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January 2009

By Rajesh Oza

With PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas   

Public Schools vs. Private Schools   

Dear PMG:

I was born in America and was raised to value education. My parents always said that it didn’t matter what I studied as long as I became the best in my field. Indeed, they would say that it was fine if I became a clown as long as I got my Ph.D. in clowning. Now it’s my turn to guide my children.   

My husband and I have two preschoolers. With one of them entering kindergarten next year, we’re comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of sending the kids to public schools versus private schools.   

Since both of us are physicians, we’re fortunate that we can afford this choice. We’re leaning toward a private school that emphasizes creativity and spirituality. Everyday, we do the following cheer with the kids: “We can change the world.” My own life story has taught me that a good education is instrumental in helping children be the change they want to be.   

Dear Friend,

“Basic education links the children, whether of the cities or the villages, to all that is best and lasting in India.” (M. K. Gandhi).

It is heartening to know that you are maintaining the commitment to education that the first generation of Indian-Americans is identified with. And it is even more heartening that you are expanding the notion of education beyond the too-common refrain of “we’ll do whatever it takes to get the kids into medical school.”

Your children already have the privilege of parents who value education. Of course, not all students are born into families where Saraswati, the goddess of learning, is prominent. I suspect that someday in the not-too-distant future, your children will feel the same as my own daughter, who is presently a member of the Teach for America corps; at the end of last summer’s training, she wrote the following note to herself: “You have been incredibly lucky to have had a love of education —and the belief that you will succeed — instilled in you since the day you were born. Many have not. You are their hope. They are yours. One day, this nation will be a better place — of equal education and opportunity.”

So how does this resolve your question? Gandhiji put it best: “Basic education links the children.” His guidance recommends a public school education, because the learning that occurs in the classroom and outside of it at recess and lunch engenders community. More often than not, elites find their communities constricted. A social pyramid is seemingly inevitable for the well-to-do and quick-of-mind students who make their way to Stanford, Northwestern, Emory, or MIT. Elementary education in public schools inculcates an empathy, which teaches us that regardless of our aspirations for Ivy-threaded tassels, we are all linked together by a shared social fabric.

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