Friday, June 25, 2010

Education is, as always, a hot topic in the political landscape of America. It seems everyone has an opinion about the best way educate our youth and for every opinion there are studies and experts to back them up. I see the range of possibilities and understand how it can be confusing for parents to know who to believe and figure out which method is the 'right' method. I don't think there is a 'right' method for everyone and that it is important for each of us to know the choices available and use that information to help us find the direction that our instincts point us to. Unfortunately I think many parents are not aware of the wide variety of choices they have or are overwhelmed by them and therefore stick to the status quo, no matter how stressful or maddening it seems to be.

There is a documentary called Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture that explores the growing amount of pressure placed on teens in America to succeed. I follow the filmmakers on Facebook as do many other parents. I am astounded by the amount of stress and pressure that parents are posting about but am even more astounded that they accept it as inevitable and see themselves as powerless against it. Students with hours of homework, no time for family or friends, being bullied by teachers and other students, the sad list of concerns facing parents is long and many feel hopeless and trapped within the system. Many of them are counting on the documentary, activists, and government leaders to enact change; I agree that all of those things need to happen. However in the meantime kids are suffering while we are waiting. Change is available right now in many forms. The beauty of choice is that we can all look at our unique children, families, financial needs/ obligations and decide what is right for us. But no matter what your situation you do have choices.

Choice #1: Homeschool
Unschooling falls under the umbrella of homeschooling but there are many forms of homeschooling. There are school-at-home types who have classrooms in their houses and strictly follow the school model all the way to the radical unschoolers like us. Most homeschoolers fall somewhere in between and find their own balance and rhythm. Many parents feel they can't homeschool if both parents need to work but there are a lot of people who make it work. Their kids are in daycare (cheaper than private school), family members help out or parents work different shifts. These may not be realistic possibilities for everyone but it is an option worth exploring if you are unhappy with your current situation.

Choice #2: School Choice
Private school, charter schools, magnet schools, or even paying tuition for your child to attend a different school district. Charter and magnet schools are public and therefore free but can be difficult to get into. Private schools and choosing another district may be expensive. None of these options are perfect but are worth exploring. If you look at your budget or find charter/magnet schools in your area and find that you are interested don't just assume that different equals better. Look around, meet with not only school personnel but parents and children who attend these schools. Come to these meetings armed with a list of questions that outline what is important to you.

If you are concerned about time for creativity and play, ask not only if it exists but how the school defines these things. Ask about the things that you wish were different in the school you want to leave as well as the things you'd like about it. Class sizes, teaching methods, discipline policies, grading systems and homework policies are just a few things that you should be interested in. Decide what you can compromise with and what are your deal breakers.

Choice #3: Guerrilla Learning
I've linked this choice to Amazon where you can find the book by this title. The authors lay out ways to take back your kids education and use school as it was originally intended- a resource for education, not the whole of education. Guerrilla learning is a great option for parents who simply don't have the resources for home or private schooling. It is a way to utilize the current system without becoming enslaved to it. It is more about a change of attitude than anything else. One of my favorite quotes from the book:
Like many other things in life, school can be a poor master but a good servant. As flawed as school is, it still wouldn't be such a problem if parents and kids didn't perceive it as the only source of learning and the final authority on education.

In other words don't be enslaved to the system- it isn't and can't be everything. You have a choice to limit the amount of homework your child will do each night, of how many extra-curricular activities they will join, how many advanced classes they will take. Don't assume more is better- talk with your children and establish goals for their education beyond diplomas and awards and then make informed choices based upon those goals.

I'm sure there are more options that I haven't mentioned or thought of and I'd love to hear them as I'm sure would other parents. The important thing is not which choice you make but that it is mindful and takes the needs of your family into consideration. Too many people are choosing by default and their families suffer for it.

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