Alternative to what

Alternative education: Alternative to What?

I am no expert on the scope and value of the options beyond public education available to K-12 students. As the title implies, this article does not need to develop those tangents to explore what they boast to replace – your general public school K-12 environment and all the ulterior motives and baggage that come along with it.

Of this I dare to consider myself quite the expert. I speak not only from the rather long-removed perspective of the consumer of said education, the memories of which will never be old enough, but also as a former provider of services in said environment, and a current provider of services in one far superior, and as a self-motivated student and researcher of the practices and results of both.

For as long as there has been the model of the schoolhouse, with a designed curriculum (or at least more formal than that provided by the farmer/frontier-parents) and a populus of students larger than 1, there has been the fight of yin and yang between the best education of one student, and the best possible education that the logistics, finances, and circumstances will allow you to provide for students number 1 plus X (where X is greater than zero).

Think about it. You go from teaching one student (as I have the privilege to do as a piano teacher), to teaching two students (just *one* more!), and you have cut your efficacy, attention, and resources in half! No, it is not just a numbers game – and there is some added benefit to the multi-student model in terms of socialization, and the variety and interest of the lessons and activities you can do.

I do not know where the point of “critical mass” is – in terms of when the added benefits of more and more students reaches the point of diminishing returns – but I can tell you that in most communities, at least in my region of the United States, that point has been reached and thoroughly exceeded years ago.

Did it have to be an inevitability? That is, would the multi-student model that an agricultural society would have doubtless stumbled upon eventually, with its finite school day and finite number of years and content, have been unbreakably linked to the limits imposed by space and time? Would the demands of rural life, and later the demands and stresses of urban life, eventually clash and collide with the demands and goals of education?

No. Did it happen? Oh, hell yes. Whether it was an ulterior motive inherent to the design of the public school, or a mere happenstance, school is a place where children first and foremost become SOMEONE ELSE’S RESPONSIBILITY! That’s right. Wow. Did you hear all those snapping joints as parent’s everywhere cocked their heads, pulled their shoulders back and said a collective “not me!”

Many – maybe even most parents are right to scoff at the accusation. But some are not. And parents are not the only human beings in a child’s environment susceptible to the behaviors and attitudes brought on by stress – especially the never-ending stress that comes from looking after the welfare of a child. Schools, too, and some of the personnel within, do reach a point where getting through the day without having forgotten one of their 30-odd student’s names or been on watch during a fight, can be considered successful – or at least acceptable.

Of course this is somewhat extreme. But – this stress, and the relief that comes from just having made it through a lesson without having the principal waltzing in unannounced with persed lips and clipboard in hand or eyeballs upon the teacher’s desk the clutteriness of which indicates a teacher who spends her time teaching and not filing, but nonetheless may set a model of disorganization in the head honcho’s mind – that day can be chalked up as success – as survival.

And students are not immune to this atmosphere and stress of living a school life – or life in general – focused on simply surviving. Again, it doesn’t occur with every student in every school in every town, but believe me when I tell you – it exists – and it has reached a point of critical mass. Education has almost become a misnomer in that a cost-benefits analysis may surely reveal that, in some communities and some situations, a kid is better off having learned about life from his parents on the farm (or the roach-invested 1-bedroom down the street from the crack-house), or his friends on the street.

No this does not occur the majority of the time for the majority of the students in the majority of students. But, for God’s sake, does it have to come to that? Columbine, Matthew Shephard, MCAS – and lessons focused on teaching the test instead of the student, increased urban violence, disallusionment, neglect, fear, and *incredible* stress! The public school system must accept some responsibility for each of these tragedies.

It’s a broken model, and I’ll take any alternative I can get.