Kids Rights: schooling

Everyone I know is talking about the California Supreme Court’s recent decision declaring gay civil unions legal “marriage.” A good and reasonable decision, in my opinion. However, the California court system is only 1 for 2 over the past few months.

If you’ll recall, their last notable case involved criminalizing teaching your own children. The appellate court involved ruled that children 6 to 18 must be taught by a teacher who is credentialed by the state. Over 150,000 kids are now truant and parents are now liable for damages because of this ruling, which is a travesty.

Kids learn best when they are given choices; when they are given the freedom to follow their own interests to the end and pique their natural curiosity. Public school may be the right environment for some kids, but it’s definitely stifling for many and some of them are comparable to prisons for kids. Parents need choices and kids do as well.

As I alluded to in my post on the Village Free School, I came up in a Montessori private school, and find Montessori, free schools, and Waldorf schools very alluring. These are environments where kids learn to learn. They learn to teach themselves skills that they need. They are perfect for producing well-rounded and grounded adults who can navigate their own lives without someone telling them where to go and what to do. They also usually produce students who have the skills necessary to succeed in college.

I never went to public school, so I don’t know if I’m entitled to question what goes on there, but it seems to me that a state-run institution is not going to produce people who question the state. Questioning your leaders is a long-time American tradition, and hopefully one that is not being lost as we speak.

So, just like kids should have a right to vote, trade, and declare themselves adults, they should also have a right to learn what they want to learn and to be taught by whoever they or their parents believe will help them learn. No state (even California) should be able to take those rights away.

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Village Free School

A very good friend of mine from college is one of the founders of a very interesting place. It’s called the Village Free School in Portland, Oregon. I’m afraid to say very much about it because I don’t want to tell you lies, I’m honestly not entirely familiar with what they do, other than that they are a very good school and their philosophy seems to be in line with my own.

My understanding of what a “free school” is is rudimentary. I think that the essential idea is that the kids and teachers work together to determine what the lesson will be on and how it will be taught. Whatever topics are piquing the interest of the kids at any given time are explored thoroughly until their curiosity and interest has been satiated. Teachers are there to facilitate, and I’m sure they can inject any good ideas they might have into the learning process if they are so inclined.

I compare this to my experience in lower and middle school. I went to a Montessori style school from pre-kindergarten until I entered undergraduate. The way our school worked was that we had to fulfill certain requirements; say, four “humanities” assignments, three “math and science” assignments, and two “writing” assignments. We were given fairly large leeway to do these things, and a range of activities to choose from. You could generally also “think outside the box.”

For example, my favorite activity was the “shark report,” where you choose a type of shark and write a few paragraphs about it, making sure to answer some basic questions. One day, a friend and I were working on an assignment, and my pencil point hitting the paper was bothering him a lot. So, we got together and decided to learn cursive (I think this was in the second grade). All we got done in a single day was one shark report, but since it was in cursive, we had impressed the teacher enough that she said it was okay. That’s the kind of good feeling that comes from taking initiative, following through, and accomplishing something you can be proud of, and that feeling can only come when you have the freedom to do those things.

The free school seems like it’s even more along the lines of what I support. I support freedom, in all its forms, and giving people, especially kids, the ability to learn responsibility, entrepreneurship, and self-motivation. I think the free school is an exemplar of this attitude, whereas public school is the exact opposite.

The Village Free School in Portland is accepting gifts of money or materials so that they can continue their mission of providing a great learning environment for their students.  Just taking a look at the materials they are looking for gives you a sense of the enabling environment they are building.  I plan to donate and I hope you will too.