Friday, January 02, 2009

Crisis=Opportunity?

Tough times ahead for schools.

It's not like times haven't been tough for pretty much as long as I can remember, what with NCLB and various other "reform" movements, not to mention Prop 13 here in California. Even when I was a kid, schools never had it easy—in my own K-12 experience, there were only three school years I wasn't in a split class, in a school with double sessions, or bused across town due to district financial constraints.

(I keep hearing conservatives whine about how throwing money at schools doesn't solve the problems, but I'm not convinced anyone's actually tried it yet.)

Anyway, times are getting even uglier for schools. Here in California, we're looking at even larger class sizes, shorter school years, fewer science courses, and who knows what else.

It seems a situation tailor-made for growth in the homeschooling movement. After all, if the schools keep getting worse, homeschooling keeps looking better and better. Undoubtedly, we'll see quite a few new homeschoolers (assuming they can manage financially, anyway, with jobs looking just as bad as the schools these days).

But I hope at least a few teachers and administrators see the opportunity in the current crisis to try a few new things, to be creative in using their increasingly limited resources to let some real learning happen. Larger classes? How about more group projects? Real group projects, that is, rather than those dreary "work together in assigned teams to write a paper and give a presentation with a Powerpoint" routines. Why not ask students what they're interested in, let them group themselves—across age-levels—into interest groups and develop their own projects? Sure, it wouldn't test well (complying with NCLB in the long run is pretty much a lost cause, anyway, even if it were a worthwhile goal in the first place), but giving kids the chance to work long-term on something that interests them might demonstrate some of the ways people learn that normally aren't allowed to happen within the schools. It might even help demonstrate how limiting schools are for our kids and push our society into some more useful and effective alternatives.

Amazing things could happen.

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