What are Some Types of Secular Schools?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

People often contrast public schools with sectarian schools without stopping to think that there are actually a wide variety of secular schools including, but not limited to the public schools. Secular schools, which means “not related to or supported by a particular religion or religious group, can be of three basic types: public schools, charter schools, and private or independent schools.

Public schools are one type of secular schools in the U.S.
Public schools are one type of secular schools in the U.S.

Public schools are one type of secular schools in the United States. In the US, no public school has a religious affiliation, whether it is an elementary school or an institution of higher education, such as a land-grant college and university. Charter schools are actually a part of the public school system, but have specialized academic disciplines or focus, so they too are, by definition, secular schools.

Many charter schools experiment with innovative pedagogical methods for teaching students.
Many charter schools experiment with innovative pedagogical methods for teaching students.

Although some private and/or independent schools are sectarian, a large number are not. The ones that are not can be of a number of different types. Some private schools are special education schools, specifically created to serve special populations such as students who are blind or Deaf, or students with learning disabilities or behavioral issues. Private athletic schools combine athletics with academics in a secular setting.

Many private schools are secular.
Many private schools are secular.

Trade or vocational schools are another type of secular school. The focus of a trade or vocational school is on training students in skills and techniques. This is also the focus for performing arts schools, though in a different area of learning.

A number of private secular schools are based on a particular philosophy or pedagogy. These schools have a specialized curriculum and a common approach with other schools of the same type. Some examples are Coalition of Essential Schools, distance learning schools, Learning Network Schools, Montessori Schools, Sudbury Valley Schools, and Waldorf Schools.

One type of school that may be either secular or sectarian is the military academy. Some schools combine sectarian focus with military training, but this is often apparent in their name, which may be something like “Christian Military Academy.”

As part of the public school system, charter schools are secular institutions.
As part of the public school system, charter schools are secular institutions.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


Comfyshoes-I agree.I feel that secular public schools often try to indoctrinate children instead of developing kids that can make up their own mind.

Sometimes the level of intolerance of traditional conservative principles is extreme. Many times children learn limited information about their American history which is why the trend toward homeschooling in growing.

Many parents choose to homes school their children so that they could have a more active role in their child’s curriculum.

They can also tailor the education to meet the needs of their child. For example, if the child is gifted, the parents can develop a rigorous curriculum that compliments their child’s learning style.

They can also teach catechism and bible courses with the depth that they would like. This is something that will not be done in a secular school which is another reason that the parent’s made the choice.


GreenWeaver-I know that there is also some recent debate regarding creationism in schools.

A Gallup poll indicated that 76% of parents would not have a problem having this theory taught in secular schools, but most of the public schools boards want to stay will the principles of evolution.

This is really another reason why parents often seek private schools because in a private school parents can actually talk with the principal if they do not agree with a concept or a curriculum choice because they are paying, but I still think that there should be a balance in public schools.

I feel that if that many parents feel this way about creationism then why not offer both options and let the kids decide what they are comfortable with believing.The development of a free thinker is really what education should be all about.


Secular schools that are private often give the parent’s wishes more consideration than public schools. Often parents seek a private school education for their children because it deemed more challenging to them and they can exert a certain amount of control over the curriculum.

For example, recently at a public school kindergarten class in San Francisco, the children were taught about homosexuality. While there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, there is something wrong with explaining this lifestyle to a five year old child.

In another public middle school there was a case in which the children were taught how to use condoms without parental consent.

These are cases that would never occur in a private school, because in a private school parents have a voice and because they are paying tuition the administration usually stands up and listens.

This is really the reason why parents seek religious schools.

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