Alternative education is a term which refers to education in the non traditional sense. Someone less familiar with the term might think it has something to do with special education, a program funded and mandated by federal law within the public education system, to provide accommodation for students with learning disabilities. It has nothing at all to do with that. In fact, in the most general sense, alternative education has nothing to do with public or even most venues of private education in the traditional sense, and there is no policy or regulation on a federal level which makes reference to the term “alternative education.”
On even a cursory examination of this term and multiplicity of facets associated with it, the first observation one comes to realize, is that it is a term fraught with ambiguity. That we might sort it all out, let us first dispense with the one application of the term which can be corralled within the traditions of conventional education.
Within the public school systems, continuation school, a school for students who drop out of mainstream public schools, is a model which fits within the definition of alternative education. In most cases, continuations schools are funded and strictly regulated by and through state and local governments. In addition, states may receive federal funding for students enrolled in continuation schools just as within public schools. There are no specific federal regulations which apply to continuation schools exclusively, such entities are more or less up to the states to regulate and control.
Outside of continuation schools, school programs wrapped up under the term alternative education, generally lie outside of the confines of the public education system, and thus are an “alternative” to it. Such can include a spectrum of education models, including charter schools, private schools, home learning and home schooling. Again, there is no federal funding for or regulation of most of these instances, the exception being charter schools which meet a specific criteria, and on a state level 48 out of 50 regulate such programs to some degree.
While there are some alternative education programs of purely secular motivation, the overwhelming majority of them seem to take on religious undertones. One example of this, would be the radically vehement anti-evolution wing of evangelical Christians. Unsuccessful in bringing the religious mythology of creationism into public schools, under the pseudoscientific facade of “intelligent design,” such groups have pulled their children out of the conventional education system, installing them in alternative education programs where they can more strictly control the curriculum. Another case in point, would be the break away sects of Mormon polygamists who run their own schools to indoctrinate young girls with the idea that it is God’s intended purpose for them to be sex slaves to their husbands. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any government regulations, federal or state, which excerpts control over the education of students in such circumstances, although there clearly aught to be.
While the religiously motivated facet of alternative education is a major element, there are other non religious versions of its theme. The political right wing is one of the more obvious, primarily because of its visibility in trying to divert federal funds from the public education system to their own alternative education schools. The neo-Nazis are a less outwardly noticeable political group that uses alternative education to indoctrinate its youth with anti-Semitism, hatred, and racism.
What it all boils down to, is that maybe it is time for a change in policy from both federal and state perspectives, not to regulate alternative education, but to abolish it. Doesn’t every American child have the right to be educated in the public school system, free of parental bias, be it religious, political, or otherwise? Is that not one, if not a supreme example, of the inalienable rights endowed us by are creator? During the 2008 fall semester, this writer had the opportunity to review a college thesis paper written by a young girl home schools along with her five siblings. Her perspective and sentiment on alternative education was quite unambiguous.
She was distraught, and angry with her parents for depriving her of a conventional education. She was concerned about her siblings, still subjected to a home school form of alternative education, which didn’t even instill the most basic skills of reading writing and arithmetic. As a junior college student, she was demoralized that she was so much further behind her peer group and struggling in almost every class she was taking. Have the hands off policies of federal and state governments worked to her advantage?
Yes, there are probably some stories around, offering affirmation of the overwhelming success of alternative education programs, all be them few and far between, or at least that has been this observers perception of it. As far as government policies effecting alternative education, there seems only to be an overwhelming impetus to maintain the status quo. Perhaps changes yet to be announced by a new administration, will result in new government policies to deal with alternative education.