4/9 Education and the S-Word

Education & the S-Word (Private/Public/Charter/Home/Un)

The subject of schools is a complex one. As a parent, you have a choice to make when your child reaches 4 or 5 years old. What are you going to do about school? If your child has been attending preschool or daycare, the transition might not be as major. It’s still not an easy answer, because you can’t be 100% confident that you have the right plan. How can you know whether your child will have a good experience overall? What about safety… Curriculum… Emotional well-being… The other kids… The germs… The teachers… The drills…  If you’ve been the primary caregiver and instructor in your child’s life, the jump to a full-day school program, 5 days a week will be truly be a life change.

I had a conversation with my husband about it last night, which may have been the 40th discussion we’ve had about sending the boys to school. We talked about the pros and cons of private school vs. public school. We talked about the benefits and negative aspects of homeschooling and unschooling. We talked about charter schools and the government and common core and PAARC tests and tutors and and college and just about everything else under the umbrella of formal education. I asked him if I could record our conversation for my blog. He said no. So here I am a day late, with a recap. (Note: my writing style on this post is free flowing, so do not hold the run-on sentences or the fragments against me. I won’t even promise to spell-check myself today, which is ironic given the topic of this post.)

Back to our conversation:

He asked me hypothetically, that if I had all the money in the world, would I hire a tutor in place of sending them to school. I said yes, hands down, but that I wouldn’t stop there. I’d also start a co-op- an alternative to school- which would provide organized field trips, workshops, competitions and team-building exercises, and classes focused on teaching LIFE SKILLS (More on this in the following paragraphs). I feel strongly on the subject of elementary education and high school because my own experience was very eclectic. My mom also felt strongly on the issue of education and school, and struggled with the difficulty of choosing the right plan. As a result, I’ve been sent to a laid back Christian school, to a military-style private school, to a creativity-driven charter school, and I was also homeschooled and for a few years technically unschooled since I was motivated enough for a self-taught method of learning. (The best part is, I made and retained friends from all of these experiences. Network building, to the max!)

I’m not claiming to be the authority on education, but I can objectively provide input on the vast array of education styles that I have experienced. The truth is, I loved ALL of them… except for the one military-style private school (although I’m STILL pen pals with the teacher I had in third grade). I loved the family environment of the Christian school where my son now attends Kindergarten. I felt right at home in the charter school with the block scheduling and the theater arts classes. Being homeschooled was amazing because I had the freedom and flexibility to focus on my natural interest and develop my skills as an artist and pursue my interest in legal studies and mock trial, while taking advantage of the outside world in all of its glory. PLUS I still had friends. Don’t buy into the hype.

Now that I’m a mom, I don’t know what to do.

Homeschooling would require so much of me and I’m not sure I’m up to the task, even thought I would love to give my children that luxury. Freeing up the schedule and using a child-led learning style and direction is the biggest draw for me, on behalf of my kids. The six hour days, five times a week, ten months a year schedule is designed for the convenience of working parents. I don’t believe it’s necessary or preferable for elementary grade students, and I’ll just say it: we’re robbing kids of their time. Not cool. It doesn’t get any better for adults.

Private school is expensive, and while I’m blessed with this option right now for Caedyn, I’m not sure if that’s going to work in the long term, especially when my younger child joins the group next year. I also don’t love the concept of teaching Bible as a subject in school. Before I get attacked for saying this, I’ll clarify by saying that I absolutely believe in God and support what’s written in the Bible, and I’ll teach my kids that I believe it and I’ll take them to church where they will learn more. But I don’t think teaching Bible as a subject in school is ideal because it’s not about education it’s about a lifestyle. What I appreciate most about Christian school is that the environment is faith-friendly and that the kids are allowed to pray and talk about God without being discouraged or dismissed.

Charter school was awesome. Still long days, but it provides a more student-guided experience and it doesn’t seem as politically correct as public school- at least that was my observation at the time.

Public school….makes me cringe. (And it’s not because I never want to a standard public school. And it’s not because I think public school is evil.) Years ago, sending my kids to public school was the obvious choice in my mind, but the more I learn and read about public school practices and curriculums, and the more teachers I speak with about their roles in the classroom and the situations they deal with regularly, the more convinced I am that choosing one of the other options would serve my family better. I understand that public school is the most feasible option for many people, quite possibly even myself. Still, something in my mom-intuition makes me hesitate to enroll my sons. It’s my opinion, and I’m speaking in very general terms, that most public school environments are not family-friendly (read: parent-friendly) and the information being pumped into the kids is not presented without bias. On the other hand, I went to a liberal arts college with no hesitation whatsoever, and while taking it all in with a critical eye, there were only two classes I had that were conducted with questionable underlying agenda. The deal-breaker for me and public school system was the brief stint we had at the public preschool down the road. But I’ll save that situation for a different post.

Returning back to the daydream that I’m having about starting a co-op, here is an idea based on what I believe would be ideal for my family. This isn’t some fail-proof plan I’ve spent years developing, but just a collection of thoughts thrown together with a big “WHAT-IF”.

If I could, I would start a co-op elementary classroom that served to instruct students on life skills and to provide a variety of applicable information: basic math, money management, grammar and reading, research and writing, scientific theory, diet/food prep and personal hygiene, geography and maps, nature and animals, and maybe a few others that I’m not thinking of at the moment but you can leave the other important ones in the comments for me.

Envision classes being held 1-2 times a week, for a couple of hours. The learning wouldn’t start and stop in the “classroom” but the co-op would be effectively preparing the students to take the reigns of their own unique learning process. They’d be encouraged to take what they learned in the class and apply it by doing independent projects, visiting galleries, interviewing industry professionals, volunteering, etc.

Co-op for grades 7-12 would be broken up into smaller groups and provide specialized education and training in areas of interest to the particular student (business or biology or journalism or art or healthcare or engineering, etc.) Additionally, the upper grades would provide education on social issues taught without bias and would teach world views and cultures, but instead of reading about it and having a test, they would be taken to museums, travel, volunteer in different cultural fairs. They would be encouraged to volunteer and work as interns to gain real life experience and be laying the foundation for a career path.

I’m sure I’ll have more to add on this but for now, I’m going to close this blog so I can get back to work. Real work in the real world. 😉

What do YOU believe is the best education plan?

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