Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quaker Education

Note: I started writing this before Jeremy's comment, which I will refer to later ...

When I was an education reporter, I covered home-schooling from time to time and couldn't help but notice that many home school parents wanted to do more than teach their children "at home" all the time. Many homeschool parents networked to provide enrichment for their children and a whole industry had arisen around providing classes to homeschooled children during regular school hours. For example, I did one story on a women who had made almost a full-time job out of offering Latin I through IV to homeschooled high schoolers--classes that enrolled anywhere from eight to 16 teens.

I realized that many homeschool parents were not rejecting the classroom model per se, but the constraints and problems of public and private education. Some homeschool mothers I interviewed would have liked a private school for their children, but either had too many children to afford it or too little income. Others homeschool parents tried private schools but found they mirrored too much of what they didn't like in public schools, such as discouraging substantive parental involvement or dismissing parent concerns or not teaching phonics. In other words, at least some homeschooling parents would have been glad to place their children in a school, could they have found an affordable school that lived up to their expectations.

At one point, I covered a homeschooler's "school," and I can't shake it from my mind. This school was parent run, started by two women who wanted more for their children then the loose homeschooling group they were part of. To make a long story short, they banded together, found some other interested parents, borrowed Sunday school rooms in a large church, chose a curriculum and held classes for their children two days a week, with the rest of the at-home school week structured around lessons arising from the classes. By the time I arrived, the school, which still met twice a week, had grown to cover grades 1 through 12, and enrolled 125 students.

Parents ran the school--there was no administration, though there was a parent board--and parents were clearly heavily involved in the day-to-day activities of the school. The school cost $1,000 a year per student, and students who created problems or who could not keep up with the curriculum were asked to leave.

I think about this school because it was as "out of the box" an enterprise as I saw during my time as a reporter. (There's one other one, but that will be a different post.) This was clearly a case of parents a school to fit their children's needs, not setting up a school the way a school "should be" and forcing children to fit it and parents to pay the price.

It dovetailed with other thoughts I have had over the years, chiefly involving Quaker education meeting Quaker family's needs. The biggest need I have seen is affordability. So I would suggest starting there. Find out what parents can afford to pay and work around that, rather than what a school "must" have at ... 10K or 12K a year ... or more.

I can envision a scenario in which, say, nine Quaker families decided they could each put $1-2K a year into a pot to educate their 15 elementary age children. Let's say they ended up with $17K, including donations from Quaker organizations, and some in-kind donations of supplies, etc. The first step would be for all the parents to become approved homeschool parents, and the second would be to get together and fashion a set of goals and principles. I would strongly recommend a first principle being "serving other people's children," to weed out the parents who are only it in for what they can "get" for their own offspring. Third, I would see how much collective education the 17K would buy and work from there. Maybe the parents could obtain free use of Quaker classrooms connected to a meeting. Maybe they could rent at very low cost, say $1,000 a year, from a church or community center. Maybe they would designate another $2,000 a year for supplies and opt to keep $1,000 in reserve for emergencies. This would leave $13,000.

While I don't know the details of all this or what insurance liabilities would be (and perhaps this would all have be done in homes ... I don't know) conceivably, the school could hire a part time teacher for 6K a year total--kind of an adjunct--3K a "semester" who would come in and lead school for 21/2 hours a day two days a week. This could be supplemented by a parent-run meeting for worship before the teacher began her day, and followed by parent-run recess and lunch. And to be part of the group, each parent might be required to offer a few hours of enrichment each year/quarter to all the students ... and that would be a start. Maybe a weekly service project would be another part of the school. Perhaps the rest of the money could pay someone to coordinate the school. Accreditation would not be a problem as all the parents would be homeschoolers. The key point is that it would start with affordability.

The main goals, I believe, for a Quaker school is transmitting Quaker values and serving Quaker children. Much thought needs to be given to what those values are and to what serving Quaker children means. I write this as someone whose children are past the need for this type of schooling--who are two years from high school graduation.

Jeremy Mott went on a similar track when he wrote: "Someone might try to get a little
grant from the Clarence Pickett
Fund---see website---to develop a course on Quakerism for
Quaker parents who are home-schooling their children (I think there are many of them now.) The course could also be used by any of the numerous new Quaker schools which have no Quaker teachers; but
that wouldn't be the emphasis, for Friends Council on Education already tries to help them. The
material might be based, in part,
on what Max Carter of Guilford
College has done to develop curricula on Quakerism and on world religions for the upper grades of the Friends Schools in
Ramallah in Palestine (You can
find this info in their latest newsletter on the web.) There have
got to be ways to make Quaker education less expensive, even in
the U.S.A."

What do you think? Would you be willing to trade in the "bells and whistles" for a school built around Quaker values? What should these values be?


Anonymous said...

I'm a Quaker homeschooling parent, and I would definitely be interested in something like this. I don't know that I have the reserves (of energy) to start it up on my own, though. There's a Friends' school in my town, 5th-12th grade, starts at $15k/year and the high school is more.

Hystery said...

I would also consider an educational endeavor like this if one existed in my community. It would probably work best in an area with a higher Friend population. My children are the only children in our meeting so we don't even have a First Day School. Still, it might be possible to find out if there are other home schooling Friends in meetings in the surrounding area. We might not be able to arrange to have the children meet weekly, but we might find other ways to cooperate and combine our skills. Now, the trick will be to stop being such a coward and ask.

Diane said...

Thanks for the comments. I think having the energy to do these things is critical.

gklyric said...

It seems there are like minded Friends scattered around. I am a homeschooling Quaker parent in Maryland, and am going through the paperwork with the state to form a quaker supervisory group for homeschoolers. That means we would be the party responsible to the state for affirming that the families who join us are providing "regular and thorough instruction in the subjects usually taught in school" Our structure will be that of the Friends monthly meeting, once a month for business, once a week for worship, instruction in Quakerism, and contextual practice in the manner of Friends. We'd love to have the thoughts and participation of Friends wherever they are!
Kristin Kight