I did do well enough to qualify for scholarships but I didn't go to UMASS. It turns out that more competitive colleges & universities will give financial aid to students who have the ability but not the funds. So, doing well in school led me to being able to attend a prestigious college. which led to graduate school, which led to starting my career as a child therapist living in New York City. I had achieved my parents' & my goal.
Phil also found public education to be his ticket out of a hard life. His mother was not capable of providing proper care to him & his brothers - the schools he attended were his sanctuaries, providing a safe place to be & two hot meals five times a week. He earned admission to one of the exam high schools - public schools that accepted students via exams. His high grades here led him to be able to attend a prestigious college, with the help of financial aid & scholarships. This led to his starting his career in high tech business living in New York City. He had achieved his goal.
Now, in another post, we'll discuss whether these goals turned out to be the best goals to set for ourselves. For the purpose of this post, however, I'll continue to simply focus on understanding that at a certain point in our lives, we both believed that job & financial security were extremely important & we credited our experiences with public education as helping us get there.
Compared to our upbringings, we were living a prosperous life together. Even as a single-income family, we were in a high income bracket that many aspire to reach. We explored sending our kids to private school - Montessori schooling seemed particularly attractive, as it seemed more child-centered - but we were reluctant to send our children to private schools when we valued publicly-funded, accessible to all schools. After all, we benefited from public education, right? So, we made a conscious decision to support our public schools as much as possible.
We bought all the various fundraising who-zits & what-zits to support the PTO. I volunteered several times a month in both kids' classes - providing support for the teaching staff. We donated classroom supplies, I chaperoned field trips. Above all else, we sent our kids to school.
You all know we ended up not only homeschooling but unschooling - the details of that decision having been described in other posts. Most of our friends & family have been very supportive of our decision - and even if they don't think this choice is right for them, they believe that we ultimately should have the ability to make this decision. There were some dissenters, however, & one of the most vehement one was someone who could not understand why I would not continue to support the public school system. To him, choosing my children over "all" children was socially & morally selfish. AFter our interviews in various media, I saw a few people mention this, too. Why not fix the problems from within rather than remove ourselves from it, in part because we could afford to leave?
I recently watched Herbert Kohl's keynote address from the 7th annual AERO conference. One of his points was that choosing alternative education, be it charter schools, private schools or homeschooling, does society a disservice. He looks at public education as a means toward social justice. It's a challenging thought - particularly since it was a belief Phil & I held for most of our lives.
We are all too aware that there are children out there who not only won't be unschooled but would be harmed by unschooling. Without a committed engaged parent or parents working with the child to learn and explore the world around them, the child is unlikely to flourish. When neglect or abuse is present, the parent is not the child's advocate. Yet, I'm uncomfortable with the stance that since some parents, well, suck, then we should create social systems that assume all parents will behave badly. So, how do we help the vulnerable children while avoiding the numerous negatives that currently embody the public school system?
Perhaps community learning centers are a solution. These would be similar to "free" or democratic schools. One example of how they work is Sudbury Valley Schools:
t Sudbury Valley School, students from preschool through high school age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. They learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community.
My proposal, however, doesn't limit the learning opportunities to students up to age 18. Imagine a learning center where:rust and respect are the keys to the school’s success. Students enjoy total intellectual freedom, and unfettered interaction with other students and adults. Through being responsible for themselves and for the school’s operation, they gain the internal resources needed to lead effective lives.
- All ages are present, since we never stop learning.
- The knowledge & experience of older citizens can be shared with the knowledge & experience of youth.
- Study groups and other collaborative learning groups are formed based on the participants' interests and abilities.
- People can explore an interest as deeply as they wish or move on as the interest leads to other interests.
- "Teachers" are facilitators, becoming mentors or guides based upon their personal knowledge & skills.
- True community can be created, since the community uses the space collectively. The children are no longer artificially removed from the rest of their community. Neighbors will actually know neighbors!
- Self-reliance skills, be it growing/raising/preserving food or do-it-yourself projects, can be rediscovered - reducing the waste & dependence upon manufactured products & even manufactured food our society has become accustomed.
Is it possible to change the way we think about what education is all about? Is it possible to change the priorities that our highly commercialized society tells us we should value - the ability to buy lots of "necessary" stuff. Can those of us who value the principles of unschooling believe that these principles can be present within a publicly funded education system? Is the current system ripe for radical change in what education really means or is it "too big to fail", not realizing that it already is failing?
What do you think?