Three Similarities Between Private Schools and American Craft Brewing

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A hallmark of classical liberal arts instruction is producing graduates capable of adaptability and lifelong learning in an ever-changing world. It equips students to connect learning across academic disciplines. These characteristics of a liberal arts education are important to understand when considering the commonalities in a first-of-its-kind comparison between private schools and craft beer!

The Brewers Association defines American Craft Brewing as “small, independent and traditional.” Private schools not only possess these same attributes, but also nurture them as catalysts for academic freedom and critical analysis.

1. Small
Defined by the Brewers Association as “the annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.” Craft breweries tend to have tight-knit communities of employees who exude passion for their company and product. There is a sense of individual investment and pride in craft breweries that is hard to replicate in multi-national corporate breweries.

Private schools are selective in crafting their enrollment and believe that communication within a small school community creates the best learning environment. They believe that the student to teacher connection is crucial to foundational learning in sciences, humanities, mathematics, languages, and the arts. This connection is stifled when large class sizes and high student to faculty ratios prevent students from interacting with teachers and other students in a meaningful way.

In contrast to their public school counterparts, a 2015 study by the Higher Education Research Institute revealed that private school graduates in their freshmen year of college reported having:

  • “been engaged in high school activities such as studying with other students, voting in a student election, discussing politics, and doing community service as part of a class.” 
  • “close relationships with teachers in high school.”
  • an expectation of engagement “with professors and students after class.”

2. Independent
Defined by the Brewing Association as “having less than 25 percent of the craft brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.”

Specific to education, “private school” and “independent school” can be used interchangeably to describe tuition-funded, mission-driven schools. Independence is an inextricable part of private school education. Freedom from governmental budget limitations and curriculum mandates is crucial to private school communities. Independence allows private schools to practice a distinct approach to education and the inculcation of values—a mission. While not all private schools are religious, school missions with religious tenets that emphasize ethical behavior and good citizenship are abundant.

(The term “independent school” is not to be confused with “independent school districts” (ISD’s), which are a collection of public schools run by an elected council that is known as a school board. The school board helps determine educational policy, taxable boundaries, and is often a division under the ISD’s respective city government. A recent article in the New York Times explained that public schools are being labeled as “government schools” in some political circles.)  

Independence also affords private school teachers greater instructional latitude. This latitude is in contrast to the often-heard frustration from public school teachers of having to “teach to the test,” rather than focusing on foundational learning for children to become academically literate. In Texas, this test is the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), and it is not required for students in private schools. State tests, which are required of public school students, arose from The U.S. Department of Education and the controversial “No Child Left Behind” bipartisan federal legislation. As public school budgets and employment are often tied to achievement test scores, sad but predictable consequences have rippled throughout the nation including New York and Atlanta.

3. Traditional
Defined by the Brewers Association as “a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.” This characteristic speaks to the content of what may be considered a craft beer and the process of creating it.

Since private schools exist on such a wide spectrum of instructional philosophy, it’s impossible to label them all as traditional. However, private schools that have been around for decades are good examples of market resiliency. In other words, their alumni have quantifiable benefits from having attended the school. Given the success of these schools, changes to their traditional framework tend to happen slowly as school leaders wisely adhere to time-tested models of proven sustainability. While some private schools strive for progressivism that embrace the most current trends in education, others are traditional in their embrace of classical models of pedagogy that date back to ancient Greece and Rome.

The beauty of modern education is that there is a school option for everyone, and in an educated society everyone wins. However, with public schools focusing on state tests and becoming increasingly vocational in their orientation, the contrasts between public and private education has never been greater. By honoring the small, independent, and traditional model of success, private schools remain poised to graduate lifelong learners in the 21st century with academic literacy across the arts, sciences, and humanities.


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