Public Schools vs Private Schools - Culturally Term Paper

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Public Schools vs. Private Schools - Culturally appropriate education

Review of the literature

Education and culture

Teaching dispositions

Outmoded educational model

Would vo-tech be a better public school goal?

Developing the person instead of the mind

Opposition to change in public schools

Alternatives to public and private school

School reform has been a constant theme of public debate for much of the past two decades. Standardized testing, which was supposed to solve the problem of poorly prepared students graduating from high schools is not accepted as the panacea it was first supposed to be. In fact, it appears that a new model of education is needed, and some people have suggested home-schooling as a good substitute for public schools. However, not all parents are qualified to homeschool their children, nor are most able to afford private schools, which have a better reputation for properly preparing graduates for what lies ahead of them. There must be a solution, however, and in this project, several possibilities will be proposed and discussed.

Chapter I. Introduction (Statement of the Problem)

There are two, or possibly even three, co-existent educational systems in the United States. The largest of these is the public education system, followed by the private schools and increasingly popular home-schooling.

The third system will be mentioned only tangentially, as the real problems with U.S. education are considered to reside in the public schools. In recent decades, there have been various schemes put forth regarding vouchers for families who want to send their children to private schools but cannot afford the fees; none of these has borne fruit. In any case, it is doubtful that the private schools could absorb the numbers of students who would want to attend if vouchers were a reality. The problem with the public schools has been identified by most of the public and by many researchers as one of curriculum. The schools, they said, are not producing students with sufficient academic qualifications to do well in college. The cure, more than once, has been identified as compelling students to do well on standardized tests. That required teachers to teach with the intent for students to do well on those standardized tests. In addition, that is one problem with public education in the United States. Teaching a dog to do tricks is not education; teaching a student to excel in the limited scope of standardized tests is not education, either. In fact, even that has become recognized by enlightened educators, and a deploring phrase, "teaching to the test," has developed. (Eberhardt, 1999, unpaged)

Politics also enters the picture, with elected officials, rather than educators, deciding what is taught in the public classroom. None of this is what differentiates the public school from the private school, nor is it money alone that separates them. Rather, it is the fact that U.S. public schools are run according to a standard developed in ancient Greece that is no longer workable, while private schools can take as their model any educational format that pleases them, or that produces the sort of graduates the school intends to produce.

This brings up another question: What sort of graduates do public schools intend to produce, and why? And what sort of graduates to private schools intend to produce, and why?

The simple answer to the first and second questions is the same: Schools intend to produce graduates capable of living and working successfully in their own culture. This paper will demonstrate the ways in which the public schools fail to do this for the vast majority of their graduates, and the ways in which private schools succeed at preparing graduates to succeed.

Hypothesis: Private schools teach their students to succeed not because of a great deal of money poured into education, but because the schools are both free to teach the curricula they choose, and they are preparing students to return to their own cultures and succeed. Public schools, on the other hand, are not free to teach any curricula not aimed at improving standardized test scores, and the successful public school student is not prepared to return to his or her culture in a trade, but to transition out of it into an anachronistic academic culture.

Chapter 2. Review of the Literature reveals that money is not the deciding factor in the relative failure of public schools when measured against private schools. Rather, an unworkable system and expectations unrelated to modern life have predestined public education to fail. The ability to alter curricula and every other facet of the school at will has, on the other hand, allowed private schools to succeed for hundreds of years already, and has also positioned them well to continue to succeed in an even more rapidly changing society. That something will have to be done, however, is unavoidable: teaching will have to remove itself from fact-based teaching (that is, standardized test-oriented teaching) because "specific information is outmoded almost as soon as it has been learned," according to a report by Eberstadt. (1999, unpaged)

Education and culture

Bruckerhoff proposed that in public education, schools need to take into account many aspects of childhood, learning and culture. What he meant by this is that curricula would have to be reformed "to draw on sacred and secular traditions so as to nurture children's personal knowledge." (Bruckerhoff, 1995, 387+) This is difficult in public schools because there may be several ethnic and cultural groups represented. However, he insists that this is a factor missing from the educations of public school students. He proposes that public education in a democratic society is the institutional means for children to gain an understanding and appreciation of the family in its relationship with the local community as well as within a complex cultural heritage. Nowhere in his proposal does he mention outstanding test scores as a means to properly educate public school children. Rather, he proposes that the purpose of education is to help a person "make sense of his or her human condition." (Bruckerhoff, 1995, 387+) Bruckerhoff suggests that this can be done when public schools have a core curriculum that supports family life, "presents personally meaningful subject matter, and respects local culture." (Bruckerhoff, 1995, 387+) That may have happened briefly, when music education was an integral part of public school curriculum in the 1890s, when most Americans went to church and sang. (Jorgenson, 1995, 31-38)

Bruckerhoff argues further that even if this were the desire of the community, and it could get past the politicized school boards, the curriculum would still be determined by experts, those who think they must use their knowledge and political acumen to guard children from errors, most of which are culturally tied. In the name of keeping schools free of bias, they insist that students learn the experts' own biases. He argues that excessive and flawed government intervention in public schools has treated poor children like objects and recipients of the donations of their superior knowledge, and has devalued families. He notes hat the political solutions in public education have been disappointing because one essential element was missing: respect for those values embedded in local culture. (Bruckerhoff, 1995, 387+)

Teaching dispositions

Edgar et al. agree, although they lift the idea of 'local option' in education, as a means of putting public education on a par with private education, several steps beyond Bruckerhoff's relatively simplistic prescriptions. They argue that:

Moral sensitivity, fair dealing with others who are not part of one's clan, ethical decision making, responsibility, the delay of personal gratification for a larger good, benevolence, civic responsibility -- these represent dispositions in our minds and in the minds of many others who believe public schools should assume the task of teaching such dispositions. (Edgar et al., 2002, 231+)

Bruckerhoff would agree. He noted that children from advantaged families (those above the poverty line, although from any ethnic background), have values that supersede the public school curriculum. He groups their cultural identification with "dominant high-status cultures," while the disadvantaged child comes from families whose values are rooted in folk cultures which either clash with that of the public school, or don't engage with it at all.

He believes public schools, to prepare students to succeed in life, must somehow cope with those cultures. Edgar et al. would say that they need to 'teach dispositions' instead. If public schools were able to "bring students to know and understand themselves in relation to other people as well as things," then, the public school of tomorrow, he contends, would look more like the parochial and private schools of today. (Bruckerhoff, 1995, 387+)

Outmoded educational model

Almost contemporaneously, Clinchy was pointing out that in fact the schools of today look more like the schools of ancient Greece than anything that is workable for today's society.

He points out that the early 'schools' of the Greeks involved the teachers (Aristotle, et al.) removing their students from society, going out into the countryside to discourse about the meaning of life, and even the meaning of words...and…[continue]

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