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As free individuals, we decry welfare and its effects on those who receive itódependence on it, generational cycles of recipients, and an inability to make do without it are just a few of those effects. However, many among us are recipients of a multi-generational welfare system, and don't even seem all that bothered by it: education welfare.
Think about it.
In most states, property taxes are collected by a local taxing "authority", and these taxes are then used to fund the local socialist school system. Parents with children in such schools are recipients of education welfare; money from others is being used to support their use of the educational system. Most likely, their parents were recipients of this welfare as well, and their parents before them. Although parents themselves pay into this welfare system, the cost of sending a child to inefficient, overpriced government schools is far greater than their property tax liability--hence the wealth redistribution from people without children to people with children. This vast, wasteful process leaves most parents (in spite of the "help") with no income to pay for quality private schooling. It's enough to make one sick.
What can you do about this sorry state of affairs? Well, the thought police don't make it easy on a parent... it's very difficult to avoid paying property taxes completely. Even renters pay part of the property tax on the property, as part of their monthly rent. Failing to pay property taxes--the primary means by which schools are funded in the US--has consequences more swift and sure than failing to send extortion money--er, income taxes--to the IRS every spring.
That leaves people with the option of choosing not to receive the education welfare that they're paying into. That can be a difficult choice, because, as noted above, the amount paid in can be substantial. It seems... right, somehow, to "get some of it back" by using the public school individuals pay for. But many parents actually "take out" more than they "pay in", so there are moral problems with that approach. More importantly, the quality of the service bought with other people's money is about what you'd expect of services provided to people receiving a subsidy--just like government housing. While many feel their children are getting a decent education at the local public schools, examining the facts more closely may change their opinions. For example, in many schools greenie propaganda is both explicitly and implicitly promoted, as are other ideas based on little data and lots of wishful thinking. The emphasis on feel-good grading and social skills leaves little room for actual learning, and much of that is geared so that it's politically correct and uninteresting. The curriculum has been dumbed down to the point there's relatively little factual content left, and the pace of the classroom is usually geared to the slowest child in the class. Concerned parents must ask themselves if this is really how they want their children to be taught. It's time to break that cycle of education welfare, and create a real, much more stimulating and rewarding learning environment for children.
The first alternative to public schools most people think of is private schools. They can offer reasonable, sound alternatives to the public school environment in many cases. It's possible to find a private school geared toward almost any learning goal a parent and child might have, if money and distance aren't obstacles. The stereotype of a private school being horrifically expensive isn't always accurate, though it's more true of private high schools. Most private schools are very sensitive to the fact that their customers are paying twice for their children's education--in the form of taxes and via the private school's tuition and feesóso they generally work hard to keep the costs down, and to offer various deals or incentives to parents (these include multi-child discounts and scholarships). Some Catholic schools offer tuition assistance, often serving more lower-income students than nearby public schools.
One thing to consider before rushing off to search for a suitable private school is that in the United States, the education establishment is increasingly leaning on private schools, trying to make their curricula and procedures come under the same laws and regulations that govern public schools' activities. The result may be less of a difference between public and private school than is desired. It is possible to find schools that break out of the norms and offer challenging and enriching, individualized education to students, but such are increasingly rare and admission is likely to be quite competitive. A parent may find the ideal private school for his children, only to find it out of reach.
And then there's the problem created at any school that concentrates a large number of students, and turns them over to the care of the teachers; they believe they've got to have all sorts of rules and systems that have nothing to do with educating, or things will go crazy. Even the best private schools, with the possible exception of a small handful of highly unorthodox schools like Sudbury Valley School , force children to operate within their systems.
One good alternative to any kind of "lump the kids together in a room with a teacher" model of education is homeschooling. Many parents balk at the very suggestion, typically with objections pertaining to their lack of skill at teaching their child and the difficulty in creating the time and money to pursue this option. While it is a sizable investment, mostly in time, it needn't take all one's time or money to homeschool children, and give them a much better education than they'd get at the local indoctrination center, or even a private school.
The Web offers a wealth of information and resources for those considering homeschooling as well as those doing it. If you'd like to read more about homeschooling, other parents' concerns and approaches to it, Homeschool.com is a good place to begin. This site has many articles on the subject, as well as advisors one may ask questions of, message boards to share your thoughts and concerns with other homeschooling parents, and even courses to look over and possibly use. If you're interested in the thought police regs on homeschooling in your state, Across the States lists the law as well as homeschooling organizations by state. It's a good idea to know what the law says, even if a parent doesn't plan to play the game by their rules; they'll at least know which things they're doing are "wrong" and the possible consequences. States vary widely on what they allow, and with homeschooling coming under increasing scrutiny by the state, the laws are changing. The Link is a bimonthly homeschooling newspaper available online that will probably be very helpful, too, if you've the patience to wait for the huge graphic on their home page to download.
In my experience, you don't need fancy curricula, elaborate lesson plans, and expensive texts or manipulatives in order to teach your children well. At the least, you should talk to your children to see what they want to learn, and if it's something you all agree on, set up a basic schedule that works for you. When we homeschooled DLT's older boys, what worked for us was doing some subjects--math, reading, and writing--every day, and having a "subject of the day"--science, English, social studies, and math--one day a week. For the subject of the day, we'd talk a little about a specific topic or phenomenon (e.g., momentum, parts of speech, what money is and how it works, probability theory), answer their questions, and usually have an activity geared toward the subject. Sometimes it seemed that they weren't paying attention, but later they'd bring up something from the subject, or use it in a game, making it clear that they'd understood at least part of the lesson. They'd also ask questions about a particular lesson, somtimes several days later. This again showed that they were still thinking about what they'd learned; these occurrences were very encouraging.
Not so encouraging were the days when they'd make a simple exercise take hours, or race through basic work (their daily math sheets, for example) and make lots of errors, or just plain daydream the day away. The negative consequences of having their school take longer than their brothers, or--horrors!--than the public school--was generally sufficient to motivate them to do better the next day. While it's sometimes difficult to avoid labeling such days as difficult or challenging, their behavior was typical of individuals in general--we all have days where it's hard to focus on our work. The rewards of seeing your children learn, want to learn more, and apply what they're learning far exceeds the most trying of days, in our experience.
There are lots of places on the Web with material, ideas, advice, even recommendations on programs and curricula, for those who might not feel confident about winging it like we did. Many of these focus on specifics, such as a Christian curriculum, or buying used curricula. The Liberty Round Table has a Web page listing diverse sources for homeschooling material, including curricula and equipment. FOLC site; they also have lots of information and supportive material. You can also browse sites that sell used curricula; the Homeschooling Used Curriculum Sites lists many that do, and also provides links to reviews of curricula so that you can read about a curriculum before buying it.
Homeschooling generally has a structure and schedule that a child might find limiting at some point; if you expect him or her to do a certain amount of work each school day, that can create a coercive situation in which the child's freedom is not being respected. If a parent feels strongly about the children growing up in a free environment, perhaps taking homeschooling one step farther--and unschooling them--will work better for that family.
Unschooling works pretty much as the term suggests--the parents do not use curricula, texts, or structured time in which to teach their children. Instead, learning is viewed as a natural process, an inevitable result of a child's curiosity about the world and the way things work. Formal learning--even the best homeschool situation--can stifle this curiosity, and can artificially segment topics. Unschooling enables a child to explore and learn at her own pace, spending as much or as little time on an activity as she desires. It fosters and strengthens the love of learning that many children lose during more formal schooling, and it enables creative learning situations beyond the experts' dreams. Play is viewed as a critical aspect of the learning environment, and so is not discouraged. Also, parents are often (but not always) active participants in their unschooled child's learning, either through playing and exploring with him, or by reading together or taking a trip to an art museum or planetarium. Thus, learning involves the whole family, and becomes an enjoyable element of family life.
This libertarian unschooling site discusses the philosophy behind unschooling in more detail, and has many links to essays and resources of interest to a freedom-oriented unschooler. For more general information, see Unschooling.com and the Family Unschooling Network. Unschooling goes against the indoctrination of formal education that almost all of us have received in some degree, and so it can be a real challenge to commit to--and stick with--such a radically different educational strategy. On these sites other parents relate their concerns--even as they pursue this course with their children--so there's lots of empathetic and encouraging essays for those who choose this course.
We have decided to unschool our younger two children, and accordingly answer all our son's questions seriously. The result is that, at around 1.5 years of age, he knew all his colors--in both English and Spanish--and well before he turned 2, he could recognize the letters of the alphabet. He knows an amazing variety of facts, and is a capable cook's assistant--and he's just two years old! He's also a very happy person who's not afraid to ask us about anything, presumably because he understands that we respect his personhood and will take him seriously. (Our daughter is an infant as of this writing, so I don't have similar accomplishments to brag about for her <grin>.)
Many parents have concerns about the socialization of their homeschooled or unschooled children. The education establishment has used this as a major weapon in their assault on those who remove their children from the school system, claiming that homeschooled children don't receive the same socialization opportunities as their public-schooled peers. Actually, they're right, and I'm thankful they don't! At no other time during one's life is one expected to remain happily segregated into groups on the basis of one's age. Add to that insult the injury that classmates often inflict on a child who's different in some way, and their claims of superior socialization opportunities evaporate.
Our son, by virtue of being with us as we conduct our business throughout the day, has learned about and talked with businessmen, skate dudes, midwives, bus drivers, writers, computer programmers, scientists, and craftsmen, as well as playing with children both younger and older than him. He's polite, and aside from occasional bouts of being shy guy, willing and happy to talk with people. DLT's older children continually impress people with their open way of interacting with people of all ages, as well as negotiating deals and resolving conflicts among themselves. Much of these children's experiences would never have happened if they'd been plunked in day cares, and then schools, day after day. Sure, schoolchildren get similar socialization opportunities, on the few occasions when their families visit other people, or when the class takes a field trip.
So, which do you think is better for a child: an opportunity to talk to the museum herpetologist with his family, or being in the back of a crush of classmates where he'll likely not even be able to see the woman? Who's more likely to deal with other people in an open, honest manner: a child who's been in an environment where she's treated like a real person with rights all her life, or a child who's sent to a place where she has to fight with a room full of others for attention and understanding most of her waking hours? The socialization issue is a hollow problem, a scare tactic that teachers and principles use with some success to create feelings of inadequacy in homeschooling parents.
Private schools, homeschooling, and unschooling can all help break people's dependence on the educational welfare of the public school system. Each offers different levels of freedom for families to explore the wonders of the world and enable children to learn in the ways that work best for them. These options are more accessible than most parents realize, and can be a great opportunity for them to enjoy their children, and learn and grow with them. Homeschooling or unschooling isn't for everyone, but even children with special needs can be taught in such an environment. In fact, with the focused attention and specially chosen materials tailored to the child's abilities and needs, it's likely the child will do better than in a classroom.
If you have children and haven't thought about any of these alternatives for your family, I encourage you to do so, and to explore the sites I've suggested, and others. All freedom-loving individuals who use public schools should try to see if they can get off of educational welfare. Talk about it with your kids, and see what they want. Even if you can't provide exactly what they want, I'm confident you'll be able to create a learning environment that's much better than the public school's. It will also help you to raise free individuals , without much of the baggage that most of us grew up with. What could be a better gift to your children?
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