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The Dirty Little Secrets of Independent Education We Must Address

I think I might be a living stereotype. From a distance, I am sort of a “classic” prep school educator: a white male raised in the Episcopalian tradition from suburban Philadelphia; a lover of history; an owner of Norton’s anthology; a high school hockey player, a lacrosse coach (former collegiate player) with a penchant for outdoorsy activities like hiking and paddling. As well, I am the owner of more than a few pastel ties and blue blazers, and consider myself a Dead Poets’ Society fan who can quote many lines verbatim. Feel free to mock me; I deserve it.

That was who I was until I quit my job mid year in January…sort of a resume killer in the private schools realm.

What do I know? For the past 16 years, I have been employed as a private school “educator, ” a general term I use now, in hindsight, because in the world of private school employment, one wears many, many, many hats. In those sixteen years, my job description included the following titles: history teacher, English teacher, humanities teacher, coach, mentor, administrator, counselor, trip leader, tutor, department chair, team leader, curriculum specialist, Center for Excellence Director, advisor, sponsor, and best practices coordinator, among other titles. On a humorous note, amongst my colleagues we often darkly refer to suffering from the “curse of competence” (that is, a private school faculty member is rewarded with a ridiculous amount of responsibility if they are seen as relatively capable and somewhat emotionally stable, usually free of the burden of additional compensation.)

Furthermore, despite the fact that I attended suburban public schools myself, our family has become a private school family. My three children have been lucky enough to attend the same private day school since they were in kindergarten (as scholarship students, of course, which is an incredible perk we private school educators often enjoy.) In fact, collectively speaking, my children have been the beneficiaries of a grand total of 28 years of private education to date, which we received at a fraction of the cost. For this, I will always be incredibly grateful. Last, my wife is a private school graduate and has taught biology, health, and human development in a number of independent day schools in our hometown of Cleveland, Ohio over the last 25 years.

Brian HartThough I would never consider myself an expert on anything, I feel I know independent education quite well and from a number of different perspectives. Even more, my world view on private ed has been enriched even more profoundly by fellow colleagues I have come to know through my membership in the National Association of Independent Schools (where I have had the opportunity to hear the stories, triumphs, and frustrations of many other private school educators at the yearly NAIS National Conference) But, as my article title suggests, I am sad to report that I am forcing myself to take a “radical sabbatical” from private ed.

Why? Am I just a bitter, burnt educator with an axe to grind? I wish it were that simple. I feel independent education is heading down the wrong path in a number of areas, turns that could have tragic effects on private school culture and our potential to impact our society, especially considering we do so much right. So, here is a list of what has been waking me up at 3am for the last ten years or so:

#1 A Culture of Self-Congratulation: Why Fix What Isn't Broken?

#2 Bricks and Endowments vs. People

#3 The College Placement Obsession (or Where Innovation Goes to Die)

#4 Teacher Autonomy Before Best Practices

#5 Admissions Catalogue Diversity: Swim at Your Own Risk

#6 Private School Parents: The Good, The Bad, and the Megalomaniacal

#7 The Corporatization of Schools: Hierarchies and the Rise of the Edu-CEO

#8 Just One More Brick to the Load: Unrealistic Expectations for Teachers

#9 The Myth of Individualized Learning and Support Services

#10 The Entitled Society: Are We Part of the Problem or the Solution?

Stay tuned. The essays that accompany each of these concerns will be published in the coming weeks. Comments are welcomed and expected.

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