Winner/Loser Discourse in the Private vs. Public School Debate by Joahnne Thomson-Sweeny




What is success in today’s society? How does one become successful, a winner? In a capitalist society, winning and being successful most often are related to those who have money, who have capital. Thus, if one is born into a family who has money, then one is already a winner. As people grow up, other aspects factor into the winner/loser discourse, and one of them is schooling. The type of school, or where one goes to school, has a great influence on determining if one is a winner or a loser. There are two types of schools: private and public. The following will illustrate how, in a capitalist society, the former is directly connected to the notion of winning, of success.

Private schools imply the idea of money, which winners have. It is this money that then makes it possible for the students who attend private schools to receive a “winning” education, an education that students who attend public schools are not given, thus making them losers. Private schools exist from primary school to university, and someone who has attended private school from the beginning to the end of their academic path is perceived by society as being a winner. In most cases, in regards to schoolchildren, the choice between the two different types of schools falls down to the parents of the student. To a great extent, parents who send their children to private schools make this choice “on the assumed higher effectiveness of private schools to endow their students with the skills and competencies needed to succeed in the labour market” (Avram 1). “There is ample evidence that private school attendance generates significant economic advantages later on in life as individuals earn more in the labour market and are more likely to get top jobs” (Green 3). Studies show that students who go to private schools have a better chance of continuing their education and earning a higher salary once they are on the work force.

Children who go to private schools benefit from a better teacher/student ratio as the classrooms are smaller, which means that the teachers can spend more time on their students. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian research and educational organization, in 2007, 91% of parents whom the institute surveyed said the dedication of the teachers was their main reason for choosing private over public school. Alan Johnson, the British education secretary, said that this extra time teachers “spend with children doing sport, music and drama, building social skills, confidence and teamworking […] helps children develop not just academic and vocational skills, but social skills as well” (The Guardian). These skills and competencies are what future employers are looking for.

It is in school, through education, that students can gain what is called cultural capital, a term invented by French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, and it is this cultural capital that makes them winners in society. This cultural capital leads them to social capital, as these students affix themselves to other winners. Social capital is, according to Bourdieu, “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (Gauntlett 1). Both capitals, cultural and social, can be converted to economic capital. Private schools are able to offer cultural and social capital, thus economic capital, to their students because they have better resources than public schools.

Whereas public schools are funded by the government, private schools have a superior amount of economic resources. It is this money that enables private schools to hire the best teachers, who in turn offer a top education to the students. Take for example Bishop’s College School (BCS). BCS is a private secondary college in the Eastern Townships for which the students’ parents have to pay a minimum of $16 700 to a maximum of $53 000 for tuition plus extra fees. There, they “teach students to think critically, creatively and independently” (BCS). “As a BCS student, you can be sure to be provided with the tools essential for success in today’s rapidly changing world” (BCS). This school almost guarantees success, promises their students they will be winners. The students become winners as the schools they attended, themselves, are winners. In Canada, the best secondary schools are private ones. The Fraser Institute ranked only private schools as the top ten secondary schools in the country. The rankings follow the same tendency in regards to universities. The top ten universities in 2013, according to Quacquarelli Symonds, a British company dealing in education, were all private. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, and University of Cambridge were first, second, and third, respectively.

When it is discovered that a person went to BCS, Harvard, University of Oxford, or any other private school, they are automatically elevated to a social height that students who attended public schools would never be able to obtain. Private and public schools are devices that divide individuals in the winner/loser discourse. In a capitalist society, value is given to private school students, as they represent money and success. Society has taught people that the ones who come out of private schools are superior to the ones who do not. And it is these superior students who win.

Works Cited

Avram, Silvia, and Jaap Dronkers. “Social Class Dimensions in the Selection of a Private

School: a Cross National Analysis Using PISA”, European University Institute. Web. 28 March. 2014.

Bishop’s College School. “The BCS Experience”. Web. 28 March. 2014.

Gauntlett, David. Making is Connecting: The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and

knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0, March 2011. Web. 28 March 2014.

Green, Francis, et al. “The Changing Economic Advantage From Private School”, Centre

For the Economics of Education. April 2010. Web. 28 March. 2014.

QS Top Universities. “QS World University Rankings 2013”. Web. 28 March. 2014.

Sherlock, Tracy. “Top 10 secondary schools remain the same in Fraser Institute report”,

Vancouver Sun. 17 June. 2013. Web. 28 March. 2014.  

The Guardian. “Johnson outlines social benefits of private schools”, 25 july. 2006. Web.