Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Response on Charter Schools

I recently came across a blog post on a subject I have heard over and over again- the debate on charter schools and homeschooling in California. Generally, I try to focus on things that bring people together, and don't see the point in trying to define who is a "real homeschooler," but I did want to respond from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

As a family whose children have lived in California and homeschooled their entire lives, we've rotated between complete independent  homeschooling and using charter programs based on what our family was looking for at the time. My children have never gone to school, nor have we done "school at home" either.

To get right down to business, why did we ever use a charter? Yes, it was about money. But, before you start throwing stones, in all honesty, why do people have jobs? Hopefully people enjoy their work, but in the end, don't they jump through hoops for money? I am always a little taken aback when people use the term "selling out" in regards to charters and wonder if they feel that all people who work are "selling out" too? Do they think their husbands are "selling out" their lives as they head out every morning? I know I've met countless adults who hate their jobs and seem to be "selling" a lot more of their lives for money than we ever have by using a charter program.

When making any big decision for our family, I base it on whether the benefits will be worth any drawbacks, and as weird as I may think another families decisions are, I try to trust them to do what's best for their family rather than judging them.

I know a number of independent homeschoolers who are far more structured and use much more "set curriculum" than we have ever used, even though we have gone through a charter. In some cases, these parents have lectured me about being directed by an outside force, which I find interesting because they pay money to make their children follow another persons outline, and we pretty much do what we want when we want.

We strongly lean towards an eclectic / interest  led style and would not even consider a program that wanted us to follow a set curriculum. I value our lifestyle immensely, and try to avoid time wasting, soul sucking experiences as much as possible, whether it is for me, or my kids. If ever a program didn't meet our needs, we'd bail and move on.

Currently, my daughter loves to dance and wants to take several classes, which are expensive. In order to give her that opportunity (which she is thriving with) I could choose to work more hours away from home, or use a charter.  My kids didn't want me to work more, and frankly, neither did I. Again, I value my freedom.

So, we researched and talked and found a program and facilitator that have really enriched our family. The paperwork is much less than many people do for their own portfolios, and my 13 year old actually does her own. We have never been given an assignment nor have any of our samples even been questioned. She is fine with taking a once a year test at this age, as she plans to go to college, where tests are a part of life, and she feels the paperwork is worth the dance classes. She treats it like a job and actually enjoys being organized with it. Most of the time, she is really happy with the arrangement, and I would say if you are happy with your work most of the time, you are luckier than many people.

So this year, for me, using a charter actually gave me freedom to spend more time with my kids. I know some people would have no problem working more or asking their husband to work extra hours at a job he hates to fund their kids classes. I don't get it, but it's not my life, my family or my choice- it's theirs. I just find it odd that some will judge me for doing a bit of paperwork instead.

Charter schools aren't for everyone, all the time- nothing is. Like homeschoolers, charters come in many different styles with many different requirements and offerings. Parents have choices, and that is the beauty of it. Right now it's a helpful tool for us, but as we look at high school, we may fly solo just depends. Just like a job, I try to find opportunities that we enjoy, pay off and that are worth our time.

I'm sure that schools and teachers exist who try to dominate your choices, just like in any profession. But, others also exist who know the beauty of a life learning experience and enjoy helping families with enriching resources. It's not really fair or accurate to lump them all together any more than it is to lump all homeschooling moms into a category of minvan driving women in denim jumpers.

I too am sometimes sad or worried about other families who don't seem to be empowered enough to make their own choices, don't know they can say no, choose their own path, make learning and life fun etc. This isn't limited to people who use charters though by any means, and I prefer encouraging people to find their own way over judging that they are choosing a different route than me.
In the end though, if people are really concerned about outside forces making decisions for their family, and wanting to preserve their freedom, then shouldn't they honor other people's choices and freedoms with their families too?