Schools…What’s the Difference?

At some point one begins to wonder what the real difference is between the education offered at the prestigious $25,000+ per year private school and the conventional garden variety public school?

Image result for public school

Garden Variety Public School

Image result for prestigious private school

Prestigious Private School

Or for that matter, what is the difference between the education offered at the conventional $10,000- $15,000 Catholic school and the conventional free public school? (even though “free” still means that each student is being educated at around $10,000-$16,000 depending on the location)

Catholic School

And we might as well ask the third question, what is the difference between the education offered at the typical $10,000-$15,000 Catholic school and the school that offers a Catholic Classical Education for less than all of the above?

Let’s cut to the chase. With the exception of the latter type school (i.e. the school that offers a Catholic Classical education – which is really just “code” for a liberal education), the mathematics curriculum at all these schools is really just the same curriculum. Whether Pre-Algebra, Algebra or Calculus it doesn’t – it’s all the same…right?

Whether one attends Philips Exeter or the public school in Little Rock Arkansas, the Science curriculum is essentially the same. Biology Chemistry and Physics…the same material, the same approach, the same presentation sprung from the current intellectual fashion.

The Literature and composition curricula are the same as well. Sure there might be slight differences between the books read. This school might read Brave New World, Animal Farm,  and Nineteen Eighty-Four, whereas that school reads Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby and Lord of The Flies. It’s all the same isn’t it?

Sure, maybe the facilities are nicer at the fancy private school. Maybe, at the private school, the teachers all have Ph.Ds. Maybe the textbooks are the latest edition. But the fundamental ideas and philosophy that governs the curricula at nearly every school is exactly the same!

Doesn’t the conventional Catholic school teach the same Mathematics, Physics, Biology,  and Chemistry as the public school? Sure, a Catholic school might attempt to teach Chemistry Biology and Physics with the additional

“and God-created-these-elementary-particles”


Or the



But I think that you will agree that there is no difference between any school except perhaps in the degree to which the same (monolithic) curriculum is executed.

Sure…maybe a Catholic school offers an occasional prayer at the beginning of the day. Does the school become Catholic because of a prayer or a Mass which the students are forced to attend?

You might be saying

“well what is wrong with that? Surely it is worth while sending my children to an expensive private school if the teachers are Catholic … even if the curriculum is the same.”

Or perhaps you admit that the curricula at every school is fundamentally the same but,

“what makes the biggest difference is the social setting in which one places one children.”

After all, given the fact that every school’s curriculum is governed by a philosophy of utilitarianism, one’s children will be more successful if they are placed in an environment which allows greater exposure to other children from families that are successful.

Or perhaps someone will say,

“Although Catholic schools offer the same curriculum as other schools, although the vision of reality as it is presented through the Mathematics and Science curricula is exactly the same (after all- facts and the “laws of nature” do not change), it makes a big difference that the students also take a religion course.”

And so a Catholic school is the same thing as a public school except that it has a Catholic “veneer” spread over the top of what is fundamentally the same curriculum.

But you say,

“The phrase “Catholic veneer” is going too far! What is up with you Langley!?!”

But really, what is the difference in educational philosophy? I would suggest there is none. The current educational philosophy that governs everything that is taught and how it is taught is the same everywhere and is dictated on high by the educational elite –  probably in some secret back room.

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Secret Back Room

Classical education presents an alternative… but not a very popular one!

About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www., former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
This entry was posted in classical education, education, Mathematics, Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Schools…What’s the Difference?

  1. an Educated Barbarian with well-formed Children says:

    I would submit that the garden variety public school is becoming less public and more government. I would also submit that those same schools are becoming more of an indoctrination of the secret back room educational elitists’ agenda, with an utilitarian philosophy falling behind…wouldn’t you? Why else would so many choose the old-fashioned way–that being, to homeschool?

    Prayers being offered on Stephanie’s behalf as well as your whole family.

  2. Mark Langley says:

    Thank you for the prayers!

    I would agree with you completely if I thought the majority of homeschoolers were actually choosing a classical education (and not just in name only). Perhaps you are familiar with a home schooling community that is in fact doing this- but I am a little skeptical of the ever growing amount of anecdotal evidence that the majority of homeschoolers – while avoiding the obvious moral pitfalls of sending children to conventional schools (i.e. keeping their children safe from bad influences of every kind) nonetheless these same homeschoolers still opt to educate their children with a curriculum which I would maintain was fundamentally identical with the curriculum in the ordinary high school. (e.g. the same Mathematics and Science.)

    I might add that the homeschoolers I know are always delighted to sign their children up for local classes at the community colleges or high schools when available – when these schools make their courses cafeteria style available for parents to pick and choose at their convenience.

    I also wonder about how different – from an intellectual standpoint only- homeschooling is from regular schooling when I see homeschoolers proudly choose conventional colleges upon graduation. (e.g. “My homeschooling child was accepted to Ohio State!”) For me this is a sign that the parents only object to regular schools because of the moral failings of the school environment- or perhaps because of the liberal ideology of the Social Studies, Health Education, or Crazy Literature teachers. (albeit good things to be seriously concerned about)

    But my point is that – it is not as if the parents object to the completely utilitarian nature of the mathematics curriculum- or the absolutely materialistic philosophy that is at the root of the Biology, Chemistry and Physics program (even despite the attempts of people like Dr. Wile to Christianize them)

    My view about homeschooling is probably a little skewed at present after having encountered a homeschooled boy that I met recently who was perhaps the most hardened materialist – if you can imagine even at the tender age of 12- I have met for a long time.

    • an Educated Barbarian with well-formed Children says:

      Yes, your point with homeschooling parents embracing the utilitarian nature of curriculum is accurate. One root cause being said parents, as you drew attention to in a previous post, are educated barbarians. This root most likely exists because of those secret room elitists who have successfully altered education and continue to do so.

      Yet, I would submit that homeschooling allows for opportunities for children to question, examine, reason…(this may be confirmed by personal experience as well as many shared experiences from others) in a most natural setting. Why, I recall referring to my curriculum choice as the slash-n-dash since at a minimum one new challenge/crisis occuring annually allowed for each cultivating their intellect so that the day they walked through the doorway of an “authentic” liberal educating school, they were academically unsatiated!

      Coincidence? Nay. Godincidence…absolutely! Homeschoolers vs. Catholic School children tend to be living God-centered lives…they are not living cookie cut, mass educated lives. Many are seeking Him throughout their day and seeing Him in His creation. What is unfortunate is that most on both sides (or all sides bringing in private and government run) is that what you profess is not being held as the top rung of the bar, the ideal educational aim. Perhaps appealing to the Bishops, requesting an overhaul of a diocese?

  3. Magistra6 says:

    I agree that there is little difference between the Catholic schools and the public schools except for a veneer of Catholicism. “By their fruits you shall know them.” Do the graduates of Catholic schools think or act as Catholics or do they make the same choices as the rest of society? Just look at the divorce rate or the way they vote! And still the dioceses pour money and effort into saving our Catholic schools! I think enrollment continues to decline because people realize there’s no real difference. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that there is such a thing as a truly Catholic education that actually makes students Catholic!

  4. Amy says:

    Catholic high schools have become exclusive prep schools for the elite. If you are not athletically talented, academically gifted or rich you need not apply. Being authentically Catholic is not even on the check list with the “admissions committee”. They only care about what you scored on a standardised test 1-2 years prior, not if you help the homeless, protest at prolife rallies or any charitable works you perform. It doesn’t matter how many times you attend Mass weekly or pray as a family, none of that matters anymore. In short, they are way off the mission statement of what makes them a Catholic school in the first place. It is a sad state of affairs when you have to choose between the Godless public schools or a non-Catholic christian school for your teenagers. Catholic schools have sold their soul to the almighty dollar and no longer care about saving the souls of our youth. The youth are no longer even considered bodies with a soul but rather a price tag of how much they can make off one. Forget it if you are prolife and have a large family, you’ll still be charged a fee to register PER child, same goes for the application. If anything, it makes it harder because you do not have the financial resources. I speak from experience as my 14 yr old daughter was rejected by 2 Catholic schools in 2 weeks (after having paid $200 in “non-refundable application fees”) because of her standardised test score. I don’t even know if that was why, I wasn’t given a reason on one and the other was “we don’t think you would fit in….we don’t have the resources to help you”. I guess we are just too Catholic to fit in. I’ve given up on the Catholic school system and am now going to route of non-Catholic christian schools. This is a real travesty.

    • Mark Langley says:

      Amy, that is a real heart break, I am sorry for your experience and hopefully your daughter is not too discouraged! I can’t help wondering whether this is a blessing in disguise as many Catholic school systems (including leading Catholic private schools) are adopting the new Federal “Common Core” standards which you will be hearing about more and more over the next year. This only means that schools lose even more of their Catholic identity as they adopt a secular standard… as if this was even possible after so many years of secularization. There is something to be said for not submitting your children to the scandalous experience of receiving a secular education from a Catholic school. Better to receive a secular education from a non-Catholic school! Or at least a “classical” education from a protestant school.

      I have good Catholic friends who send children to Christian schools and seem to do pretty. It can be a little awkward attending the annual “Reformation play” 🙂

      Maybe its time for The Lyceum to engage in Distance Learning!

  5. An Educated Barbarian with well-formed Children says:

    Here! Here!

    What an excellent idea! Distance Learning! Brilliant! Yes, Dean Langley, I believe you have nailed it! Perhaps skype? Or however they do it.

    Amy, your 14 year old would love it! It is a pure Catholic education…truly liberating!

  6. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    The point has been made that Catholic schools are not living up to their duty. The point has also been argued that homeschoolers are not living up to their duty by not presenting their children with liberal education. One alternative obviously is an authentically Catholic school such as the Lyceum. But what about homeschooling that does present classical education? There are many benefits to homeschooling. Indeed, some of the most brilliant minds were homeschooled. For example:
    Charles Dickens
    George Bernard Shaw
    Louisa May Alcott
    Robert Frost
    Alexander Graham Bell
    Benjamin Franklin
    Thomas Edison
    Orville Wright
    Wilbur Wright
    John Paul Jones
    Robert E. Lee
    Stonewall Jackson
    Matthew Perry
    Abraham Lincoln
    Andrew Jackson
    George Washington
    Martha Washington
    John Adams
    Abigail Adams
    John Quincy Adams
    Thomas Jefferson
    Clara Barton
    St. Joan of Arc,
    Winston Churchill,
    Leonardo da Vinci,
    C.S. Lewis,
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself.

    There seems to be an idea that homeschoolers are incapable (or at least less capable) of learning how to interact with people outside their families and that homeschooling doesn’t fully acknowledge the social nature of man. The best answer to this is the evidence of educational studies which strongly indicate that homeschooled students tend to be smarter, more mature, more sociable, far better at working with peers who are either older or younger than they are, AND that homeschooled families tend to be the strongest families. Anyone who has had experience of being part of a genuinely Catholic homeschooling community knows what I’m talking about.
    And even beyond the inductive evidence of studies, doesn’t it make sense that the parents should want to educate their children? No one is claiming that EVERY parent is able (whether financially or personally) to homeschool his own children. But it seems to me that one would have a VERY hard time making the case that homeschooling is not the ideal. Can any responsible parent honestly say, “If I had my way, I really would rather not educate my own children, the human lives which God has entrusted to me and in whose creation I participated? I would rather pay someone else to do it.” Doesn’t the Church teach that the very purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children? Homeschoolers (the ones who are actually homeschooling and not merely recreating the public school experience at home) are raising families the NATURAL way.

    • An Educated Barbarian with well-formed Children says:

      Well said, young man. Your Mom must be very thankful to have such a Son.

  7. Mark Langley says:

    Thanks Mr. Gonzales for your hearty defense of home schooling! And I agree with the excellent comment of the “educated barbarian” (which epithet is obviously purely ironic!)

    And from one home schooling parent advocate to another I would offer only these few remarks.

    I am a little suspicious of this list of famous homeschoolers. Actually I don’t think a single one of them was a “home-schooler” in the sense that we use the term today.

    Winston Churchill was not home schooled. Nor was C.S. Lewis unless having private tutors and going to school at age ten counts for homeschooling. “No schooling” doesn’t count as homeschooling either, as was presumably the case with St Joan. (Granted that she was famously eloquent on certain occasions, I have always thought that was the power of the Holy Spirit working in her, but I don’t know.)

    Neither John Adams nor his son were home-schooled as far as I know.

    Abraham Lincoln was not home schooled. He was “self educated, in spite of his father. Although he also had some private tutoring. Keep in mind that he did not learn the first six books of Euclid until he was 40! 🙂

    George Washington went to school.

    I don’t know about Robert Frost except that he graduated from Lawrence High School. Maybe he had no formal education before that. His poetry is pretty good especially the one about the “woods” being “lovely dark and deep.”

    I really am not certain whether anyone on that list is homeschooled. I am inclined to think that there is not a single one who was.

    But I agree that home schooling is really a duty for parents when they can a) do a better job than their local school b) when the local school is not doing its job properly for whatever reason (e.g. they have adopted the common core like the Cleveland Catholic school system, or despite the wonderful curriculum and teachers at a school, perhaps the atmosphere and student body is just jot some thing to which any parent would wish to expose their children.

  8. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    On the contrary, Mr. Langley, every last person on that list was definitely homeschooled. I never claimed that they were homeschooled for the entirety of their education. I’ll even grant that, with a few exceptions, nearly everyone on that list attended a public school for some length of time.

    Churchill was definitely taught at home by his nanny before he ever attended a public school.

    Lewis, although he was not taught by his parents, was instructed by private tutors under the supervision of his parents.

    St. Joan of Arc was certainly homeschooled. In fact, Joan of Arc herself said that her mother taught her everything that she knew about the Faith, including the Creed, the Catechism, and the lives of the saints.

    As for Abraham Lincoln, who says that self-instruction isn’t a species of homeschooling? It’s schooling and it’s at home. I know many homeschoolers who taught themselves specific classes. I even did that for one class!

    George Washington was homeschooled from the age of seven to fifteen. Nearly everyone who grew up in the southern colonies was homeschooled so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

    Robert Frost was homeschooled by his mother from first grade through fourth grade. Then his father died and his mother needed to earn money. So what did she do? She started offering lessons and got a mini school going from grades fifth through eighth because she wanted to keep homeschooling her children. So yes Robert Frost went to Lawrence High School but he was definitely homeschooled before that.

    John Adams learned how to read and write and do basic arithmetic at home and then he received lessons from a neighbor who taught several of the neighboring children before he ever went to public school.

    Abigail Adams NEVER went to a public school, she was absolutely homeschooled and it must have been a pretty darn good education because she homeschooled all five of her children including John Quincy.

    I shall conclude with a quote from Churchill. “Schools have not necessarily much to do with education….they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.”

    • Mark Langley says:

      My good friend Mr. Gonzalez,

      As we are now arguing about this list with regard to the schooling of each individual, I would propose that interesting as it may be, this is going to take a great deal of fact checking with credible sources. And it is interesting that there are various sources with conflicting reports.

      But with the exception of the recent movie about John Adams which made it a point to show what a smart early feminist Abigail was by teaching Latin to JQA, I am still skeptical about calling him a homeschooler in the sense that we use the phrase today. (Accompanying your father to France for a very long time when one is 10 and subsequently going to school there does not fit the description)

      Now for instance, my favorite biographer and I might say the most authoritative, of George Washington is of course none other than his own namesake Washington Irving.

      I will quote this lengthy passage from his two volume “Life of George Washington” just to settle the account on his early education…. I apologize for the length of it:

      “In those days the means of instruction in Virginia were limited, and it was the custom among the wealthy planters to send their sons to England to complete their education. This was done by Augustine Washington with his eldest son Lawrence, then about fifteen years of age, and whom he no doubt considered the future head of the family. George was yet in early childhood: as his intellect dawned he received the rudiments of education in the best establishment for the purpose that the neighborhood afforded. It was what was called, in popular parlance, an “old field school-house;” humble enough in its pretensions, and kept by one of his father’s tenants named Hobby, who moreover was sexton of the parish. The instruction doled out by him must have been of the simplest kind, reading, writing, and ciphering, perhaps; but George had the benefit of mental and moral culture at home, from an excellent father.

      Several traditional anecdotes have been given to the world, somewhat prolix and trite, but illustrative of the familiar and practical manner in which Augustine Washington, in the daily intercourse of domestic life, impressed the ductile mind of his child with high maxims of religion and virtue, and imbued him with a spirit of justice and generosity, and above all a scrupulous love of truth.

      When George was about seven or eight years old his brother Lawrence returned from England, a well-educated and accomplished youth. There was a difference of fourteen years in their ages, which may have been one cause of the strong attachment which took place between them. Lawrence looked down with a protecting eye upon the boy whose dawning intelligence and perfect rectitude won his regard; while George looked up to his manly and cultivated brother as a model in mind and manners. We call particular attention to this brotherly interchange of affection, from the influence it had on all the future career of the subject of this memoir….

      We have here the secret of that martial spirit so often cited of George in his boyish days. He had seen his brother fitted out for the wars. He had heard by letter and otherwise of the warlike scenes in which he was mingling. All his amusements took a military turn. He made soldiers of his schoolmates; they had their mimic parades, reviews, and sham fights; a boy named William Bustle was sometimes his competitor, but George was commander-in-chief of Hobby’s school.”

      But at any rate … maybe it would be more productive to talk about the principles of the thing rather than argue about the at best dubious list of “famous homeschoolers” 🙂 I am certain that you would agree with that.

  9. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    Amen! Let’s get down to principles! Bring it on! 🙂

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