My parents moved me from a Catholic school in South St. Louis to a public school in South St. Louis County just prior to third grade. I was scared.
Not because it was a public school. I was scared — like any kid would be — because it was a new environment.
It was a strange place.
First off, people were wearing different clothes. And what I mean by that, is not every boy was wearing a powder blue shirt and navy shorts like they did in my old school.
Second, I shared a locker with a kid that wasn’t white like me. He was African American, had an afro, and he was really funny. I can’t say that I’d ever really interacted with any African Americans before I was 8 years old and in public school. This was new to me.
Third, I didn’t have to go to church every other day. With that came a noticeable lack of nuns. It also meant that I had to take Catholic religion classes (PSR classes) on Monday nights, which I really didn’t enjoy.
From third grade on, I was officially a public school kid. Elementary school, middle school, high school, and college(s).
My wife, on the other hand, never attended a public school. She was always enrolled in private Christian schools. And once we started having kids, these differences prompted a debate — public school vs. private Christian school. Note: This is a K-12 debate, not public vs. private university.
I can say that both have their strengths and weaknesses. I will also say that our kid attends public school. Does that mean I won the debate? Not necessarily.
Here are some of the considerations we discussed:
1. Location and school options
I think the biggest variable in whether to send kids to private school or public school is location.
If I was raising a child in the City of St. Louis and I had the means, I would not send my children to the neighborhood public school. I would choose private. This was the same reason my parents chose to send me to Catholic School in the 1980s. The public school system then and, even more so, now are not the best places to send your children. This is a defendable argument. If I lived in the County, then I would certainly consider public school.
When our first son was getting ready to enter kindergarten, we lived in Springfield, MO. Springfield offered the best of both worlds — quality public school districts within the city and surrounding areas AND a quality private Christian school where several of our friends sent their children. Rin and I had several discussions. We knew that our child would get a quality education in either place.
We chose public and we didn’t regret the decision.
2. Social experience
Here is where some of our bigger arguments came into play. I argued that Rin, while learning in a controlled,Christian environment was not exposed to “the world.” My impression was that while in school, she related only to like-minded people. I argued that I’d been interacting with people of different faiths, beliefs, lifestyles and ideologies most of my life. Therefore, I argued I was a little more “seasoned” than her. I’ve since learned I was wrong on many accounts — but I still believe that public school does expose you to more “world” than a private Christian school. I think that’s a good thing for kids, but I also see the great value in attending a school where you learn more about your faith and have teachers that embrace and encourage your faith.
But for my friends and fraternity buddies who attended Catholic high schools, I know I’m right on one account: Public schools are coed and that makes for a MUCH better experience. I don’t think I could’ve gone to a school and seen only dudes all day!
3. Educational experience
This is where I yield somewhat to small, private Christian schools. If class sizes are important, your child will probably get more one-on-one in a private school. I don’t know the statistics, but I would guess that public schools have to deal much more with discipline problems. I know mine did. I used to feel sorry for the teachers who would try to make it through a lesson but would have to concentrate all of their energy on one or two clowns.
I believe I received a very good education. I had inspiring and challenging teachers. I earned good grades. I was able to participate in sports and many other activities. I learned many different points of view, which I learned to both support and challenge.
I can’t afford private school for my kids. If I could, I would possibly consider it, but we’ve had so much great success with our oldest child in public school that I really don’t think it’ll land on our radar any time soon. I understand why these schools have to charge so much, and I don’t disagree with that — I just can’t afford it.
5. Christian experience
If you’ve read this website for any length of time, you know that Rin and I are Christians. This is extremely important to us and it dictates how we raise our kids. (Consequently, if you knew the really crazy me in high school and college, I’ll just say this … by the grace of God, people can change.) We try to do our best to put our boys in situations where they’ll thrive and grow spiritually. In this case, I’d have to say that private Christian school is a no-brainer for this type of experience.
But I wouldn’t totally discount public school in this regard.
I can say for a fact that if it wasn’t for Christian kids attending public high schools, I probably wouldn’t be a born again Christian today. It was in my high school, through groups like Student Venture and Athletes in Action, that my friends talked to me about Christ. Of course, I had to go through college before it really took — but this is where I was first introduced to an engaged Christ that has transformed my life. So while you’re not learning the Bible in the classroom, there are opportunities to learn from your friends and to reach out to others.
Another important note is this: When I was a kid in public school, we could say the word Christmas. We sang songs like Silent Night. Spring vacation was Easter Break. Winter vacation was Christmas Break. A lot has changed since then. I had a public school teacher whisper to me the other day that she couldn’t say the word God. So, depending on where you live, the public school experience can be quite varied.
In the end, I think this is a draw. It’s personal preference. What works best for you and your kids? What fits with your beliefs?
All I can say is that my kid has attended public schools in both Missouri and Texas and our experience has been wonderful. Good, caring teachers at each of the schools. Opportunities to join numerous activities. He’s made friends easily. I’m sure he’d have similar experience at a private school — just a lot more Bible and a lot more money.