Between the Ears

Cool School

If Our Current Education System Implodes: A Radical Idea for A Local, Sustainable Alternative.

A letter to our local school board was sent out this week from our superintendent. Basically this letter talked of the dire budgetary issues the school district is facing, the major cuts in funding from the state, and the need to reduce staff and increase class size, cut already strained programs and services, and further erode our school’s ability to educate our children.

If this trend continues, we may be forced to look for alternatives–and soon.

I have a radical idea for education in a local, sustainable community if the time comes that we can no longer afford the system we have today. I suggest that in addition to parents teaching their own children at home, teachers also open their own small schools in their homes similar to the daycare centers and preschools that are so ubiquitous in our society now.

Granted, I haven’t asked any teachers if these ideas could ever work, but if we can educate our pre-schoolers at small, home-based schools, why not elementary-age students? Why not teenagers? There could even be a certification process, for the ease-of-mind of those parents who don’t trust their own judgement.

Here’s what I like about the idea: Self-employed teachers, greater school choice, walk to school choices (as the small-schools would be scattered throughout many neighborhoods), leverage to kick the trouble-makers out if they chose not to behave and learn, smaller classes, and greater flexibility. Teachers could choose to focus on the kind of education and populations they are most interested in serving. They could, if they wished, coordinate activities and lessons with other small-schools in their area. And the best teachers could command the best salaries. And the best students would be wooed by the schools. And a parent wouldn’t be hindered, necessarily, if he or she did not have money. Agreements for bartering and exchange of services could be worked out or parents could simply chose to educate their own children.

With internet and iPads and curricula out there, do we really need to shove our kids into sprawling industrial-era school buildings for six hours a day? Do we really need to spend all that gas money hauling them back and forth five days a week?

I think this could certainly work for K-8, but school would not necessarily be organized according to age or grade. Students could learn in multi-age classrooms.

Maybe high school could be in the former elementary buildings with sign-ups for classes and open campuses, similar to the way adult education is organized now? Maybe there could be internships and apprenticeships and pick-up softball games and/or a bunch of intramural teams that get together at the community fields/elementary gym to play games instead interscholastic sports? Of course teachers could offer music and art lessons–or just about any kind of special interest out there. Jewelry-making? Why not! Animal care? For sure!

How about converting some of the sports fields to school gardens? What about a school-run vegetable stand or Community Supported Agriculture program? Students could have even greater educational opportunities in the areas of agriculture, cooking, marketing,retail management, accounting, and more.

I’d also be inclined toward voluntary but rigorous exit exams, providing motivation for those who wish to enter college.

How would we pay for this kind of education system? Well, how do we pay for daycare and preschool? Charitable organizations and churches would, probably, offer to subsidize some schools that fit their mission-statements. Those with means and inclination may offer scholarships.

Perhaps there could be some assistance via local taxpayer money for those families who cannot afford the cost, but with all the savings in retirement, benefits, heating, gas, building maintenance, state and federal mandated programs, etc., and with all the choices that would be available, we could probably afford it.

I’m not saying this is ideal, but it can’t be much worse than what we are looking at if budgets continue to take hit after hit, year after year. Teaching, as a profession, will be radically different, but I hate to see teachers lose jobs and our students continue to lose the opportunity to learn from talented individuals because those teachers are let go or choose to leave for more lucrative, stable professions.

Some teachers might see this as an opportunity for self-determination in their careers, and I think the earning potential could be similar to what it is today (which isn’t great, let’s face it). If a teacher had space for fifteen students at $200 per week, that’s $156,000 a year gross.To compare, average daycare costs in the U.S.A. are $11,666 per year or $972 per month.

Hefty tax deductions for parents with children in school would make sense, as well.

All this is very radical, but not that long ago in our history, one-room schoolhouses were the norm. Prior to that, children were taught at home by parents or tutors. In ancient Greece and Egypt, teachers gathered a group of students who learned, literally, at their feet.

All this underscores my fundamental belief that education takes place in one space: between the ears of the student, most times with the guidance of a teacher or teacher-parent. You don’t need a sprawling building with little boxy rooms and a gymnasium and a cafeteria for learning to take place. A kitchen table can work just fine.

7 responses to “Between the Ears

  1. Amazing ideas Shelley! Not sure we’ll see it come to fruition in our life time would would be awesome. Unfortunately too much regulation over our school systems by the government I think for it to be possible…luckily homeschoolers in Maine can get away with a similar scenario! Instead of teachers we are using parents but I could certainly see in the future as we get bigger we might be bringing in more out of the box educators. And as we see it…learning happens all the time!

    • I wish I’d known more homeschooling people when my daughter was younger. I KNEW she would thrive with it, but with only one child, I didn’t think it was healthy for her to be stuck at home with just me all day, every day. She’s had some wonderful teachers over the years, but I always felt the learning was held back by the bureaucracy. Who knows what will happen, and how fast, either, with current events. Thanks for reading!

  2. “Learning happens all the time” That’s for sure. My wife home-taught our two kids. Class was after lunch until 3:30. (Only 2 1/2 hours) Before and after they were free to play or help with the home print shop. Both kids learned how to run the press, tested many grades above their age group each year, and went on to graduate from college. People would comment on how well they got along with adults.
    As for multi-age classrooms I wholeheartedly agree. If an older child is given the opportunity to help a younger child to learn, it benefits both kids.
    Good ideas, Shelley!

    • Every single homeschool child I’ve ever met has been amazingly capable of having an engaging conversation with adults. Such open and interested minds! There is a definite lack of that “You’re a stupid adult and why would I want to talk to you” attitude.

  3. I think another area that should be explored is the old fashioned “apprenticeships.” Vocational training would benefit students and our communities! If a student had an interest in welding- why not find them an apprenticeship with a company that has welders? What a great way to get a foot in the door and so many kids learn better with hands on education.

  4. I totally agree, Mary Ann! Apprenticeships and internships are great ways to learn on the job. Productive rather than consumptive. Love it!

  5. I haven’t read the thread of comments, but as a homeschooling mom of 12 years and a teacher of online classes, and a support group leader, yes, you’re suggestions are headed in the right direction. Smaller, local, and even home based (like child care) is, in my opinion, the way to go. There is certainly still the small private school option and many homeschoolers have formed their own private schools and are recognized as such by the state, while others choose to remain independent homeschoolers. It is about the child and best meeting their educational needs, rather than about … what is public education about these days? I guess I’m a little out of touch with that sector of the educational market honestly.

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