As a parent, I thought it’d be interesting to write about the differences between public school and private school people. If you are trying to decide between spending money on private school or getting a free education, this post may help.
As someone who went to mostly private international schools through the 8th grade and public high school, college, and graduate school, I’ve experienced both sides. These experiences have shaped who I am today.
In recent years, I regularly play recreational softball where most of the players hail from public schools. I’m also a member of a private tennis club where I play weekly. There are subtle differences between the two that are worth mentioning.
Differences Between Public And Private School People
Let me start by saying I’ve met some great people who graduated from both public and private schools. It’s hard to draw conclusions based on anecdotal observations over the years. Stereotyping is lazy reporting.
Further, this article could be titled, “The Differences Between Softball And Tennis Players.” Given I haven’t worked a day job since 2012, I won’t be using co-workers as examples.
Ultimately, my hope is that you readers share your perspectives as well so I can build upon this post over time. Maybe you are a private school product. Or maybe you are a parent who currently sends your kid to public school. I want to know your observations!
It’s worth noting that only about 10% of American kids attend private grade school. Therefore, I assume the majority of readers are pro-public school and have lots of good things to say about public school graduates.
Here are the main differences between public and private school people that I’ve noticed.
1) Must Learn How To Fend For Yourself (Public)
In high school (public), I got into a couple of fights to fend off bullies. As a result, I got suspended once. It was during this time that I realized I really had to stand up for myself. If I did not, I would have kept getting picked on by this one musclebound guy.
It was also during high school that I realized some classmates came from more difficult homes. For example, one classmate actually went on The Jerry Springer Show and told the world about his abusive and alcoholic father.
Before coming to America, I lived in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei for international private middle school and elementary school. During that time, I wasn’t aware of any of my friends not having both a mother and father. Then again, I wasn’t paying close attention to family dynamics.
If you send your kids to public school, I recommend they take a self-defense class. It can’t hurt. In the off chance they get into a fight, their self-defense skills might save them a lot of pain.
Disrespect In Softball
When I first started playing recreational softball in 2017, I was badgered by a disrespectful 23-year-old (public high school and college grad). Every time I made a mistake or had to leave to take care of my kids, he would bark a snide remark.
As a high school tennis coach, I’m always encouraging to my students. Thus, this guy’s attitude was rather jolting. I never criticize anybody for playing a recreational sport. None of us are going pro.
After one too many jabs at me, I started giving it right back to him whenever he messed up. After a while, he finally backed down. He realized he would probably get a beat down if he continued. Now we get along fine. But it was curious to see some young buck challenge a new guy to try and gain some dominance.
It feels like with my public school softball friends, there’s slightly more of a challenge to see who is best. Whereas with my private school softball friends, there’s more modesty regarding showing off one’s abilities.
Therefore, in a public school-dominated environment, you must learn how to not only fend for yourself but also assert your dominance.
At the extreme, think about a movie scene where a character beats up the baddest person in prison to gain respect. Public school graduates seem to have more of an edge when it comes to survival.
2) More Sensitivities About Money (Public)
Private school graduates tend to come from a more homogenous financial background. Although private schools try to diversify their student body, the majority of families make more money than the median household income. Therefore, private school graduates may have less sensitivities about money.
The less sensitive you are about something, the greater the risk of ignorance. Other words for ignorance could include spoiled, entitled, privileged, or clueless.
For example, with private school friends, you may not think twice about suggesting going out for sushi because who doesn’t love raw fish and sake? $50 – $100/head? No big deal!
However, if you have a mix of private school and public school friends, you may be more cognizant of people’s financial situation. Therefore, you might suggest going out for pizza and beer instead because you want to be more inclusive.
Public school graduates seems to be much more cognizant about financial equity. For example, when the bill comes, it tends to be divided up as equally as possible. Whereas private school graduates tend not to keep track of spending as closely.
Back To A Softball Conflict
There’s another softball guy who likes to give me grief when I don’t give 100% effort all the time. He’s kind of like Al Bundy from the TV show, Married With Children, because he enjoys referencing his high school glory days.
“Al,” my softball acquaintance, is I’m his late 30s (public high school and public college grad), has no children, and is trying to grow his personal fitness training business.
He’s generally a nice guy and I like him. But Al doesn’t understand that if I pull a hamstring, sprain a wrist, or injure my back, taking care of my young children will become very difficult.
Given my children are more important than Saturday morning softball, I try to operate at a 70%-80% capacity to help minimize injury. I’ve explained my situation before whenever he criticizes my effort, but he doesn’t seem to care. Curiously, he doesn’t give grief to others who show my same effort.
One time, I was playing third base and he was playing short stop. He wouldn’t stop barking orders at me regarding where to stand and where to go. This was after he had already said something else annoying.
I’m a veteran third baseman. But he was talking so much that I missed a grounder for a potential double play. How embarrassing.
I had enough of his order-giving, so I gave it right back at him when he missed a couple plays. He started to quiet down as he was not used to other people giving him crap. He’s a good, strong player.
Crossing The Line
When we got off the field, I told him if he wanted to grow his personal training business, he should try to be more encouraging instead of so critical. Research has shown that performance tends to decline when you are constantly criticized. As parents, we are also taught to praise effort, not outcome.
This is when he almost exploded. He glared at me while pointing a finger and said, “You’ve gone too far! Back off!”
He felt like I was attacking his business and manhood. But all I was doing was giving him some advice as a business owner, coach, and father. I immediately shut up to let him cool off.
He then hit a homer and I gave him a fist bump when he rounded the bases.
We were good soon after because he then shared some encouraging words when I went up to bat.
I originally thought what I said was no big deal, as I was trying to provide constructive feedback. His constant yammering seemed like a blindspot.
However, by the time the game was over, I realized that I did go too far. He lives humbly and COVID didn’t help his business. He also has a high-income earning spouse who went to private school. So there may have been some sensitivities here as well.
If he ever needs business advice, I’ll gladly give it as I’m constantly looking for constructive feedback myself. But I will never voluntarily try and connect the dots for him anymore.
3) More Pleasantries, More Vulnerability (Private)
Anybody can sign up for Meetup softball. There’s an online signup system based on a first-come, first-serve basis. Once 22 slots are taken, you are put on the waitlist. People from all skill levels and backgrounds can come to play. Overall, I think it’s a great system.
In contrast, not everybody can join my tennis club. There is a one-year-plus waitlist and prospective members need a sponsor and three letters of recommendation. I’ve noticed that at least half the members are private school graduates.
Once all the letters of recommendation are in, a prospective member’s name then gets put on a cork board at the entrance of the club for a month. The purpose of putting the prospect’s name up is so that other members can bring up any past grievances. If someone does, the prospective member likely won’t get in.
Given there is a thorough vetting process, nobody is unpleasant. Everybody is respectful of everybody else and rules are almost always followed, e.g. court usage time, mask policy when there was one, number of guests you can bring a year, etc.
The Fear Of Being Blackballed
If you gain a reputation as being a difficult person, everything from your membership to your business to your child’s education could be at stake. The fear of being blackballed in any type of setting is real. Therefore, you tend to always be on your best behavior.
Of course, there will be some people you won’t get along with. However, you won’t go out of your way to make them feel bad like I’ve constantly observed in recreational softball. You’ll just ignore them and play with other people. In essence, you feel very safe – both physically and emotionally – at my club.
The danger of growing up in an environment where everybody is respectful is that it’s not like the real world. We all know the world is a highly competitive and cruel place.
When you inevitably face hate online or a bully in the workplace, if you’ve always been sheltered in a private setting, you will be less equipped to know how to deal with the situation. As a result, you may be more susceptible to quitting.
Letting people buy a co-op, join a private club, or enter a private school almost always requires a unanimous decision. Therefore, even if just one person dislikes you from a long time ago, your chances of admission could be screwed.
4) More Day-To-Day Stress (Private)
I regularly play with my friend William, who went to public school. He retired in his 50s working in IT at Wells Fargo. He’s a really easy going guy who lives alone. He never ended up marrying and has no children.
William has the most flexible schedule I know, which is why we played over 50 times in 2020. He’s also quirky, which is a trait I appreciate. One of his quirks is that he doesn’t bring his phone on the tennis court. Instead, he leaves it in his 1993 Volvo.
He explained to me, “Why would I bring my phone when all I want to do is play tennis?”
Makes sense to me!
I also regularly play tennis with a club member named Craig, who is a banker. Not only does he bring his phone onto the tennis court like most people, but he also wears an Apple Watch while playing.
More than 50% of the time we play, he has to interrupt our hit to take a phone call. Usually, the phone call lasts under a minute. But sometimes, he’s had to speak for 15+ minutes while I’m just twiddling my thumbs.
Other times, he’ll interrupt our game midway because he’ll receive a text on his Apple Watch. I would say something because my one sanctuary from electronics is playing tennis. However, I say nothing because he’s a busy guy.
Most of my private school or private club friends seem to struggle to make time for leisure. Whereas most of my public school friends have more flexible schedules.
Attend Both Public And Private Schools
Because there’s more diversity in public schools, you’re forced to learn how to interact with more types of people. This skill can help you better navigate life after high school and college.
Growing up with a wider range of economic backgrounds may also make you better appreciate what you have. You might get more motivated to build more wealth as well.
Some families I know have been able to shelter their kids from the real world. Their kids may grow up in a gated community, attend private school, play at a private club, go to a private university, get a high-paying job, marry someone from a wealthy family, and the cycle repeats.
But I’m not sure if this type of life is as rewarding as someone who starts with a beat-up Toyota Corolla and ends up driving a Porsche 911 Turbo S. It’s hard to appreciate what you have if you’ve always lived a very comfortable life.
Therefore, perhaps the best combination is to attend both public and private schools. This way, you won’t miss too much. Further, if more people make friends with people of all different backgrounds, then there will ultimately be more harmony in society. After all, we tend to be kinder to those we better understand.
As a parent, all I want is for my children to feel loved and safe. Some conflict is healthy as kids need to learn how to resolve difficult situations. However, conflict that results in violence or constant mental torture is not welcome.
Learn How To Get Along With Others
Regardless of where you go to school, it’s imperative to learn good communication skills. If you can also develop good conflict resolution skills, you’ll go much farther than someone who has not.
Personally, I’ve come to realize I enjoy hanging out with the public school crowd a little more. The banter is more interesting than the private school crowd. The amount of joking around is also much higher.
One of the reasons why I moved away from a high-cost neighborhood to a middle-cost neighborhood in 2014 was because I was tired of the environment. After leaving my finance job in 2012, I no longer fit in because I no longer cared about promotions, raises, and what other people were doing.
Instead, I wanted to hang out more with everyday people who weren’t focused on money and power.
My old neighbors consisted of techies, bankers, and lawyers. Today, my new neighbors are school teachers, plumbers, a techie, and several retirees. That feels just right for me.
Readers, what are your thoughts on the differences between public and private school people? Which environment did you grow up in? How did conflict make you stronger? Which crowd do you prefer? I’d love to add more to this post based on reader feedback.
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