Alternative Schooling

Sorry for the long absence of posting…

Lucas will be old enough for kindergarten in the fall and we’re trying to decide whether to send him to a traditional school John Muir elementary or the district’s alternative school Christa McAuliffe. Today I took a tour and came away somewhat more positive on the concept than I had been.

I don’t know much about current education theory but it’s clearly somewhat different than what I experienced as a kid. Class sizes are pretty small and there is a lot of parent involvement. Generally speaking, they want kids to enjoy learning and build inquisitive minds and independent thinking skills. They want to build well rounded children with education instead of  just reading, writing, arithmetic and include other things like music and social intelligence.  They emphasize interactivity and developing intellectual curiosity instead of rote learning and process rather than results. On the one hand I generally agree that process is important, on the other hand, for the rest of your life you’ll be evaluated on what you actually achieve  and not how you learn.

The emphasis on interactivity and process manifests itself in several subtle ways. They don’t want desks lined up in rows facing the teacher, but prefer them in small circles facing other kids. They don’t give much homework, and if they do they ensure that it is relevant to things subjects being taught in school. There are a lot of field trips, and parents are expected to help and chaperone them. They spend a lot of time educating parents so that teachers and parents have a consistent way of dealing with children at school and at home.

Most of what I’ve read on alternative schools, charter schools and other non-traditional education is a bit positive, but also mixed. There definitely are some things that work, but fundamentally it’s about peers and parents and teachers encouraging and providing good environment, and that the difference between traditional or alternative is a relatively smaller factor. The teachers did say that kids who are always testing boundaries and pushing the limits tend to be less successful at the McAuliffe program where they are given a lot of freedom.

I think at this point, I’d probably choose this over our traditional program, but I’ll have to tour that too.

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