This is not the type of thing I normally post on this blog, but my thoughts were too many for a Facebook post.
Recently I posted this video to my Facebook page. Sometimes I post articles and videos cavalierly, but I thought about this one for a while. I almost wrote a clarification to go with it, but I ended up just posting it and waiting for the response.
A friend called me out on it right away for the exact reasons I had hesitated to post it. I have a mixed-bag of feelings around education in North America. In general, though, I am a proponent of alternative education, in particular “passion-based” or “interest-based” learning. I love community-building and creative exploration. I love Self-Design.
This is coming from someone who went straight from her B.A. into a teaching program into a master’s program, and then hit the public schools. I had wanted to be a teacher since elementary school when I played classroom with my dolls. I have always loved learning. But, I had not always loved school. So, I was going to make a difference. I was going to bring something new to the classroom.
I was quickly disillusioned by students who didn’t care, a schedule dictated by government testing standards, a stale and generic required curriculum, never enough time to really teach anything, and grading. My students thought I was weird because I always wanted to have discussions and form circles.
I found that I was much happier, and so were my students, when I worked in a more open-learning style environment. I’ve worked for a leadership camp for the L.A. School District, NOVA and PSCS in Seattle, Learning Through the Arts in Vancouver, as well as for other various arts and home school programs. I also work with kids in the film industry, and many of them are home schooled. In general, the students in these programs were more engaged, more inspired, more communicative, more passionate, and more curious than their counter parts in public school (younger kids are pretty enthusiastic everywhere, where that shifts is a whole other discussion).
The issue is that alternative education and home schooling are a privilege. This is not to say there aren’t any innovative programs happening in the schools of poverty-stricken North America. I hear about these all the time. How a teacher or a principal or a class of students or group of parents brought new life to their school. And it’s not to say that there aren’t financially struggling single parents who manage to make home school work. But, really, how many individual parents can decide I’m going to pull my kid out of public school and give him the best educational life adventure I can! How many individual parents can join a special charter school that requires a lot of parent participation and fundraising? How many parents (especially single ones) have the finances or the time or the energy or the knowledge or the resources or the community support to do this?
And should they have to? Wouldn’t our time be better served creating more resources, funding, autonomy, and opportunity in our current public schools? Or are we only going to be able to fix this by dealing with the country’s poverty first?
On the one side, I applaud Logan LaPlante and his parents. I would never deny the value of this experience for him, take away his personal happiness, or discount the kind of person developed from this experience, the kind that might create a supportive community for the next generation of kids. At the same time, I don’t want to ignore those who don’t have such privilege or ignore the fact that poverty is the prime dividing line when it comes to education and opportunity.
As a visiting author to schools last year, I couldn’t believe the difference in facilities and technology between a new public school in a wealthy neighbourhood and an older school in a low-income neighbourhood. And these schools were 45 minutes apart. I could already see the dispiritedness in the eyes of 6th graders in the low-income neighbourhood school. Their teachers and librarian were lovely, well-intensioned, hard-working people – but their students had a tangible disadvantage.
How can we create equality in our educational system? I certainly don’t have the answer. There are so many issues at hand that it sometimes just breaks my heart. As an individual artist and educator, I have had to pick my causes and my focus. And my focus has simply been to be a positive force in the classroom, wherever I am and whoever I’m with.