The Difference Between Private School and Public School in a Single List

Slate's Culture Blog
April 12 2013 5:51 PM

The Difference Between Private School and Public School in a Single List

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The Eton College Chapel at Eton school, west of London.

Photo by GUY JACKSON/AFP/Getty Images.

I lived for a year in England as a 10-year-old, where I attended Latymer Upper, a good though not excessively tony London private school. This afternoon, in hopes of tracking down old classmates, I registered for Latymer’s alumni network. The first box on the registration page demanded I choose my title from a dropdown list. This list included, but was not limited to:

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Air Commodore
Air Vice Marshal
Alderman
Baron
Baroness
Brigadier
Brigadier General
Commodore
Councilor
Count
Countess
Dame
Earl of
Group Captain
His Excellency
His Honour
His Honour Judge
Hon
Judge
Lady
Lord
Lt. Colonel
Miss
Mr.
Professor
Professor Sir
Rabbi
Rear Admiral
Sir
Squadron leader
The Earl of
The Hon
The Hon Justice
The Hon Sir
The Reverend
The Reverend Canon
The Reverend Doctor
The Reverend Fr.
The Reverend Professor
The Right Reverend Dr
The Right Honorable
The Right Honorable Lord
The Right Honorable Sir
The Venerable
And of course: Wing Commander

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I read this and thought: Aha, I have discovered the single list that explains the difference between England and America. There, right dishonorably, was all the class privilege, aristocratic obsession, and hideous formality that clots up England.

As due diligence, I logged onto the alumni network at the private American high school I graduated from, St. Albans in Washington, D.C., to confirm that it offered graduates the choice of only a few modest, democratic, American titles.

Alas, the American list was just as bad, maybe even worse, starting with:

2nd Lt.
Admiral
Ambassador
Archdeacon
Baron
Baroness (Puzzled by this and various other titles for women—it’s an all-boys school.)
Bishop

Stopping along the way for, among many, many others: Congressman; Frau; H.E.; H.M.; Queen; King; Mayor; Shaikh; The Most Rev.; before finishing with

Vice Admiral
Vice President
Your Majesty

My patriotic notions of American superiority were dashed. Instead, these lists suggest the real difference is between private and public schools. Whether in England or America, private schools cling to status and class markers that seem ridiculous to just about everyone else.