It's no surprise that I feel this way about education. I am kind of (okay, a lot) anti-school. (Phew. I'm glad I got that off my chest.) But.
But. One topic has come up at all the education conferences I've attended (all three of them!) regarding alternative education and it's this.
Even as I have pursued this dream of creating a school, I battle with the seeming impossibility of creating a private school that is accessible to anyone other than those families in higher income brackets.
This blog post is inspired by (and in many ways a response to) this thoughtful comment that someone posted under my link and rant.
...this is a complex topic. I agree with much of what you and the article have said. However, the article ignores a whole swath of research that concludes the exact opposite of what they are reporting. I have serious reservations about institutionalized education as well. but for many, and certainly here in [our country], I would say for the majority, Schools may be the best environments for children. School learning may be the only ticket out of an otherwise miserable existence. All the research I've seen conclude that in these environments, you can't start school early enough to give these children any sort of fighting chance. For those who can afford and have the skills and resources, alternative approaches clearly work well. Particularly for the poor and disenfranchised, however, schooling and a lot of it are their only hope. The question is how can we make it better.What about that? What about this idea that underprivileged/poor people can really only benefit from the old school? (Pardon the pun.) Why would that be true? Is it true? How can we test it?
I think that that line of reasoning, while earnest and well meaning, can be a little dangerous. The implication seems to be that children born into and living within confines of a low(er) socioeconomic situation are somehow incapable of learning unless it's forced upon them. It implies, further, that middle class and wealthy children are smarter and more adept at - well, at being smart and more adept. I am sure that my friend does not mean to imply this - even in the least. As he said, there are studies that support this theory. Which begs the question once more: Why? Why is "school learning ... the only ticket out of an otherwise miserable existence"?
I honestly don't think it is. The Albany Free School has learners from all walks of life. As mentioned before, Nuestra Escuela caters to teens from the local (not exactly rich) area. It's certainly true that there is a glaring dearth of alternative schools with a socioeconomically balanced enrollment (in the US, at least). Which means we don't have many examples to draw from.
However, I am a firm believer in the premise that average learners all start with the same basic skill set. Some may have challenges with language, others still the real costs of being poor - hunger, sadness, worry, some children are dealing with abusive situations (across the board), but they can all learn through play. They can all find pleasure in the discovery of the new, the joy of the aha moment, the kindness of a helpful mentor to guide them, of knowing more today than yesterday, of what it means to be a human being.
What does all that mean, though?
I really do think that the current model of institutionalized teaching is outdated. I think we can give our children more. More than tests, homework, grades, drudgery. I am not saying that school needs to be done away with. I am saying that school - public and all - needs to be revolutionized. Reduce the frequency of testing. Increase time and space dedicated to creativity, to the sciences, to math, to reading. Get rid of photocopied worksheets and homework (for God's sake, let the children and their families at least have their own time when they leave school! Is that really so much to ask?!). Add cooking, microscopes, discovery trips, gardening!
Where will all the money come from for that?
It's there. Believe me. Spending money on education is "penny wise and pound wise, too".
I cannot accept that any four or five year old benefits from sitting at a desk all day. It is a huge disservice that we are doing to these children, forcing them to do this. No matter where they come from.