Private vs. public school, that’s the question.

Ever since our little boy was born, my husband and I have been bombarded with questions. Brest feed or bottle feed; which preschool have we enrolled him in; have we signed up for any gymnastics, swimming, dance or music classes; and most importantly, will we be sending him to private or public school.

Until recently, my answer was always clear, public school. My certainty of wanting to put our little boy through the public education system was mainly because being a product of one myself, I have been a staunch supporter and a believer in public education in this country.

Of course, there’s also the additional benefit of not having to fork up $15-20K annually (mind you, this is just for an elementary school) in paying for something I feel that we, as citizens of a developed nation, are entitled to, but more importantly, I believed that our child would have a better chance of being exposed to a more socially diverse environment and children from various ethnic and socio-economic families in a public school rather than in private schools, which tend to promote a homogeneous environment.

Although we live in San Francisco surrounded by diversity and people from all corners of the world, I know all too well that having Chinese food occasionally and knowing how to use the chopstick does not constitute multiculturalism or being multicultural. In order to cultivate a better understanding and an appreciation for the diversity that exist in our society, there must be a consistent exposure to children (and people) from different background and ethnicities. I believed that only in public school(s), our child would obtain the necessary exposure, which would enable him to function in a multicultural, multiethnic environment.

Then, in the summer of 2011, my husband and I enrolled our son in a preschool. After 3 years of listening to incessant discussions about the hellish process of finding, wait listing, and enrolling in preschools, my husband and I were (pleasantly) surprised to find a program soon after we’d started our search, an independent private school that offered preschool and pre-kindergarten program. What was even more surprising was to see how much our son loved his school, and although they are known for their challenging academic curriculum even for preschoolers, the teachers do an excellent job in making learning fun and in providing a great curriculum that foster children’s creativity. Therefore, while putting an emphasis on academic excellence, the first and foremost goal of the school is to nurture children’s creativity, social skills and development as a whole.

The last two years at Stratford has changed my views and my opinion about private schools, which I’d assumed would be the opposite of everything I’d wanted for our child. The school I’ve observed for the past two years is a place that most parents wish for their child(ren), a place that allows children to explore and learn while helping them to develop confidence in themselves. It’s a place where our little boy has not only flourished academically but has developed joy and love for learning. Not to mention, you know your child is in good hands when he actually looks forward to going to bed so he could wake up and go to school the next morning.

However, the most surprising aspect of his school has been the make-up of his classmates that is multi-ethnic, multicultural and from families of all socio-economic backgrounds, and it has been wonderful to see our son gaining valuable exposure to different cultures, different languages and perspectives. It’s something I would not have expected from a private educational institution, which I always saw as being exclusive, not inclusive and accepting of differences.

September of this year, our son will enter Kindergarten and subsequently elementary school, and we must now make the decision whether to keep him in the private school which he currently attends or to enroll him in a public school. Fortunately for us, there’s also a great public school within two blocks from our home, and after having taken a tour of it, I’m confident that it will provide the same level of care and education as private schools.

So, unfortunately … or fortunately for me, the question still remains, private or public?

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About S. In

a cultural critic, an avid traveler and a purveyor of social justice and education equity View all posts by S. In

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