Why Our Daughter is Going to Public School
The Grizzlies have academic credentials covered, we have lots of prestigious degrees after our names. However, we also suffer from a pretty terrible disease. Our parents didn’t have it, so we didn’t catch it from them. Our high school friends didn’t have it, so it wasn’t caught on some prom date gone horribly wrong. However, somewhere along the road we contracted this awful condition called Prestigious School Syndrome (very similar to Ivy League Pre-school Syndrome). There are a few symptoms that make it easily recognizable: pompousness, stress, limited time with family, drinking problems, cocaine use, abandonment of values. Our recommendation is to avoid all contact with those exhibiting the symptoms lest you too contract it and pass it on to your children. It’s a most horrible disease that often leads to misery, despair, and a damn nasty rash!
That is perhaps taking it a bit too far. I’m actually somewhat fond of my Alma mater, I did meet Mrs. Grizzly there after all! And I did meet some other great people, not all of which match the symptoms laid out above. However, many of us have struggled with one or many of those problems. Mrs. Grizzly and I now have great jobs, make high salaries, and are set to be financially independent in a couple years! You must be saying to yourselves, what could be wrong with this? Why wouldn’t I want to follow this golden path to ever greater prestige, status, and MONEY? But after having seen this disease play out over the course of our own lives, we’re less and less convinced that academic credentials and prestigious schools are a path to real happiness.
Because we’ve seen two sides. Both the products of public schools all the way up through high school, we get to have a small little window into each world. We have good friends in both, family in both. And the grass is not necessarily greener. You’ll see no mention of private school tuition for the current or future baby bears in our plan for retirement. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
This one is the no-brainer. Tuition at a private school in our area can cost over $40k per year! Using the calculator this would be the equivalent of 5 years of our life. It’s damn expensive and that cost is only higher the further up you go. Our Alma Mater is now running north of $60k per year. Yikes! Public elementary and high school is near free. You can go to awesome state universities for half the cost of a prestige school. But what about the education you say? Won’t I be shortchanging my son or daughter? Don’t those Ivy covered walls from elementary up offer the best preparation money can buy?
No, they don’t. Now I’m going to call out that there are some terrible public schools out there. I’m not talking about them right now. But for the vast majority of public schools, the education is excellent. I’ll use my own experience in public high school as an example. I’m somewhat of a math geek. I love math, and I loved my math classes in high school. They were taught by this bulldog of a man named Dr. Siegel. He walked me through my first differential equation, my first eigenvalue matrix, and he made me LOVE them. We derived the formulas for stable nuclear reactors in the 11th grade. I was solving problems that perplexed Fermi and Einstein. It was awesome.
I also had a chemistry teacher named Mr. Hutchinson. On the first day of class, he came in wearing a ridiculous costume – A Giant Inflatable Purple Genie. Before anyone could say anything, he proceeded to set off some weird chemical reaction that filled the room with pink gas, the soundtrack to Aladdin playing in the background. That was the start. We ended the year making professional grade fireworks with a local company and launching them right after school ended, marveling at the wonder of a few electron clouds bonding as the fireflies started to dance in the twilight. My education was amazing and public schools all over the country offer experiences that are just as good.
But education is about more than the classroom. It’s about the people you meet, your friends and confidants, you partners in crime as you start to stumble through the world. We met many wonderful people in our time at our prestigious universities, but they are often cut from the same cloth. Universities try to optimize for diversity, but it is usually only for one kind of diversity and a shallow one at that. There was a decidedly limited diversity of economic background, a limited array of thought at our prestigious schools. I want my children growing up surrounded by everyone that makes up the community we inhabit – the children of locksmiths, housekeepers, factory workers, but also the children of doctors, lawyers, and bankers. There is value in all of it, and when you go down the route of prestigious private schools your children lose out on so much experience that makes this world wonderful.
But what about the opportunities? Doesn’t going to a prestigious elementary/high school/college open up countless opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise? Summer Internships? Job Offers? Career paths? No. Not really. There’s a fascinating little study by two researchers at Princeton that tried to look at exactly what happened to the students that attended Ivy League Schools. How did they fair later in life? But there was a problem, perhaps those schools were simply screening for traits that would lead to success no matter what school the student attended. So instead of just looking at students accepted to Ivy Leauge schools they looked at students who were accepted but decided not to attend. What they found was shocking. The students who were accepted to Ivy league schools but decided not to attend ended up doing just as well as the students who decided to go!
The bottom line is that it is drive, ambition, work ethic, and creativity will determine your children’s success in this world. All of those things can be nurtured behind Ivy covered walls or they can be nurtured in the brick building of a public school house.
The Expectations and the Freedom
This is the most sinister trait of all, and one that only becomes apparent only after you have gone too far down one path to return to the other. As my wife and I made our way from our public school past to our Ivy league present something changed, and we only noticed it recently. We found the options we had actually growing ever narrower year by year. There were expectations about what graduates like us were ‘supposed’ to do – go to prestigious grad school, work in big law or big consulting. Alternative options were similarly restricted, positions in government or non-profits had to be of similar ‘caliber’. Normal jobs like working as a teacher or a local county defense attorney were no longer acceptable. Our friend, our families, our coworkers all held expectations, and very rarely did the list include a job that would give you time to spend with your family. Very rarely would those options give you freedom.
You might say that you can just ignore them! Those little voices nagging in the back of your head. That is much harder than you think. Your own expectations for yourself start to morph over time, and eventually you lose site of the fact that other ways of life even exist.
The final point is a broader one. While everything above is why we think public school is the best option for our daughter, we also think that our daughter attending public school is the best for our community. Public school is an institution in this country, the foundation of our greatness. A free public education is perhaps one of the crowning achievements to arise from this wonderful little country of ours. We feel it is our duty to protect that institution, and the best way to do that is to invest in it ourselves. Invest not just our money, but our time. We intend to be active parents in our children’s school. Pushing it to be better, helping the kids there who need help, who may not be as fortunate as the baby bears.
Our Plan for Our Daughter
Ultimately our daughter will chart her own path. She will attend public schools up through high school, but after that the decision is hers. We intend to help her pay for college, we have 529 plans already set aside. But it is our hope that she does not blindly follow prestige as her parents did, that she realized that all that glitters is not gold.