President-elect Obama is open to new ideas — asking for them, in fact. Here’s one I think we can all agree on: freedom of choice in education. American parents choose where and how their children will be educated. When I protect their freedom to do so, I protect my own, whether I agree with them, or not. Our exercise of freedom in education weaves a rich, democratic tapestry of individualism and individuality.
By democratic, I mean the energetic, egalitarian, outside-the-box way Americans think about educational choice and accommodate educational diversity. Our magnet schools, free schools, private classical schools, religious, Montessori, and Waldorf schools, craft and career schools, pre-professional schools, and government-sponsored public schools offer a wide spectrum of choice even for children whose parents are not wealthy.
There’s one more choice available here which, though not as widely known, has broad support across every religious, political, socio-economic, racial, class and ethnic boundary. Independent, or “home,” education has the longest history of all our array of options and is thriving (over 200,000 families now!) in a pluralistic, cross-cultural, inter-denominational way, all over the U.S.
Parents choose a mode of education that fits their child’s emotional maturity, intellectual style, learning modality, interests, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. They take into account their own desires to teach, to learn, to travel, to work, to build relationships, and to interact with the community. The family’s beliefs, heritage, resources and traditions all are brought to bear on the education decisions parents make. Even the family’s “season of life” (Is there a brand new sibling on the way? Will Grandma live with us now? Can Dad take a sabbatical next year? Is the nest almost empty?) is a consideration.
It’s no wonder we expect a wide range of educational designs to be available to us as we each make the best choice we can for our children, for ourselves, for our own family. A nation of people who want to design their own Web sites, tennis shoes, radio stations and beers won’t be content with a narrow range of choices for such a substantial expense of time and energy.
I think we can all agree that one thing making this country great is this commitment to resist having our freedom of choice reduced to a quick multiple choice test — as though every child could possibly fit into, or benefit by, the same program. We are, more and more, consumers of educational products tailored to our particular needs, tastes, and quirks. A factory that can turn out citizens does not exist, but the mix and unity of free human beings watching out for and respecting each other’s freedom goes a long way to making us all better citizens, and better neighbors.
Speaking of neighbors, none of us — even independent educators — is self-sufficient. Thank you, public and private school teachers! Thank you, home school cooperative leaders and field-trip coordinators! Thank you to online tutorial and correspondence studies providers! Thanks to the mentors who come alongside, the experts who share their wealth of knowledge, and the unpaid fellow citizens who contribute content to the cyberspace learning environment! Thank you museum docents, business owners, grandparents, artists, musicians, zookeepers, medical professionals and journalists, who also teach our children!
I am grateful every day for my freedom to educate my children my way. I respect the different choices others make (Surely, they will choose better for their own kids than I could.) and willingly pay taxes to make sure the public system stays strong. I want you to help me encourage our leaders to protect and promote — even to enlarge the creative scope of — independent education, the American way. Everyone is served by freedom of choice in education, so please support it whenever and however you can.