Recently I've been finding out that quite a few people I know go to private preparatory elementary and secondary schools. This, to me, is quite a perplexing discovery, since it seems that as long as you don't live in a bad area (and these kids don't) the public schools are quite good. I naturally started to wonder what made these schools special, what made them worth the extra commute, extra money, and extra hassle, but I didn't get around to finding out.
Today, however, my curiosity got the better of me. My only research method involved browsing the schools' websites (which, out of courtesy, I'm withholding), but that was enough for my purposes.
For the most part, I saw what I expected to see: small classroom sizes, a "personal commitment to your child," various high-flung language classes, and robust drama and arts programs. The websites seemed like they could do with some Mozart in the background (after all, research proves his music enhances learning!), but the general aura was of class and refinement.
As I said, this was all expected. But I was completely floored when I saw the price: Tuition alone costs at least as much as my total cost to attend university! And that's for the cheaper school. The more expensive one costs twice as much, and fees, textbooks, and food are extra.
Now, I get the idea that education is the most valuable thing that you can give to your child, and that this is about their future and everything. But I don't understand how that much money can make a worthwhile difference in the way a kid learns his ABCs, or long division, or even middle-school algebra. At the college level you can talk about spending on the "university brand," but that's only for when you get there.
In college, no one gives a damn where you went to high school, let alone before that. In the end, it really all washes out. The private-school kids sit next to the public-school kids, and any stamp of distinction is immediately worn away.