the idea that there are ghosties out there that can help you get through life. Whatever. There simply is no private, secular, education available until the last couple of years of school education (years 11 and 12 in the Australian system, equivalent to years 12 and 13 in the New Zealand system, when the students are aged about 16 to 18). So, my quick one-liner?

“We just couldn’t find an atheist school.”

I have yet to try it on someone… but I shall report when I do.

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6 responses to “Public vs private

  1. Thanks for a commonsense article on this subject.

    Snobbery, and wanting to control their children in my belief is why parents send children to private schools.

    I experienced both State and Catholic schools. Found very little difference in either. My mother sent us to the one she considered the best available in the area we lived.

    If I had my time over again, I still would still send my children to State not to private schools.

    If I had the money, I would spend it on exciting holidays both overseas and within my country.

    I would encourage after school hours learning.

    If I needed my children to be indoctrinated in a religion, I would expect my church to provide facilities outside school hours.

    I would have enough faith in what I teach my children at home to ensure they develop into well rounded human beings.

    I would be disappointed if they turned out to be carbon copies of me.

    The state should provide good quality education that meets the needs of children and the country for all.

    If parents want a different type of education, they should pay for this themselves.

    Even if I could find an atheist school, I would be surprised if it meet my beliefs, but would provide a narrow based education as bad as any religion school.

  2. Back here in NZ aren’t all the state schools meant to be atheist..well sort of
    Although I am an atheist I did send my boys to sunday school and tried to avoid moralising on what they learnt
    One actually taught there and I know for sure he is one of us
    My reasons were that they should understand what was all about…….ok I may have made sure they were aware of the more flimsy arguments for belief but I trusted their good sense
    And of course sent them to a state school

  3. I have faced the same problem here in the U.S. My parents were immigrants to this country, and they felt sending my brother and me to a public school as important. The act connected you with the community. I am sending my children to public school, and I provide much the same reason to those who question me. I like to reason that our communities will not prosper without great education for our children, and the only way to ensure that for all children is for concerned parents to be involved with the public schools. Thank you for the post.

  4. What’s the problem, really?

    Unlike in socialist NZ, people in Australia realise that you have to work hard to get ahead. You don’t want your children mixing with the wrong sort of kids with the wrong attitudes.

    More to the point, in Australia, people take responsibility for their own childrens’ education, for their retirement, and for their own healthcare.

    It’s called a free society. It’s why 2000 people leave NZ every month!

  5. shouldn’t be paid with taxpayers money? who paid the tax in the first place? who’s money is it?

  6. Should’nt b paid by the taxpayer? Who paid the tax? who’s money is it?