To celebrate the completion of my dissertation and my contribution to a new book, I allowed myself back onto Twitter. I had been tweeting via Hootsuite and self-blocking Twitter on my technology so that I could focus on these projects, free from the weight of the nonsense that tends to dominate the platform.
My return didn’t last long.
Almost immediately, I waded into a viral thread about whether most students (i.e., everyone except students who require special services or accommodations) should be sent home after failing to bring school-issued equipment to class three times in the same week. That this policy was so utterly and indisputably outrageous to some, and so utterly and indisputably uncontroversial to others, only strengthened my belief that we need a greater variety of schools that specialize in different things. We need permissive schools and instructive schools, progressive schools and traditional schools, teacher-led schools and student-led schools, and everything in between to accommodate the fact that almost no one can agree on the best way to educate a child.
A school for every family (and every teacher)
Ideally, we would live in a society that addresses diversity of thought by providing a diversity of schools. If you want your child to learn by playing outdoors with natural materials, given there’s enough public interest, there should be a school for that. If you want your child to mainly learn reading, writing, and arithmetic from subject masters – and leave mental health advice to trained therapists – there should be a school for that. Different schools for different fools.
The problem (beyond obvious concerns such as funding, busing, what do we do for rural communities, etc.) is that many schools don’t have the faintest idea of who they are or how they prefer teachers to teach and students to learn. This makes it hard, if not impossible, for parents to find schools that are right for their child. The same goes for teachers. I’ve worked at 6 schools in my career, but I’ve interviewed for many more. The most striking difference between schools at these interviews is that some know what they are all about, and others are simply “schools.” You can tell a school is pedagogically agnostic or suffering from an identity crisis by directly asking about the school’s philosophy on teaching and behavior. If the very people who are charged with knowing this best end up dancing around the question, or answering, “we have a variety of approaches” then it’s probably best that those of us who are more serious about teaching choose to work somewhere else.
Personally, I want my daughter to attend a school with rules, and teachers who follow through with the rules. In my experience, parents are only relaxed on this point if their child has never been subjected to the tyranny of bullies and deficient academics. The belief that children should be able to go to the bathroom without being monitored, for example, quickly dissipates when their child reports that they never use the school facilities out of fear that at any time a gang of peers might climb up or bang on the walls of the stalls.
And, yes, I want my daughter to go to schools that, along with other procedures, will warn families about the certainty that their children will be sent home on the third instance in a week of not having a pencil. If I ever got the call to pick her up, I would thank the school for the high expectations they have for my family, and I would take her home so that we could sort out how on earth, after two warnings (including a call home and a detention), she managed to discard or destroy every pencil (10? 20? more?) in her bag.
I perfectly understand if you wouldn’t want to send your child to such a school. But shouldn’t we both have the choice?