I recently came across a quote by a Russian philosopher that goes: " We are one of those nations that...exist only for the sake of teaching the world some kind of terrible lesson." Maybe the same could be said for the U.S., at least in regards to some things. Aside from foreign policy I am thinking of our education system. If you read the local and national news, not more than a day passes lately without mention of our faltering schools or education reform. It seems like everyone agrees that the U.S. public school system is in trouble--by nearly all accounts our schools are dangerous places where children are not learning well, if at all. From what I have observed, everyone from parents to the federal government have responded to the problem with something that sounds like, "I don't care how you fix it, just fix it!" And what they mean is get the kids to achieve passing scores on state and federal tests. So that is exactly what schools and teachers are doing--they are trying hard to meet the demands of the people that pay them. Just recently I got to sit down for coffee with a couple of local high school students and they talked to me about what their school is like. One student is in AP (advanced placement) courses and the other is in mainstream courses. The mainstream student told me they they do nothing in class but study for the tests. No lively discussion, no thoughtful analysis, just study for the test to keep the federal money flowing. A ten year old in Hampton, VA that told me about his school; they had to wear uniforms and surveillance cameras were stationed in the hallways--he said he thought that must be what prisons are like. I don't think I have to explain why this is so sad and wrong. By fixing the problem perhaps everything will look good on paper and the parents and taxpayers and government will be satisfied, but look at the reality of the situation. Imagine how these kids feel! Nothing that is happening in the way of education reform is a real solution, this type of system is not much of an alternative to failure.
As I've been walking around with that quote in my head all week, all I can think is that I hate the idea of a child or any other person just being part of some terrible lesson. I want to keep this column short (I think I took my fair share of room in the last issue) but I just want to send out a reminder into the world that there is always a better way and we owe it to ourselves to be more than an example of how NOT to live. There are a lot of systems and experiences that certainly seem to exist only for the sake of teaching us a terrible lesson...but we only really learn the lesson when we find the answer to the problem, and that means finding the better way to do things. For my family, the alternative to the U.S. public school system is a home based education rooted in child led learning--that is our answer to the system we see as a failure. That certainly doesn't solve things for anyone else facing the same problem, but I do hope we can be an example for other families by showing them that this is a viable alternative, this is a possible way to live.
On the same note, it is the examples others have set before me that have encouraged me and remind me to always look for the alternative and be willing to try it. And so I want to plug a couple of my favorite things right now--examples of some folks who have stepped up to the plate and created an alternative. The first is BLANK GEN: a music, comic book and clothing store by day and all ages venue by night. If you are in the area or passing through Arkansas, you must check it out. It is run by Shoni and Sean, awesome homeschooling punk parents and all around good people. The store is located at 608 Main Street in Little Rock. The phone number is (501) 378-PUNK and they also have a website at www.blankgen.com where you can find out about upcoming shows, booking and hours of operation. Next is MICROCOSM PUBLISHING, which is located in Portland and has been around for about 8 years. They distro zines, books, music, t-shirts, and so on, including one of my current favorite zines, On Subbing, which will be a book soon. They also do custom sticker and button orders and do a great job of it. I'm plugging them for two reasons: they are having financial difficulties right now and they seriously carry some of the best stuff around, so we gotta help keep this one alive. You can get a catalog by sending $1 or two stamps to: 5307 N. Minnesota Ave. Portland, OR 97217-4551 They also have a website: www.microcosmpublishing.com. Finally, there is A MAMA'S CALENDAR for 2004, which is a full size calendar full of pictures of moms, dads, kids and babies of all shapes and colors. There are protest pictures, photobooth pictures, breastfeeding pictures, moms with tattoos and babies showing their butts! Not to mention cartoons by Ayun Halliday of the East Village Inky, info about homeschooling, mama made zines, and a lot more. You can get one (or more!) by sending $12 plus $2 for each mailing address (if you are ordering more than one) to Colleen Murphy P.O. Box 57611 New Orleans, LA 70157-7611
Also, I certainly don't claim to be an expert on the matter of homeschooling, but if you are a parent curious about home education and want a list of books to read about the subject or need help finding resources, or if you are a young person reading this who is considering or already homeschooling or unschooling and wants to ask questions or get some support, please feel to write me. Candyce 2717 Dodson Ave. Fort Smith, AR 72901 email@example.com
(contact info from 2004 - current info in 2011 not available - ed)