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The Little Bighorn had to happen precisely as it did, with the ensuing loss of life, for America to grow into the place that it is today. Think of it this way: for Americans in 1876, the massacre at the Little Bighorn was the very visceral twin of the attack on 9/11.

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Private vs. Public Education

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Mission

Unlike public schools, private schools do not have to exist, with the exception of a handful of faith-based institutions where families, churches and religious orders long ago made mutual commitments to regard education as a vital part of their overall mission. There are many examples of these schools, from several denominations, in the Philadelphia area, including Roman Catholic, Jewish, Quaker, Episcopal, Evangelical and Muslim.

To survive – to pay the bills — the private schools need to keep their waiting lists reasonably long and their collective mystique glowing.

Private schools, even if money is not a factor, are not for every family.

What to Expect

Examination_Schools_Oxford_UniversityAs a private school parent you will be much more involved than in most public schools. You will also be nickel-and-dimed to distraction. Parents are expected to jump in as volunteers and find-raisers for every single thing that a private school does, from class trips to pizza lunches to Christmas gifts for the teachers.

There will usually be a small board of trustees, but the main thing they occupied with is raising money. Private schools are amazingly expensive to operate.  Standing on the sideline, minding your own business at a JV field hockey game, for example, can automatically become a big, social deal. If you find that sort of thing annoying, then take a good long look at your neighborhood public school.

Any school, in any system, and in any location can be an excellent school, provided there is a successful, nurtured college prep program and a decent variety of AP (advanced placement) courses available for students to qualify for and choose from.

Really question the private schools that push Honors courses over AP courses. Honors courses can tend to be rewards for very experienced, favored teachers who only wish they were teaching in small college settings. Honors courses are prestigious, clearly, but can also be academically irrelevant and too much work for too little reward from many students’ points of view. AP courses, in contrast, can earn students actual college credits, while still in high school.

Try not to let your school play the “National Merit Scholar” game. Having a bunch of National Merit Scholars in your school is certainly a nice thing, but it could be an accident of location, too, or of too much emphasis on over-preparation for specific tests.

The more affluent the community, the more National Merit scholars there tends to be. Critics of standardized testing have been pointing out for years. Nothing takes the place of a student who consistently gets good marks in his or her regular courses.

Extra-Curriculars

If you or your child is looking for memorable extra-curricular programs, in music, for example, don’t over-look the public schools.

Schools in many public districts do have money for extra-curricular activities and are a mandate to spend it. That is sometimes not the case in private schools, where the specific activity might depend too much on the contributions of parents. There are exceptions.

Students who receive multiple college acceptances are certainly to be congratulated; it sounds really impressive at graduation. But, just keep one thing in mind: whether they attend private or public schools, they probably benefited from those rare school counselors who were on the ball and who got their high school transcripts in on time.

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