Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pro-choice is best

 ... when it comes to education


January 4, 2006, Wednesday Journal of OP&RF

Columnist Jack Crowe says let’s talk about school [Viewpoints, Dec. 14]. OK, don’t blame me. It was his idea. He has middle schools in mind-public, or government, schools. The latter is preferred by ex-UIC Prof. Herbert J. Walberg in his and Joseph L. Bast’s Education and Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America’s Schools because they are funded and run by government agencies. That’s a cruel and heartless way to refer to our beloved school staffs and leadership, but let’s do it this once.

Let’s also put an interesting question: Can government schools be competitive? They must be, you say. Most kids go there, don’t they? But they are a monopoly as to funding, and we have found that monopolies do nothing for competition. Remember Ma Bell?

Competition happens, however. Ask any real estate broker selling a neighborhood. This is school-to-school competition, aided and abetted by published test scores. It happens within schools, too, in the choice parents have about middle-school subjects-typing? chorus? art? French? Spanish?-and even about teachers. There could be more of this: you could have homework classes and non-homework classes. Parents could choose. This would be a pro-choice program that even conservatives would approve.

Or teachers could declare for phonics or not, and parents could choose. Or for drilling in fundamentals vs. enrichment. For memorizing poetry or not. As freshmen at Fenwick in 1945, we memorized poetry-"The stag at eve had drunk its fill, where danced the moon on Monan’s rill," "I wandered lonely as a cloud," "‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,

But spare your country’s flag,’ she said." And much, much more. Our lives were never the same. Mine wasn’t, anyhow. We gave speeches, too; every freshman took speech, like it or not.

In this pro-choice environment, teachers would still run classrooms, out of which parents could butt. But parents would choose this or that in general terms. They’re the ones who have to live with the kids anyhow. Let them decide.

Some do it already, big time. They say no to government schools, paying their money and taking their choice at schools called Grace or Ascension or Calvary [No: Oak Park Christian Academy is the day school at Calvary church: better here wld be Alcuin or Waldorf, to name two].  Others skip school buildings completely, like Cindy Miller, on Wesley Avenue. She and her husband Jay and other couples do it themselves. Jay, an engineering consultant, teaches physics. Cindy’s friend Pat Larson teaches Latin and history. Cindy teaches literature. As many as 15 kids might be in a session, from five families. These are mini-schools, or as one observer put it, "private schools on the cheap."

The kids get out, as to see "Nutcracker Suite" at Morton East High School. The Millers’ oldest is an Eagle Scout. Their oldest daughter has taken acting classes at Village Players; she’s in her second season as a Lyric Opera supernumerary. Another son is pitcher and shortstop with a local traveling team. Another daughter takes violin, another guitar.

Home-schoolers’ reasons run a gamut. For the Millers, members of Calvary Memorial Church, where home-schooler parents meet regularly, "the Christian element" is the big thing. Cindy Miller has found it’s "good to cater to" each child’s progress. The experience has also been good for "family dynamics," which in their case are super-dynamics-the Millers have nine children, from two to age 19.

The nine have been home-schooled since birth. She and her husband, unsure at first, were willing to try it. If it didn’t work, they were willing to pack their first-born off to kindergarten. So it went with the other eight: schooling began when they were born. It progressed seamlessly. As for truancy issues and the long arm of the state, which in some places can be quite intrusive, Illinois law is liberal in the matter. Home-schooled kids are to be taught core subjects in English for a required number of days, but no reporting is required. It’s a fairly pro-choice environment.

No comments: