The dynamics of a changing economy impact every aspect of community. Schools are no exception. As public schools across the nation progress through standardization coupled with budget cuts, the challenge to reach each child’s individual needs tend to diminish, while student to teacher ratios grow. It’s not uncommon for communities to experience a decline in student numbers as families move out of areas in search of employment opportunities elsewhere, which imposes the coupling of partial classrooms together to create a whole and carries the potential for more students to a single teacher. Further, the argument between localized verses globalized education creates a mosaic of perspectives that is on the rise and can divide a community.
Incline Village, Nevada, a small Lake Tahoe community, where families are fleeing for work opportunities elsewhere, student population is declining, and there exists a distinct separation between educational perspectives, stands to represent many of the changing dynamics of education. A solution for pursuing the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program was adopted by the represented district and furthered by strong local voice in an effort to fill empty classroom seats. In the end, it divided the small community, as the voice for localized education stood their ground for maintaining a sense of control for the education of their children. There are other options in the tiny community. Some would argue these are open to mostly affluent families, as Incline Village has a wealthy reputation where the mean housing price is $1,000,000+ range according to 2009 statistics (City-Data.com). This private school option exists for $17,000 per year, per child (2009-2010 school year). While some may regard the value of spending dollars for academics, others believe this private school option is simply a mainstream approach with an extreme premium.
The mainstream classroom may not be the best choice for every child. Another option is charter schools, which lend themselves to less mainstream settings grounded in experiential, language, or science themes for example. Some embrace the nurturing approach like the Montessori model or reflect the individual child’s sense of self expression like Waldorf schools. “The idea behind charter schools is that a group of individuals would be given enough flexibility to create an innovative strategy” (Waiting for Superman, Karl Weber). Unfortunately, “flexibility for innovative thought” tends to wane if one considers the fact that charters are branches of the public system controlled by the same federal entity.
As educational debates continue to burn, families across our nation are actively searching for viable alternatives more appropriately suited to their children’s learning needs and those that are cost effective–making choice for education a priority.
The most important life lesson I’ve learned in my 17 years as an educator is “education is profoundly individual.” Less mainstream, but reflective of a growing trend, is the school of thought embracing the one school classroom where family and community values are intertwined with academics to create a strong fiber for life. These are homeschool and private cooperative learning options. Although misunderstood in the past, homeschooling and private cooperatives are delivering salient learning opportunities, furthering family/community values, and children with these foundations are being targeted by college and university recruiters across the nation. Homeschooling and private cooperatives are choice opportunities for children.
There exists a strong bond between parents and their children in a homeschool setting, one that leads to small, cooperative learning environments. I discovered this several years ago in my search for the best academic environment for my son. I discovered a simple formula. Educational goals bound by unity and that maintain purity are successful learning outlets for children. Small classrooms with collaboration between parents and at times using licensed teachers, in a homelike environment strengthen the potential to yield independent, high achieving children who earn choice for higher learning opportunities.
For me, the value in choice for education evolved from my involvement with homeschooling and cooperatives. They exist in a symbiotic relationship. For example, parents who homeschool without an educational background may seek support for how to teach, and there are those who want the guidance through transitioning out of the mainstream thought and understanding a fundamental method for learning at home. Further, cooperatives can incorporate a more structured logic behind teaching a child with licensed professionals and resources, while homeschooling represents the unique strength from mother and father–to child; fostering self reliance. Both are ultimately dependent on all parents who are the driving force for defining ethics for education and parent-teachers as the guidance for real life, learning experiences.
Homeschooling and private cooperatives are dependent upon home, community, and the world as a classroom by nature of their existence. Therefore, by nature, their dependence becomes individualized and developmentally appropriate environments considered learning pinnacles, rather than a standard. These smaller settings have the advantage for fostering deeper understanding of concepts and encouraging children to achieve at their own developmental level because the learning environment allows it. Essentially, more time is devoted to concepts because these settings have time to spare. WIth time, developmental levels naturally co-mingle into multi-age, cooperative contexts, where children share leadership and learner roles. ‘Grade levelsʼ are blurred, suggesting not every child is successful at the same rate and may be more successful in one content area over another at any given time. The cooperative setting recognizes this because it is a flexible one.
Coveting choice doesn’t necessarily mean a plethora of different institutionalized modes for educating children. Rather, it can be instilled in our children’s lives as they progress through learning in life, whereby choice is the gift we grant. My father once said to me, “If you don’t have choice, you have to submit.” I’m dedicated to fostering choice as a continued option in my child’s life, as the alternative is nothing.