Don't Be Private About Your Education
“Private schools are blocking social mobility,” says The Telegraph. The Guardian headlines: “The road to meritocracy is blocked by private schools.” “This pampered private school elite can only lead to US decline,” writes journalist Naomi Wolf.
On a national level, private school bashing is a favorite of editorial journalism and a popular political device used to spur education reform. On a personal scale, many of us may have experienced this criticism in our transitions from public school to Hopkins. “Why go to Hopkins when one can get an equally good education at public school for (approx.) $35,000 less?” Should we be embarrassed or self-conscious about our education on The Hill?
Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is that an independent school education is not necessarily a better one; it is simply different from a public institution. Aside from the tuition fee, what separates Hopkins as an independent institution is its small classes, the passion of the faculty, the one-on-one learning, the interactive classes and the diverse and deep liberal arts curriculum. This kind of education is not suited for everyone—different students have different learning styles. Still, for those who are interested, an independent school education is now more accessible to students than ever before—regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.
The National Association of Independent Schools says the number of families receiving financial aid of some kind across the country has grown to nearly 23 percent, up from 15 percent in 2007. Likewise, at Hopkins, 19.4% of the student body receives financial aid in some form. The Hill is also home to 30% students of color (source: School Profile).
No longer is a private education an opportunity for exclusively “rich, white kids”—as it is depicted in so many films and books, everything from movies like “Dead Poet’s Society” to books such as A Separate Peace to TV shows like “Gossip Girl.”
The pervasive myth of the preppy, snobby, elitist prep school kid has persisted in pop culture. Resentment toward prep schools can be traced back to the fact that 73% of the 4.7 million children enrolled in K–12 private schools in 2009 were white.
It can also be traced back to the national average of a $13,640 tuition for private schools, versus the $0 tuition for public institutions (Council for American Private Education). These statistics paint the private school as an exclusive echelon of elitists. This stereotype is so ingrained in our society that it is practically deemed acceptable. But it is nothing more than that: a stereotype. Implicit bias.
Hopkins, on the other hand, distances itself from this presumption and serves as an archetype of the private school of the 21st century—not necessarily better than all public schools, just different. Granted, not all private institutions award $3,272,165 a year in fnancial aid, and certainly not all are non-sectarian and welcoming of all religions and people. Whether the elitist prep school reputation persists in our culture is not in our control, but all 711 of us can make a conscious effort to separate ourselves from the stereotype.
How? There is not a clear-cut answer to this question. Hopkins’ commitment to community service certainly helps distance our institution from the elitist preconceptions people have about it (after all, we do sit on a Hill looking down on the New Haven skyline.) Take the Canned Food Drive, for example. The hundreds of hours of fundraising and thousands of dollars contributed to the Connecticut Food Bank are examples of Hopkins’ empathy.
At what other private institution can you find a student body so galvanized to help others? We dedicate time and energy to Columbus House. Maroon Key. Elementary School Tutoring. Breakthrough New Haven. The list goes on.
The prep school of the 21st century should acknowledge its fortune and its ample resources, and should move to dedicate them to positively impacting the lives of others. That could and should be the new-and- improved private school ethos.