This week, our beloved little elementary school closed down.
Because of financial struggles, the school that has single-handedly saved the learning of my three oldest boys had to shutter its doors.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had to upend our school plans, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. These days, you can’t have school-age children without expecting to bump up against all types of struggles.
I know that to air my own education laundry can be dicey. Education stands right behind religion, parenting and politics when it comes to divisiveness. Everyone has an opinion, whether it’s in favor of home school, traditional public, charter or magnet school. Add a sprinkling of No Child Left Behind, a dash of Creationism with a heavy dose of Common Core, and you’ve got a recipe for politically charged disaster.
Yet we need to be talking about education, not just on a federal or a state level, but on a neighborhood level. It’s time for us to think outside of the red brick building.
As a journalist who likes to look at all sides of the story, I’ve spent the past six years exploring a buffet of education options with my own kids. This includes three traditional public schools, home school and private school. My kids have changed schools almost as often as they’ve changed their socks.
Every move and every decision was fraught with emotion. I second-guessed myself every time I pulled a kid from school, midyear, to try a different tactic. I stepped, terrified, into uncharted territory because I wanted my kids to love learning the way I have always loved learning.
It was never easy, but I’ve never regretted those painful steps. As parents, we need to trust our instincts. We know our kids best. We know what it looks like to have the light of knowledge snuffed from their eyes because something isn’t adding up. We know how they learn. We may not know where to find the best learning for them, but that’s where we roll up our sleeves and get brave. We find what works.
The increasing options for parents and children give me great hope. If education is going to change, if we want to reach each student at his or her best, it is not going to happen on a massive scale, no matter how many policies we put into place. Just as we’ve seen the growth of small-scale farming, I believe that small-scale schooling is where we can make a difference. Education is not a one-size-fits-all operation. It was never intended to be that way.
As a family, we are now on to the next phase of our educational journey. The shuttering of our little private school means we are embarking on a new adventure as a public charter school. I am both thrilled and terrified for what lies ahead. We have a group of committed parents and teachers who are determined to see this happen. We’ve seen real success at the private level and hope to make that same difference in the lives of all students, regardless of whether they can afford the price tag.
There may be some crises in education, but I’ve seen firsthand what incredible teachers and a rock-solid curriculum can do for a child. I’ve seen parents in the inner city pull their kids home and begin online education programs to re-engage their children.
I’ve watched my own children vault from remedial math into high school-level algebra. I’ve watched the spark ignite in their eyes when they learn about Paul Revere and take the entire first-grade class on a “midnight” ride around the playground during recess. I’ve watched friendships take root in a shared love for learning, in an atmosphere of kindness and positive reinforcement.
Several months ago, I attended charter school training in Minneapolis. The founders of 20 new Minnesota charter schools sat in the audience. We were a group of dreamers and schemers wanting to make a difference for the kids in our neighborhood. There was a Jane Goodall Academy preparing to open its doors in the northern woods of Minnesota. There was a Russian charter school, a Hebrew charter school, and several inner-city schools looking to save their kids from street gangs and illiteracy.
Throughout the entire meeting, I wanted to jump to my feet and cheer. We can talk test scores and reading levels all day, and yes, those things are important. But hand-tailored education that reaches each child is where I hope our future lies.
That, to me, is not the end of education; it is the grand and hopeful beginning.
Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org