This is a guest post from a long-time reader. It stems from an email exchange we had about her kids going to a top private school for high school. I learned so much from her that I edited the emails—with her permission—into a post.
I am a single mom—very single with two sperm-donor kids—and I didn’t know anything about the world of private schools until my older son ended up in one. Except: I was hugely mistrustful of the elite environment.
[This well-known school] always seemed especially traditional and super preppy. And when my son was accepted as a boarding student on a full scholarship I kept saying to people, “I worry my kid is going to lose his soul.” But once he was there I came around 180 degrees pretty fast, and I have sent my younger son there as well.
Now I see the school as a partner, which I really need! The school leadership is great. And my kids are supported and fulfilled in ways I could never do alone.
Some benefits are obvious: facilities, school trips, great curriculum. But other benefits were more surprising to me.
Interpersonal opportunities. My kids are making connections with a slew of adults who are fantastic role models, and my kids’ friends come mostly from the pool of scholarship kids who have a high level of drive, intellectual ability, or some other standout quality that got them into the school from unlikely places.
Positive peer pressure. My younger son is maybe less intense about intellectual life, but he takes himself much more seriously as a learner in that environment than he did during the brief time I tried to homeschool him. They’re both taking accelerated/honors classes, and those are the kids they hang out with.
Structure. It’s overwhelming to just survive financially and logistically as a single mom so my life is very seat of the pants. At boarding school the kids get structure that I can’t provide. All the kids live within the same structure and that’s just the way it is for everybody. Any discipline is soft and impersonal—not me freaking out! It’s nice to not constantly be worrying about whether I’m doing a good job organizing and supporting everybody’s life (too much? too little?) or fighting those tiresome battles.
The bubble is not so bad. You hear the word “bubble” a lot about private schools and selective colleges—but our house and our life is its own sort of bubble. Being away at boarding school means my kids get to have a lot of independence from me (which I think is good because a single-parent household can start to seem kind of claustrophobic), but it’s a really contained environment, so I don’t worry about them the way I would if they were just roaming.
Consistency with my homeschooling values. I’ve always felt that, ideally, my job as a parent is to present opportunities and then get out of the way, and a good boarding school is a pretty great opportunity. Along the same lines, I don’t believe that parents should “instill” values so much as model them and then stand back and let their kid figure out what they value.
Exposure to new interests and ideas. Both my kids have always had a strong aptitude and interest in STEM subjects, but now both of them have ended up also becoming enamored with language as a result of the school’s requirement that they master something besides English. My younger son wants to learn Chinese because he has made so many friends from China at school; my other son developed an interest in Italian, Spanish, and Greek and fell in love with the classics in the course of taking three years of Latin.
I do feel like I need to add that I am still extremely ambivalent about the private school world, and I’m always queasy about the malignancy attached to a lot of that money. I just read in the comments to another blog that I love (Nonprofit AF): “I have two major American thinkers duking it out in my head. The first is the famous Audre Lorde quote, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’ The second is Thurgood Marshall’s life, in which his mastery of US law enabled him to overturn public school segregation.”