Sunday, January 23, 2011

Independent Schools are not the real world

Yesterday, dozens of anxious students sat for MPH’s annual Scholarship Exam. It's an amazing scene, where hopes and fears are evident on almost all the faces in the room. The test is only part of a lengthy process which also involves interviews, teacher recs, writing submissions, and even a fine arts showcase. But the test is real and so is the pressure. Score well and you might get a chance at a merit based scholarship which is essentially a ticket to attend the only independent school in CNY. My wife thought it sounded similar to something out of Charlie and Chocolate Factory. I suppose there is an element of Wonka involved, but certainly, it isn't as easy as pulling a golden ticket from a candy wrapper.

During the morning while the students were taking the exam, I had the chance to talk to loads of parents, answering their questions and sometimes even countering their remarks. One gentleman came to me and stated clearly that he was a supporter of public schools. I stated with equal clarity, so was I! He then asked me if I thought private schools somehow shelter children from the "real" world. I said, half jokingly, “what is so great about the real world?" The American status quo is not so incredible. It’s a place where the dominant culture is full of cynicism, mediocrity and bad behavior. Do we really need to place our children there if we don’t have to?

I recalled reading a post from Pat Basset on this real world issue for our schools. I tracked it down on his blog and here it is:

"Myth #2: Independent Schools are "not the real world."

Fact: Of course they are not, thank God. The real world is, sad to say, unsafe, unstructured, and — worse than values-neutral — values bereft. The independent school culture is, ironically, counter-cultural in the sense of establishing a values matrix that runs counter to the child-toxic values of the popular culture and amorality and immorality that surrounds us.

While independent schools are "not the real world" themselves, they prepare students exceedingly well for the real world(s) of college, the workplace, and life in general, as the National Education Longitudinal Study from NCES demonstrates: independent school graduates in disproportionate numbers earn college and graduate degrees, report high career satisfaction, vote and engage in civic activities, exercise, and generally contribute to make the real world a better place."

I stated as much to the gentle man at the exam, though not quite as eloquently. Pat's words speak for themselves. I don’t have any problem with independent school’s giving families an option counter to what may be available in their neighborhood. Choice is good, particularly when the status quo is not.

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