This manifesto, trollingly subtitled “Only bad people send their kids to private school” is making the rounds on Facebook. I largely agree in principle, though its uncompromising position is wrong, and I hesitate to be so universally judgmental. Like, many (most?) missionaries send their kids to “private” schools. These are people who have made many sacrifices for a greater good. Are they really bad people for sending their kids to private schools? To say that lacks understanding. And there are less extreme situations where I think it’s also applicable.
Anyway, forget the article, wanted to write about the school system here. We knew virtually nothing about it before we came, and to be honest, still know very little. We were forced to go private since we found out we’re moving after school registrations had closed. (SN – the terminology is super confusing. “Public” schools here are actually private, perhaps the most private of schools, catering to the elites. State schools are the equivalent of US public schools. I get confused all the time. I’ll keep using “public” even though it should be “state”.) And so we’ve sidestepped a lot of the public school issues.
But we had a long talk with a friend from Abby’s school about how education works and it’s fascinating. The mother is from Spain and was always educated in public schools, and really wants to send her daughter to public schools also, as she values the diversity of experience. However, being in London, she feels like she’s forced to go private. Reason being, in their estimation, all the public schools are poor. And the reasons why are interesting.
So in London, they don’t put social housing (projects) in specific places in town – they’re spread out all over. So even in the nicest neighborhoods, you’ll have social housing somewhat close by. I thought that was great – I’ve long disliked the separation of ghettos and poor neighborhoods in general in the States, and have long thought that if affordable housing were not grouped together but distributed in pockets of nicer places, it would be better for everybody.
However, what happens is that only the social housing people attend public schools. The reason being, many of them don’t speak English as their primary language. It’s nuts how cosmopolitan (SN – when people here use “cosmopolitan”, they just mean diverse. To them, London is a cosmopolitan city in the sense that there are many, many different ethnicities) London is. Even the least diverse schools have kosher and halal options. But the effect in public schools is greater, not just affecting culture but language. And so if parents send their kids to public schools, their kids will be in a system where many (possibly most) of the kids don’t speak English and much of classroom time will be devoted to that. Many parents don’t feel like they can do that. So only the poor send their kids to public schools, and they’re dominated by non-English speakers, and everyone that can afford it sends their kid to private schools. You don’t have the US effect where there are great public schools that the rich people try to move to. Because of distributed social housing, it’s a clean divide where all the rich go private.
I don’t know how true this is – I suspect it’s not fully, because we did a tiny bit of research and I do know there are public schools that are considered good, and people try to get into the right school district areas (catchments). But I do think there’s some truth to it, because the father was raised here and he knows the system, and the mother’s despair at not being able to send her daughter to public school feels real. She even mentioned moving back to Spain to be able to do that.
Anyway, I thought this was fascinating because again, I had long thought if we basically moved poor people among rich neighborhoods, that would solve some of the school disparity issues in the US. But now I don’t know; it may well be that as in London (if it’s true), the rich people will just all send their kids to private schools and we’ll get the same disparities. There are no easy solutions.