Conflict between public schools and private schools has existed for a long time. People who support private schools often question the quality of American public education, while those who support public schools criticize elitist attitudes linked to private schools. This debate is divided by political lines as well, with Democrats favoring public school education and Republicans favoring school choice options through both charter and private schools.
The push for mandatory public education in America truly began in the 1920s, when attempts to create the Department of Education were born from the creation of the Smith-Towner bill. The bill emphasized the illiteracy present throughout America and wanted to fix it.
Private schools backed by their religious parishes, known as parochial schools, fought back against pushes to made all schools public. They formed lobbying groups like the National Catholic Welfare Conference to push back against anti-private school legislation. Following World War II, this push to dissolve religious schools gained traction, with Paul Blanshard’s book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, asserting that America had a “Catholic problem” in education.
While school choice has historically been a point of debate between Democrats and Republicans, this tension has increased in the last few years. Families who send their children to private schools are often seen as well-off, disconnected, and selfish. Parochial schools are viewed with just as much skepticism, with some arguing that parochial schools are tools of religious indoctrination that care more about faith than education.
Public schools have had their own criticisms lobbed at them. The quality of public education in America has a terrible reputation in many areas of the country. Families often have to choose between lackluster educations for their children in their school district and shelling out money to afford private educations. Other criticisms of public education include accusations of political indoctrination from teachers that have a political bias. On the other hand, many critics of public education support charter schools, which exist as semi-autonomous public schools that receive federal funding but hold their own standards of education separate from the public-school system.
Whichever schools are better, this conflict comes from concern over the wellbeing of young people, making it an essential debate in American society today.