I have been a public school educator for 25 years. When it employs dedicated teachers and is the conduit for proven best practices, I believe whole-heartedly in the public school system. I am also unafraid to admit that public school isn’t for everyone. Alternatives to public education fulfill a void, yet are often viewed with disdain by those who do not understand the value of such options. There has never been a better example of this fact than my nephew. The middle of three brothers, he is one brilliant fourth-grader. The problem is that school just didn’t challenge him. The small school he attended didn’t offer enrichment programs and what’s worse his teacher didn’t like the fact that he “worked ahead” and would become disruptive because he was—bored. I was fearful the school was going to devastate his enthusiasm and his natural lust for learning. So, one evening while talking with my brother, I asked if they had ever considered home schooling him. Startled, he answered, “Oh my, we have been thinking about this, but were not sure if it was the right direction to go, but now that you as an educator brought it up, perhaps we need to think about this option more seriously.”
The choice to home school my nephew was not a haphazard determination. My sister-in-law didn’t think she was the “home school type”. She sold herself short—she is actually perfect for the job: organized, creative, intelligent and extremely resourceful. After researching curriculum, joining a local home school network and soliciting help from professionals, my nephew is now being home schooled and is thriving. He is encountering learning as it was meant to be for him. It is so much fun to examine the artifacts of his learning experiences including science experiments, erupting volcanoes, crystals, cell models and what not. He is learning “Grammar with a Giggle”, journaling, creating and exploring science. What’s more he is happy and enjoying his education once again.
My stepson is another example of the fact that “public schools are not one-size-fits-all”. He was an adolescent when his mother died. Life experiences, along with disillusionment with his high school academics left him without much success. After spending more time with him, I suggested to his father that perhaps my stepson should take the GED and get on with his college experience. He did just that and passed the GED the first time with honors-all this without studying (except for the writing, which after a 20 minute refresher he passed a couple of weeks later). Yes, the child is brilliant, yet public school wasn’t for him. He now can enter college at the appropriate age and continue from there.
It’s not that I think our schools are in dire straights and in need of massive reform, quite the reverse. My assertion, contrary to the tenants of “No Child Left Behind”, is that not every program, every occupation, every club is suited for everyone. Even with the best intentions, programs, educators, administrators, parents and students not ALL children learn the same way or at the same proficiency level.
Do schools need to be held accountable? Sure. Does the education system need to try harder to engage learners? You bet! But a government mandate that considers every child able to achieve at the exact same level is not the answer either. The answer lies in the fact that a child’s education is multifaceted. It should take into consideration the individual, the strengths of the school, and the expertise of the educators involved. We often sell short the alternatives to public education, when for some kids; those alternatives are the only way they will never be “left behind”.