Public or private, the goal is the same

Published 12:24 am Saturday, March 28, 2009

An old rivalry has flared up in the midst of a community-wide discussion resulting from Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s apology for inviting police onto campus for a drug sweep earlier this month. The private school/public school debate dominates the online discussion of the story, eclipsing even the comments about the NSA administration’s spinelessness in the face of criticism over the search, which netted one arrest and small amounts of drugs found in several other vehicles parked on campus.

To suggest that parents who send their children to private schools care more about them than do their public-school counterparts represents the worst kind of elitism. Similarly, sweeping generalizations about the quality of teachers in one environment or the other ignore the fine work done by individual teachers in all area schools, as well as the substandard efforts of those who have neither the commitment nor the drive to inspire students to their best efforts.

Parents make choices about their children’s upbringing all the time. In the best cases, those choices are made with the overall benefit of the children in mind, taking into account the things that make those children unique, as well as the core values that the parents wish to instill in them.


Email newsletter signup

Private schools give parents an opportunity to extend that decision-making into the realm of education. A parent who places a high emphasis on giving a child a biblical foundation, for example, can choose to place that child in a religious school, opting out of either public or secular private educational institutions. A parent who places a high level of importance on raising a child who has been exposed to the widest possible range of social, economic and academic influences might be best-served sending her child to a public school, where the melting-pot environment is most similar to the community at large. Someone whose priority is college prep would do well to find the school with the highest percentage of graduates who go on to college.

It’s not unlike shopping for a car. There are dozens of models available to Americans, because there are many different kinds of Americans with many different tastes and needs. We don’t sneer at the family down the block because they drive a pickup, and we shouldn’t condemn them for having their children educated at a private — or public — school. Far more important a consideration is whether they take an active role in that education.

There’s a place for both private and public schools in Suffolk. And neither should be thought of as a place of refuge from the rest of the city. We all live here, and we all one day will depend on the graduates of each of the city’s high schools to run our businesses, our government and our community organizations. It’s time we all started working together to make sure they’re ready to do so.