School: Public, Private, Home, and Un

X 8.22.14

I’ve been a public school teacher since leaving college. I love it. In Wisconsin, where my salary has been significantly slashed and my collective bargaining rights stripped, I’d have to love it or I’d be seeking a new career. I hold certifications in special education and regular education and a master’s degree in environmental education. I’ve taught regular ed., special ed., alternative ed., and now I’m moving into gifted education.

I loved alternative education because we were allowed to really get to know kids and family members as whole, organic individuals. Children were never viewed as test scores or statistics. We never assumed children brought in skills or values that we were raised with. Everything was fresh every day. And we got to do what we needed to do to help the students improve their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Nothing was prepackaged or predetermined about our school year.

Moving into an exciting new school for gifted learners feels much the same way. True, there is a huge emphasis on test scores with our students, but the school is very focused on branching out into the community and creating Learner-Leaders. Staff are very creative, hands-on, and passionate about their work. And we all have the goal of making learning meaningful for kids who might have struggled with boredom and (boredom-related) behavior issues in their neighborhood schools.

My own children are still years away from starting school. My wife, a former teacher, and I have been talking about plans for our children’s education future. We are both committed to public schools. In Green Bay, we have the option of a nature-based 4K, an International Baccalaureate K-12 program, an alternative K-8 program, a project-based high school, or perhaps the gifted route. But, I’ll admit that even though I’m a strong advocate for public education, I am terrified to send my babies off to school- any school.

I worry about bullying. I worry about boredom. I worry about them not matching up with the right staff members. In moments of extreme despondence, I worry that I’ll be sending them to a detention center from age 4 to age 18 where their hopes, dreams, and passions will all be crushed! Maybe a lot of parents go through this. If they do, I suppose that I am simply starting to empathize.

I’ve been reading about unschooling lately. It’s a revolutionary concept. It’s also an ancient concept. It’s how all tribal peoples have taught their children since time began. Basically, unschooled kids are more self-directed in their “studies.” They learn by watching adults at work and by mimicking what the adults are doing. In unschooling, children are expected to take initiative and ask their elders to teach them the skills they’d like to learn.

On a practical sense, I don’t really envision a tribal unschooling format working in our society, but I do think there are educators all over who incorporate some of the unschooling ideals. Homeschooling parents often teach practical life skills from an early age. Project-based schools, like the one my wife wrote the grant for in Green Bay, encourage kids to follow their passions and actually DO something rather than just STUDY something. I think there’s an important mix of theory and practice that should go into every day of education. I haven’t read or observed enough about unschooling, but I do find some of its principles intriguing and applicable within our public school system.

Food for thought. We’ve got another two years to figure this one out.

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