Sunday, March 27, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 18: Schooling

When I was writing Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs the hardest section for me to write was the section on schooling, because coming as I do, from the position of a homeschooler, it's difficult for me to not discuss all of the things I have found to be lacking in our current school model, and it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I thought our schools were perfect ... afterall, if they're so great, why do I homeschool, right?

For all that I believe our schools aren't teaching the skills that will sustain our communities, I don't believe it's the curriculum choices that will result in their demise, but rather the exhorbitant cost of paying for these too-large institutions. From the massive school buildings themselves to the much too complicated and extremely costly Federal and State regulations, our communities will begin to buckle under the pressure of trying to keep their schools' doors open. It's already happening across the country with widespread school closures, reductions in teachers' pay/benefits, discontinuing of extra-curricular activities, and more recently, a moving to a four-day school week - all to save a little money. I've even heard of schools that changed the font they used for printing worksheets and notices because changing the font could save a few thousand dollars. When they start looking closely at things like saving printer ink, we should be concerned. Just sayin'.

For the last century, our schools have followed the perpetual growth model. They've continued to promote the mantra that bigger schools with more resources can provide a better education. I heard it when I was teaching and the consolidation talks were happening. Our tiny, community-based school couldn't compete, we were told, and we were encouraged to consider consolidating with another community, the result of which would be a loss of our community identity - and a busing of our children far away to be educated by people who may not know them as well as the teachers at their old school, who were also their neighbors.

To accommodate the growing student populations, the buildings have to keep getting bigger and more elaborate. I love the newest buildings which are bigger than my neighborhood, and claim to be so eco-friendly. Really? All that wood, glass and concrete covering what was a few months ago a diverse eco-system teeming with life, and because it's built with skylights and triple-pane glass windows (which are still only an R value of, like, less than 0), it's "green"? Anyway.

The buildings are too big. They're too complicated. They're too expensive, and we can't afford to funnel anymore money into their upkeep. We have to find alternatives - local alternatives - because we also can't *not* educate our children. When the young scientist Flint Lockwood in the movie "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" tries to warn the mayor that the food-making machine may be having some problems, the mayor replies, "What I heard was blah, blah, blah, science, science, BIGGER, and BIGGER is BETTER!" That's what we've been hearing, and believing, for too long, but as we're discovering ... indeed, as the citizens of Swallow Falls discover ... that's not true.

We really need to revise our mantra to Small is beautiful.

In the book And the Skylark Sings With Me, David Albert explores alternatives to the current school model that uses community resources to provide educational opportunities for children. His educational model sounds very much like the pre-Industrial Revolution model - some home learning and a whole lot of exploring the real world to figure out how things work. If you're interested in a copy of Albert's book, please leave a comment.


The winner of the books is Vickey. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... three days! We have three more days. Be sure to check back, and comment, if you would like to be entered into the random drawing for any one of the great items being offered.


  1. I babysat, last year, a couple of kids in elementary school around here. They were always needing me to print out their homework from the school site because the school ran out of paper. I read somewhere that kids are now being asked to bring in toilet paper in addition to pencils and paper. It's crazy.

    In the 10 years I've been in this area they have built 3 more elementary schools all of which are littered with trailers for overcrowding soon after opening. No additional jr. high or highschools have been built though? I don't get it.

    BUT all the schools around here were sure to get those fancy electronic signs that look to have costs a fortune and use constant electric.

  2. I would be interested in the book. I am a former public school teacher as well. I only ever taught in small rural districts and also witnessed the consolidation push. I got out of teaching because as a single parent I couldn't pay the bills. But if TEOTWAWKI does come I know I may be teaching again.

  3. Yet another good post, Wendy. Our system here in Canada is different from yours, but probably very similar. If our children were only 3 and 4 years old, instead of 21 and 22, Ralph and I would probably be looking into sending them to a Waldorf-type private school, even if it costs more upfront - the payback is a better education. Definitely not the public school system...

  4. I think school as we know it today will be completely different in as little as the next 10 years and certainly in 20 years...It will be mostly on line with chilren proceeding at their own pace. That is kind of what I found interesting concerning the latest union debates etc...they are fighting over something that probably won't be around in the not so far away future..(to me anyway)...

  5. Sounds like an interesting book. We are homeschooling and learning a lot. My son is 6 and reading at a 2nd-3rd grade level. While not advanced in every subject we have learned the benefits of homeschooling quickly because we can adapt to his learning style and choose subjects he is interested in at any given point. So far it seems to be working well. Maybe if we went back to 1 room school houses we could produce some more men like our countries founding fathers?

    Anyway, thanks again for holding all the giveaways and sign me up for this one please.

  6. I love the idea of homeschooling - and unschooling, for that matter. But I'm not confident enough in my own skills to depend solely on myself for their education.

    However, I do encourage and do certain types of homeschooling and unschooling - just as a supplement to the school education, rather than a replacement. For our family this technique seems to work very well. However, if things went bad and schools closed, I feel confident that I could educate them with the help of my husband and other family members.

  7. PatriciaLynn - Deus Ex Machina don't do it all ourselves, either. Even though both he and I speak French and German (not fluently, but enough) we have a teacher for French for our girls. We also have a music teacher and a dance teacher and art teachers. In fact, we're pretty adept at the outdoor skills stuff, but we have a couple of teachers to help us with that, too.

    For us, it's about building a community ... a "village", if you will ... and not about autonomy and doing it all ourselves. We live in an area that has an amazingly vibrant and active homeschooling community, and I don't know if it's the same in other parts of the country, but I don't know any homeschooling family in our area that doesn't participate in some sort of "outside" activities or groups.

    I think you'd be just fine if you decided to homeschool ;).

  8. My older guy is "graduating" from homeschooling this year. My younger guy is just beginning to homeschool.

    Because my circumstances are different the second time around I thought I would, at least, consider public school for my younger guy. But with kindergartens filled with over 20 kids, music instruction from books and art classes where the kids don't make much art it is not a choice for us. All the money that is spent on education is not getting us results. Sure there are lots of kids in school who know how to take a test. But is that why they are sent to school?

    Our rural landscape is littered with newer school buildings that are empty as consolidation has taken hold. What a waste!

  9. Hi Wendy,

    I'd love to be entered into the drawing for this book. My son is in a montessori preschool right now, which is great for him. I'd love to homeschool, but the husband is more of the mind set "we went to public school and we turned out fine." 1. Thing are different now than they were 30 years ago. 2. what if we could have turned out better than "fine"?

    He did see the showing of "Race to Nowhere" last week, which I think at least got him to start thinking about other options....


  10. I enjoyed reading your posts but this one is the most relevant to me -- what if something happened and my family and I needed to band together with like-minded people to survive? The answer came to me via my 14 year old daughter who wants to spend the summer doing "community service" in order to get enough hours to join the Honors Society. I figured I would accompany her to work the community garden and clean up the river with the Sierra Club. If I meet people at these activities who are willing to pitch in for the common good, it might be useful to know who is willing to cooperate! Also I might just do some good in the meantime!