Leigh Sloan: The rise of choice schoolers

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By LEIGH SLOAN

Post Covid-19, the the way people view education has changed significantly. Many parents faced schooling their kids at home for the first time ever. Some decided that homeschooling wasn’t as intimidating as they thought and they never looked back. Here in Alaska, homeschooling has risen to almost 40 percent.  

Back when homeschooling was more of a fringe phenomenon, it evoked images of long-skirted women, minivans, and swarms of kids with little to no social awareness. There were three choices: 1. Public school 2. Private school 3. Homeschool. Because it was the easiest and most economical for busy working families, most people chose public school. 

These days schooling is being reimagined and re-engineered by people who know the students best: their parents. Parents (and even grandparents) with degrees and skills are stepping up to the plate to solve the educational crisis. They are looking beyond their own families and serving the needs of the community. One semester before Covid I decided that my kids did better with a “classroom” of more than just immediate family, so I opened up my home for a “micro-school.” Only I didn’t call it that at the time. I just called it helping teach other homeschooled kids two days a week.

Little did I know what a lifeline that little gathering would be to our kids and the kids who came. It was a small enough group that through Covid, we stayed healthy and they never missed a beat either in their studies or in their social lives. The world seemed to be crashing down, but our little micro school provided a safe place for these kids to learn and grow. 

This year, my kids’ needs are changing. I have crossed the threshold into being a Mom of Middle/High Schoolers. Now they need a bit wider space to grow and spread their wings and new social experiences. I imagined what I would want in a resource for me and my family and I created it for others. Calling it “The Green Room,” I gathered four other teachers who are passionate about their disciplines and equipped to teach. We found a space to meet and together we are looking forward to cultivating a community where parents are in charge and teachers are there to serve. 

As I’ve been in connection with other homeschool parents, I have found that there is a plethora of ways that people provide education. On one end of the continuum you have full time public school and at the other end you have full time independent homeschool. In between you have co-ops, hybrid schooling and more. Even in different seasons of life, parents and students have different needs. It is a new frontier of education as I have watched as many of my friends have stepped up to use their talents in creative ways to find workable solutions. 

We may not all be doing it the same way. We are not always homeschoolers, public schoolers or private schoolers. We need a new term for those of us out exploring on the educational frontier: we are Choice Schoolers. Choice Schooling is a philosophy of education that understands there are many right ways to educate a child. Choice Schooling is the belief that parents should make the ultimate decisions on how they want to educate their children —  and not anyone else. 

It’s understandable to be frustrated with the system as it is. As both a parent and former public school teacher, I know very well that the system is flawed. That is why I left the traditional system so early in my career. You may choose to leave the system, and that can be a good choice. You may be a teacher, student, or parent who chooses to stay, and that can be a good choice too. Choice Schoolers do not presume to act as judge and jury for the decisions parents make. Instead they support them along the way. 

We are all doing the best that we can. For better or for worse, these are all our community public and private schools. Since the advent of public education or “government run schools” as some prefer to say, the mantra has been that public education is to remain both “free and appropriate.” The dilemma is this: who gets to decide what is free and what is appropriate? 

The answer for Choice Schoolers? The parents.  We fight for every parent’s option to choose. Whether the choice be at the micro level, like parents who want to opt out of a public school class they deem “inappropriate.” Choice can also be at the macro level: when their child’s needs can’t be met in the traditional environment and they need an entirely different schooling experience.

As school choice becomes more and more of a reality in other US states, it has caused some fear to arise from both left and right. The fear coming from the right is that anything the government funds it will control. That fear is founded. As we know, anything unchecked in government hands can become a problem. If we are not vigilant enough to keep our eyes wide open and our fingers steadily on the pulse of what is going on with our kids, that fear could manifest as reality. 

But fear should not be a driving force in all our decisions moving forward. Rarely do we make our most forward thinking decisions from a place of fear. Maybe the Department of Education does need to be entirely demolished and reconstructed. If that’s what it takes to bring reform, so be it. But in the meantime, let’s not condemn families who choose to participate in public education, or who make different decisions for their families. Let’s advocate for more freedom for them and for everyone, not less. You may not feel comfortable with taking funds for your child’s education because of your concerns about government control, but will you fight for the freedom of those who do? 

All over Alaska, parents have been accessing educational resources and using them where they can. And those resources are doing a whole lot of good. So far, no one is controlling the way that I educate my children, and I refuse to let them. When we talk about government control gone awry, we need to realize that government only has as much control as “we the people” allow it. Will the entrenched “system” try to wrestle control from parents as they become empowered? Probably so. But will they be successful? That is up to you and me.

These are your schools every bit as much as they belong to your political opponents. You may fiercely distance yourself from the philosophy and objectives of the local public school, but it is still your local school. The laws around education came from your elected officials. It’s shortsighted to believe that this is only about you and your family. It’s about us and our communities, our state and nation. Distancing won’t make it go away, but engaging can make a difference. When it comes to education, stay engaged, fight for educational liberty, and be part of the solution. 

5 COMMENTS

  1. There have got to be some desiring reform groups in the community. I am not involved in any group yet but am interested in breaking the mold/trend of our current public education system in Anchorage and our state. I am a product of it and am struggling with what it has become.

  2. Yes, My Lands. It’s about the kids traditional education! Not access and recruitment for nefarious purposes. Dear Lord!

  3. Very well written article and helpful since Homeschool is BOOMING ! Parents have had it with government schools and the control the LEFTISTs and BUild back better bullies have over it. Just an FYI, but if parents can nail down WHERE their children will be tested and when, that is HUGE. We have always chosen Frontier Charter for that but that is a question I am working on…. WHO ALL does testing NOW? There is now a new Sonja’s Studio of Performing Arts in the Wasilla area which is new and exciting for everyone, check it out,… not only dance, music, but ART Too ! As time goes on and people keep asking questions there will be more CO_OPS, play groups, Math fairs, Science Competition, the possibilities are endless. Please keep in mind that many parents who never considered attending a church or going to one for class are now ALL EARS !

  4. If you have been parenting correctly, then you’ve been homeschooling all along. When your students come home from school you ask them what they learned, if they have any homework. You take an active role in your children’s education. You might even sit at the table with them to help them out or just show an interest so they know you’re involved. School shouldn’t end when the bus drops him off out front. I always knew which students had good parents and which parents didn’t give a crap and most of the time didn’t even know what the kids were doing or where they were. Cattle and wildlife do a better job of raising their young than some of the parents I’ve witnessed. Some of my stories are horror stories and probably shouldn’t be told on this forum but many brought tears to my eyes and then rage.

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