In Britain a Public School is an expensive and usually well-thought of private school. What you Americans would call a public school we would call a State School (despite the fact that we have no states as Americans would understand them). Of course you also call your universities "schools" whereas us Brits reserve the word purely for places of primary or secondary education. If you want a British word that can be used for a place of either secondary or tertiary education then you might find "college" suffices, although of course in north America that word almost always denotes a university. Confused yet?

Some examples of famous British public schools would include: Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster.

For all the problems with American--and Canadian--public schools, they are all we have. Unless, that is, democracy is not one of your principles.

It's only with a shared understanding of things that democracy can flourish. A shared experience, culture, or language. And not one provided by commerce.

But it must not be a strident one, as this can, and usually does, lead to a totalitarian form of government. I have always liked the phrase, "a modest preparation for democracy."

Neil Postman has dealt with this fine balance, among many other subjects of great concern to most of us.

We can hide in our smug satisfaction, our individual niches--or worse, try to shape our public systems to a particular, and peculiar, vision of the world--as Mike Harris and his reactionary Tories are now doing in Ontario. Or we can work to promote open, supportive, intelligent education for our children--and not some mode of induction into an ideological, or commercial system of government.

Give students the tools to choose for themselves!!

mmmm, West Country Guy, seems to not get the point I am making here, and here: It's not the choice among modes of education I am concerned about, it is the content, and more, the environment.

In public schools, rather like the real world, we must learn to associate with everyone. In the other modes, at least in North America, and in Canada, the school population is chosen upon more restricted lines--and the preparation for democracy is more limited in the niches I refered to above.

Maybe it is a good thing to be exclusive. Maybe it even makes for better academic education only to associate with those of one's own economic, or other status. I don't know.

I don't think it makes for a better education in the practice of democracy. But maybe that no longer is any goal in the modern education system, where only the latest piece of computer hardware, and one's proficiency on it counts.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about what a Public school is.

Iain is correct in that we would call an American Public School a State school in the UK. However all we mean by State Schools in this country is that they are public schools where the fees are paid for by the government.

This then begs the question of what is a Public school, so heres my effort on a defination.

A Public school is a school where there is no barrier to entry due to ability, race, colour and creed (aka religion).

I take back my previous dig at themusic cos I think his reply to me explains his point better.

what I took offense at in his posting originally was that it seemed to suggest that the only sort of education system alowable in a democracy was a state run one and that having any other systems in place would mean that "democracy is not one of your principles."

One of these phrases that alters its meaning entirely as you travel across the Atlantic.

Originally public schools were set up for any member of the public (who had the necessary cash available) to send their progeny to, or who were favoured by endowment.

Back in mediaeval times, this pretty much restricted pupils to sons of the rich merchant classes and minor gentry - the sons of aristocracy were, of course, home schooled.

As the schools expanded, they expanded only the pupil numbers in the fee-paying intake, whose families paid the tuition fees.

As an example, Eton was founded by the King, Henry VI in 1440 - originally for teaching pupils funded by endowment. (The tradition continues - approximately 70 of the 1100 pupils at Eton remain funded via endowment).

As primary education became provided as a statutory right in England in the Eighteenth century, a new system of state schools was created, used by all members of the public, rather than merely being open to all members of the public in a theoretical way.

In the nascent United States of America, the naming was applied to those schools funded out of the public purse.

This has led to the current situation where in England a public school refers to an independent fee-paying school, and in the United States of America public school refers to a government-run school, free at the point of use.

To address specific points raised: In England, grammar schools are state schools which select their pupils based on ability, but which are not fee-paying, thereore do not need the specific exclusion given by Darl.

Additionally, 'public school' is an England-specific term, not a UK-wide term.

I would add as an addendum to xlucid's contribution that reason that Eton kept a constant number of scholarships is that its mother school - Winchester College - was founded to educate '70 poore and needie scholars' , according to Bishop William of Wykham, who also founded New College Oxford. Henry pledged when founding Eton to remain constant to this.

Furthermore, xlucid does not quite explain the full paradox of the term 'public school' this side of the water. The term 'Public schools' is used to describe fee paying establishments catering for pupils between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, not including Grammar Schools, of which there now remain very few. Public schools are prohibitively expensive, hence the bizarrity of the word 'public': about 2% of the population are schooled in this way.

The term 'Private School' is usually used to refer to the fee-paying schools that handle pupils between the ages of seven and twelve, before they go to Public School. Again, these schools cater for a tiny percentage of children in that age group. Strong links exist between Private Schools and Public Schools owing to the symbiotic nature of their relationship.

Truly public schools are Comprehensives, which deal with the overwhelming majority of the populace. 'Public Schools' - Eton, Harrow et al - survive for a number of reasons. Hangovers from a time where education was regarded as a privilege and not a right, they purport to cater for the most intelligent (and richest, considering the fees) kids i the country. the truth is that whilst some do, the greater part educate sons and daughters of people who want their children to have been educated at their own cost. I imagine they feel there is kudos to be had from this. I don't know.

The Public School system as it stands in the UK is a body of about 250 fee-paying schools, most of whom offer scholarships, or endorsements, to greater or lesser extents. Winchester and Eton offer seventy academic scholarships and about 50 musical ones every five years, some places can afford fewer. It's a system riddled with prejudice and arrogance, elitism and snobbery. It's cliquey, and you can always spot a public school pupil in the street, before you even hear them talk. Public School pupils are one of the most stereotyped groups of young people, and unfortunately the stereotypes are accurate. The System itself aims to send its pupils to Russell Group universities (the top 13 in the country). It is under assault - or at least protracted hostility - from the current government because a party that is accused of drifting from its socialist roots needs an easy target. Such a bastion of privilege as the Public School System is that target. The Public School System will endure, because as long as there is conspicuous consumption, there will be fee-paying education. This is not a pretty truth: the system will not survive because it offers high quality education, but because of petty snobbery.

To confirm a point made by xlucid, the reason Public Schools are called public in the UK is because in the old days, before the government provided free schooling, the choice was between public schools (i.e. any school) or private tuition. Just as in Britain we don't call universities schools, nor do we really understand the term "home schooled", it sounds like its the home doing the learning, rather than the child...

These days, it is an exaggeration to say you can "always spot a public school pupil in the street, before you even hear them talk". That is of course unless they are wearing an expensive and posh looking school uniform. Otherwise you need to wait till you here their R.P. accent. But even then, many Public School boys and girls are apt at imitating Estuary English, from watching too many soaps.

Surprisingly, as fees increase, Public school students are becoming more diversified in their backgrounds and less easy to pick out from a crowd. The main variable now in a families ability to send their children to a fee paying school is how many children there are - at £15,000 a year a head, not many among the upper-middle classes can send more than one or two, especially when combined with an astronomical mortgage.

Public Schools in England are fast losing their traditional/cultural values. Whereas in the old days they would churn out officers for the army, professors for academia and priests for the Church, nowadays you send your child to them so they can get into a good university, and thereby a job which will let them make a lot of money. This is especially true now that most officers, professors and priests cannot afford the fees.

This is why, despite having been to one myself, I believe Public (private, independent) Schools are an impediment to democracy and should be banned. Democracy can only exist in a meritocracy, and a dual education system prevents this. The most obvious reason for the poor condition of state schools must be that government ministers rarely send their children to them, and so do not have an interest in improving them. Democracy is rule of the people. For it to work, the people need to recognise themselves as a coherant social entity. If public schools have lost their cultural value, and only serve to create divisions of wealth and identity, they should go.

Unlike darl, I do believe there is a chance of this happening. Either the government could nationalise them all, or privatise all state schools and provide parents with education vouchers for their children, which would dilute the exclusiveness of existing Public Schools. With the amount of nationalisation and privatisation that has taken place in the past 60 years (and ten years!) here in the UK, one of these can't be too far off. Perhaps there should be a vote on which? Equality Vs Choice. Could be fun.

Public school.


In Great Britain, any of various schools maintained by the community, wholly or partly under public control, or maintained largely by endowment and not carried on chiefly for profit; specif., and commonly, any of various select and usually expensive endowed schools which give a liberal modern education or prepare pupils for the universities. Eton, Harrow, Rugby, and Winchester are of this class.


In the United States, a free primary, grammar, or high school maintained by the local government.


© Webster 1913.

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