Tuesday, March 21, 2017

spring renewal

In spring, we all come alive again. Just when we're reaching our maximum tolerance for darkness and cold, for stews and root vegetables, for seemingly endless indoor days, we re-emerge with the equinox. The morning light is strong and welcoming and it lingers until well after dinner, when we once again reconnect with neighbors for scootering and biking, street hockey and soccer. With the strengthening sunlight comes returning color, tucked in scattered spots along city sidewalks. The final days of winter can be tough, especially for homeschoolers, when inside projects lose their luster and everyone longs for those days when time outside trumps time in. I rarely hear harried homeschooling moms ponder sending their children to school come springtime, but in winter? Yep. 

We celebrated the shift to a new season yesterday, spending hours in the warm midday sun at a park with friends and then returning home to frost our equinox muffins (whole grain corn muffins to represent the sun; chocolate and vanilla frosting to symbolize equal day and night). The girls and I sewed bandannas in a colorful spring print, looking forward to warm days ahead in the garden. And we welcomed a refreshed stack of seasonal books, including re-reading our favorite springtime children's books shared below. 

Yes, snow and ice still line our sidewalks and playgrounds, and temperatures are forecast to plummet again tomorrow, but that will soon pass. Our spirits strengthen with the sun that lures us outside for much of the day, reconnecting us with nature and community, spring classes and renewed rhythms. It's nice to pause and recognize this seasonal shift, and celebrate all the light and goodness to come. 

Recommended Springtime Children's Books
A New Beginning: Celebrating the Spring Equinox, by Wendy Pfeffer
The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers
Pelle's New Suit, by Elsa Beskow
The Children of the Forest, by Elsa Beskow
It's Spring, She Said, by Joan Blos
Mama, Is It Summer Yet?, by Nikki McClure
How Mama Brought The Spring, by Fran Manushkin
We Planted A Tree, by Diane Muldrow
My Garden, by Kevin Henkes
A Garden for a Groundhog, by Lorna Balian

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Power of Homemaking - and a Pi recipe!

Like many of you I'm sure, I grew up with all the post-war conveniences of suburbia. My grandfathers both served in World War II and were symbolic of the mass of returning vets who sought solace in the newer housing developments outside of the city. My maternal grandmother always told me that her most fulfilling role in life was being a wife and mother. This from a woman who went to college at the New England Conservatory of Music, performed as a lead singer with orchestras across the northeast, taught kindergarten, served as an air raid warden in the war, and lived to the ripe old age of 94. She loved homemaking. She also loved all of the increasing kitchen conveniences available to her. Supermarkets burgeoned in the suburbs after the war offering all sorts of variety and short-cuts, increasingly crowding out small local markets and shopkeepers. I have vivid childhood memories of enjoying steaming bowls of Campbell's mushroom soup at my grandmother's kitchen table. And she swore that margarine and mayonnaise led to her longevity. The industrial food wave had swept the nation leading many to trust factories over farms. Well into adulthood, I honestly believed that homemade pancakes meant Bisquick. 

Both my grandmother and my mother loved being stay-at-home moms so it's no surprise that I love it too. But it wasn't until after my third child's birth, my first homebirth, that I really began to grasp the power and promise of home. Four months after her birth I baked my first loaf of bread (albeit in a breadmaker at the time) and it's not hyperbole to say that it was revolutionary. I was hooked on the homemade. That began a steady process of made-from-scratch cooking and a deepening appreciation for sourcing sustainably-grown, farm-direct, nutrient-dense food for my family. 

It's really only been six years of this, and although I now bake our daily bread in the oven, I still feel wildly ignorant of the kitchen and its true power of production. 

Luckily, my older daughter does not.

It occurred to me the other day, as my 10 year old baked yet another pie from scratch with zero adult help, that while I may be forever playing catch-up in the kitchen, she is already a master at the art of feeding herself and her family. Important skills if you ask me. Arguably the most important. 

I have yet to make a pie crust from scratch, but my daughter makes them all the time. So with her permission, including her improvisations and suggestions and just in time for Pi day, here is her yummy strawberry pie recipe. It is delicious proof that children not only teach themselves, they always teach us as well.

Pi Day Strawberry Pie!

Ingredients for Dough:

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for rolling
2 tablespoons of sugar
3/4 cup of unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup of cold water

Ingredients for Filling:

6 cups of strawberries (thawed or fresh, with stems removed and cut in half)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Ingredients for Topping:

1 egg
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar

Instructions for Filling:

In a large bowl, mix together the strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Set aside. 

Instructions for Dough:

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, and salt. Sprinkle the butter over the flour mixture. Then using two kitchen knives, cut the butter into the mixture by breaking it up into small pieces. Slowly pour the cold water over the dough and mix gently until the dough is moist and crumbly. Next, pour the dough mixture onto a floured surface and knead together into a ball. Divide the ball in half. Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball. Wrap each flattened ball in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. 

After dough has chilled, cover a work surface with flour. Unwrap one of the chilled dough sheets and drizzle the top of the dough with a bit of flour. Cover bottom and sides of a pie plate with the dough. Place filling on top of dough.

Next, take the other chilled dough sheet and place it on the floured work space. Cut strips of dough one-inch wide and about nine inches long. Lay the strips of dough across the filling in a checkered pattern, alternating vertical and horizontal strips. With a small knife, cut away the extra dough around the pie plate edges. With a fork, crimp the dough around the edges of the pie plate.

Using a spoon or a pastry brush, spread the egg topping over the dough strips. Sprinkle sugar on top. 

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, or until golden brown. Cool completely and enjoy!

Sunday, March 12, 2017


When March temperatures drop to near single digits and snowflakes fly and remain, there is nothing better to do than cook, and make, and read, and gather. That's what we've done in abundance this weekend. The stove and oven have been constantly buzzing, with everything from pies to playdough. Yogurt thickened, bread rose, soups simmered, pans and crumbs accumulated. 

My 10 year old daughter has been really enjoying the Dear America book series from the library, particularly the stories highlighting the plight of various immigrant groups throughout our nation's history. After finishing the fictional story of the Coal Miner's Bride, describing a 13 year old Polish immigrant in 19th century Pennsylvania coal country, she dove right in to making the potato dumpling recipe offered in the book. Yum. 

I love it when reading and eating combine, and there has been a lot of both this weekend. I finished J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy last week and am on to Florence Williams's new book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Brian's on to the second book in his latest Sci-Fi series; my 8 year old loves all Minecraft fiction series books; my 6 year old is devouring Mo Willems and adores the Herb Fairies series; and my 3 year old cozies up to whichever big sister or brother will read aloud. And Hidden Pictures--morning, noon, and night. 

My oldest two joined me in watching the excellent 2016 documentary, Sustainable, on Netflix this weekend. It's so very well done and leaves me hopeful for the future of regenerative agriculture, nourishing food, and a healthier planet.

Cooking, making, reading, gathering with friends. Such a simple weekend that fills us up in body and spirit. 

Here's hoping your weekend has been full of the warmth and goodness of home.

Homemade Play Dough Recipe

1 cup white flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar (find it in the spice section)
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup water

Mix first 5 ingredients in a pan. Add water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 – 5 minutes. Dough will become clumpy. Remove from stove and knead until desired playdough texture is achieved.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Family Values

maple sugaring with friends
Lately we have been reminding ourselves of our family's core values. I feel like over the past several months we have strayed from them a bit and have gotten caught up in other distractions and pursuits that are not aligned with these values. It's not that I think a family's values can't change or evolve. I do. But I also know that our values haven't changed, just our actions in succumbing to the ongoing temptations and opportunities of urban living that can lead us so quickly toward consume and spend and more and better and away from the ways of living that matter most to us.

I was reminded of this the other day when a friend shared how her family uses their core values as a constant decision-making tool. They endeavor to live very simply and slowly, with family, homeschooling, community, and nature at the nexus of their lives. This friend mentioned the wonderful opportunities that often appear, dangling promises of more and better that can be very tempting. But they stay true to their values, saying no to these opportunities more often than yes. If her family can do this, then so can mine. We just need to remember our values, evaluate opportunities and decisions against these values, and change our actions when necessary so that they are fully aligned with our values. 

So in this spirit of assessment and alignment, I am sharing our family's core values again. Perhaps yours look similar too. 

  • To spend more time together as a family than apart.
  • To prioritize natural, self-directed learning that allows each child to pursue his or her own interests, build individual skills and knowledge, and reveal innate gifts and talents.
  • To connect deeply with nature and marvel at the gifts of each season.
  • To reconnect with the heirloom skills and practices that sustained generations of families and strive to produce more than consume.
  • To nourish our bodies with farm-fresh, sustainably-grown food.
  • To nourish our spirits by connecting more intimately with each other and with the natural cycles of the earth.
  • To nurture both our individual and collective passions and dreams.
  • To find ways to build community and connection with those around us.
  • To identify small actions that can make a big impact on our world and commit to living more authentically and sustainably.
  • To cultivate whole-family living and learning.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Natural Learning in an Artificial World

My younger (6 year old) daughter starts a homeschool class this week at a farm/nature center just outside of the city. It's a great place with a stellar staff and high-quality programming designed to expose kids to biodynamic farming practices and sustainability. My daughter loves being around farms and their animals and I'm sure she will enjoy the class, but it's not natural learning.

Natural learning, in the context of this farm education example, is what we did last week as a family when we joined friends in their frequent volunteer work helping out a 65-cow dairy farmer in New Hampshire. That was real work, real learning: shoveling manure from the pens, clearing out and replacing stall bedding, stacking bales of sawdust, hauling the manure in the wheelbarrow to the compost pile, feeding the calves and then--with a sadness that even the 60-year-old farmer still deeply feels--watching the calves separated from their mamas and moved to a waiting truck, sold to another farm. That was natural learning. That experience could never be replicated in a classroom setting, regardless of how authentic the curriculum may try to be.

As homeschoolers, I think we have a tendency to seek out classes and educational experiences that foster what we consider to be natural learning. We look for programming that encourages self-direction and child-led learning. We search for teachers who connect with children and ignite their curiosity. But real, natural learning cannot be captured in a classroom or caged in a curriculum. Real, natural learning occurs by living. It occurs in the daily, weekly, and seasonal activities we perform. Learning to cook occurs by cooking; learning to read occurs by reading; learning to swim occurs by swimming.

This doesn't mean there isn't a role for formal classes or instruction. Even experts benefit from ongoing guidance and feedback. And sometimes classes are just plain fun. I loved taking a class to learn to knit. It helped me to learn some basic skills to begin successfully and enabled me to pass on my knowledge to my older daughter, who now knits far better than I. But natural learning can be much more powerful and enduring than its artificial counterpart. When my children learn to garden by planting a productive garden alongside their talented, master gardener aunt, that learning is deep and authentic and incapable of being forgotten. That is natural learning. When my children see the tears of a lifelong farmer as her calves get sent away for the umpteenth time, that teaches them more about the realities of farming than any class ever could. 

In our increasingly artificial world, natural learning can be tricky. It is often easier and more realistic to rely on curriculum-based classes and formal instruction. It is more convenient to drive to the suburbs for a weekly homeschool farm class than it is to drive two hours to New Hampshire to actually farm. I don't dismiss this reality. I only offer a gentle reminder--mostly for myself--that natural learning occurs from being immersed in the real work of daily, weekly, and seasonal living--wherever we are, whatever our interests and needs. 

Sometimes classes can be meaningful and enjoyable, but they are no replacement for natural learning which never costs a penny and is absolutely priceless.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Childhood Anxiety and Schooling

In just the past two weeks I have had separate, but strikingly similar, conversations with two different moms about their child's schooling experience. 

In both cases, there was something tickling at their mama instincts. They knew deep down that the anxiety and depression their children are experiencing -- who in both cases are middle schoolers (only 12 or 13!) -- are not normal and are induced by schooling. In both of these conversations, the moms had never expected to homeschool and didn't know much about it, but felt that they had to do something for the sake of their children.

Beyond the obvious tragedy of children experiencing daily turmoil over schooling, what I found most profound in these conversations is that neither mom even knew that school-induced anxiety and depression are real, research-based phenomena. When I shared with them some of the research articles, especially Boston College psychology professor Dr. Peter Gray's articles on the topic, it was as if a giant weight was lifted. They were relieved to know that their mama instincts were right on (as mama instincts usually are), and now had the information they needed to make a more informed decision about whether and when to remove their child from school. In one case, the boy is in a public school that is criticizing the mother for even considering removing her child from school; the other boy is in a prestigious private school. 

School-related anxiety and depression are real, serious issues that can lead to catastrophe, as evidenced by the rising suicide rate among children. In fact, according to the CDC, the suicide rate among 10 to 14 year olds has doubled since 2007. And for girls in that age group, the suicide rate has tripled over the past 15 years. 

In his own research, Dr. Gray has found that children's mental health is directly related to school attendance. He discovered that children's psychiatric ER visits drop precipitously in the summer and rise again once school begins. The month with the biggest spike in ER visits is May, often coinciding with end-of-school academic and social pressures. Dr. Gray concludes: "The available evidence suggests quite strongly that school is bad for children's mental health. Of course, it's bad for their physical health, too; nature did not design children to be cooped up all day at a micromanaged, sedentary job."

Beyond these extreme mental health crises, Dr. Gray's research, and that of others, has shown that generalized anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in children. Dr. Gray maintains that much of this rise in anxiety and depression in children is due to lengthier, more restrictive schooling over the past several decades. He writes: "Children today spend more hours per day, days per year, and years of their life in school than ever before. More weight is given to tests and grades than ever. Outside of school, children spend more time than ever in settings in which they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, and rewarded by adults. In all of these settings adults are in control, not children." An advocate of unschooling, and my colleague at the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, Dr. Gray urges parents and educators to think critically about the negative impacts of coercive schooling on children's health and well-being. He asserts: "We don't need to drive kids crazy to educate them. Given freedom and opportunity, without coercion, young people educate themselves."

So what will these moms do? Will they pull their boys out of school? Is homeschooling the only option? Luckily, there are alternatives to school. Beyond homeschooling, there is a growing number of self-directed learning centers across the country that support families, including several here in Massachusetts where the two moms are located. More and more parents are banding together to create parent-run co-ops to meet their children's social, intellectual, and emotional needs. Others are starting democratic/free/Sudbury-type "schools" and learning centers that embrace the philosophy of Self-Directed Education. 

I am not sure what these two moms will ultimately decide and how their boys will fare, but I do know that they now have more research-based information about the potential dangers of coercive schooling and new ideas on the many options available to them. 

Most importantly, though, they know to always trust their powerful mama instincts. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Texting and Learning To Read

My newly-minted six-year-old daughter is beginning to read. Like her older sister and brother, she has not received formal reading instruction, but has simply been surrounded by literacy since birth. We have mountains of books in our home, read to our children and alongside them often, take frequent trips to the library. But perhaps the biggest way that we have created a literacy-rich environment for our children is by including them in the tools and technology that we grown-ups use to communicate and share and learn.

My older daughter was an "early" reader, learning to read at age four and quickly becoming proficient. These children who learn to read before traditional school-age are often called "precocious" readers. I only half-joke that my daughter, now 10, learned to read because I eventually tired of reading her the Rainbow Fairies book series that she adored so she had to start reading it herself. My daughter always loved books and writing and other behaviors we would think of as "school-ish." 

My son, on the other hand, showed no direct interest in reading, other than enjoying being read to often. There were times when I would give him a Dick and Jane book or a Bob book and plead with him to read me just a few words. He would usually resist, often saying a defiant no. So I would swallow my pride and back off. And try to trust some more. Dick and Jane wasn't going to do it for him. There was no interest, no meaning in those words.

When he was six, he was passionate about music, especially Classic Rock. He would listen to music for hours on my husband's old smartphone, and gradually asked us to help him find the lyrics of some of his favorite songs. His phone also led him to become much more interested in technology and applications, and he would play around with customizing his device's interface. Then, when he was six, he started texting his grandparents and aunt and uncle. 

As I watched his interests, and saw how technology and the Internet--our modern culture's most important tools--propelled his literacy, I added further proof to Boston College psychology professor, Dr. Peter Gray's theory that children teach themselves to read when they are good and ready. Gray writes: "Each child knows exactly what his or her own learning style is, knows exactly what he or she is ready for, and will learn to read in his or her own unique way, at his or her unique schedule." Dr. Gray goes on to assert, based on his research, that "attempts to push reading can backfire." I saw that possibility in those doubtful-mama moments when I lost trust in natural learning and thought I needed to teach. If I had kept pushing, kept doubting, I could have easily destroyed my son's natural reading instincts.

By restoring my trust in the natural ways in which children learn and discover and use the tools of their culture, I was able to allow my now eight-year-old son to learn to read on his own time, in his own way, using his own interest-driven platforms. There was no Dick and Jane for him. He prefers to read newspaper and magazine articles about technology and innovation. And he learned to read in exactly the same way as so-called "precocious" readers do: in a whole-language, all-of-a-sudden-reading-The-New-York-Times kind of way. 

Now, with my younger daughter learning to read I see a hybrid of my older daughter and son's literacy progression. While she has the "school-ish" personality of my older daughter and loves to just sit and flip through books at length independently, she also loves technology and practical application of knowledge. Her grandmother recently gave her an old smartphone she had lying around, and since then, my younger daughter has been texting up a storm. She texts me and Dad, she texts her grandparents and aunt and uncle, she texts with her older siblings. All of this texting is leading to an explosion in her literacy, not only in the drive (the necessity, really) to read in order to communicate effectively with others, but also in her need to write effectively in order to be understood. It's really incredible to witness.

The power of technology and the Internet to propel literacy and learning is documented in extensive research by Sugata Mitra and his colleagues. In one study of their "hole in the wall" experiments, Mitra, et al (2005) present compelling findings on how children from disadvantaged backgrounds in 17 urban slum and rural areas across India used publicly available computers to gain literacy and computing skills on their own, without any adult interference or instruction. The children, ranging in age from six to 14 years, acquired these skills at rates comparable to children in control groups who were taught in formal, teacher-directed, classroom settings. Mitra and his colleagues define this self-education as “minimally-invasive education,” or MIE. In further studies, Mitra and his colleagues revealed that these same poor, formerly illiterate children also taught themselves English and learned to read simply by having access to computers and the Internet in safe, public spaces within their villages. If you haven't watched Mitra's powerful, award-winning 2013 Ted Talk about his "hole in the wall" experiments and findings, you really should. It's amazing.

The point that Dr. Gray and Dr. Mitra and other researchers make, and that I now have triple proof of, is that all children are precocious readers. The vast majority of children will learn to read in their own way, on their own time, when surrounded by literacy and the tools of their culture, and allowed to pursue their own passions and interests. They may not read until they are 11 or 12, which could be hard for some parents and educators to grapple with, but they do learn to read. In his article, "The Reading Wars: Why Natural Reading Fails in Classrooms," Gray writes about his research on unschooled children, stating: 

"In sum, these children seem to learn to read in essentially the same ways that precocious readers learn, but at a wide variety of ages.  They learn when and because they are interested in reading, and they use whatever information is available to help them, including information provided by people who already know how to read.  They are not systematically taught, and the people who help them generally have no training or expertise in the teaching of reading."

Gray goes on to explain why natural reading cannot work within the context of institutional schooling:

"No matter how liberal-minded the teacher is, real, prolonged self-direction and self-motivation is not possible in the classroom.  In this setting, children must suppress their own interests, not follow them.  While children out of school learn what and because they want to, children in school must learn or go through the motions of learning what the teacher wants them to learn in the way the teacher wants them to do it.  The result is slow, tedious, shallow learning that is about procedure, not meaning, regardless of the teacher’s intent."

If we can trust children and provide them with access to the important tools of their culture, then we will witness how humans' innate desire to explore the world leads to skillful mastery of these tools and skills in distinct ways, and on distinct, individual, interest-driven timetables.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why Education Choice Matters

It's National School Choice Week, an annual event with the stated goal to "raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling."

With over 21,000 school choice-related events planned in all 50 states, and over 2,100 homeschooling-specific events, this week highlights the great work of families, educators, and activists helping to expand education choice across the country.

This year's National School Choice Week comes at a particularly opportune time, as school choice advocate, Betsy DeVos, is likely to soon be confirmed as President Trump's Secretary of Education, and as data released last week by the outgoing Obama administration highlighted poor results of recent education policy. 

As reported by The Washington Post, the data released by the U.S. Department of Education two days before Obama's term ended show that despite funneling billions of federal dollars into failing schools through School Improvement Grants, there was no difference in test scores, graduation rates, or college enrollment between the schools that received the grants and those that did not. This education policy initiative, according to the Post article, was "the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools," sending $7 billion of taxpayer money into the program between 2010 and 2015.

The data are clear: traditional government schools are failing many children, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable. It is time for a different education policy approach that goes beyond pumping more money into an existing schooling infrastructure and instead empowers parents and educators to seek and invent new education options for young people. Let's shift accountability from government bureaucrats to parents and educators, and inject much-needed competition and innovation into American education. 

National School Choice Week highlights the many education options currently available to families, particularly families with privilege or luck. Choice should not be a freedom reserved only for the few; it should be a fundamental component of U.S. education policy. I have no doubt that families could have found far more effective and efficient ways of spending that $7 billion allocated for School Improvement Grants, and with far better results. It is time we give families that chance.

Friday, January 13, 2017

What Is Natural Learning?

Check out my interview with Dr. Peter Gray about Natural Learning and the Alliance for Self-Directed Education in the current issue of Natural Mother Magazine!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Let's talk about education choice

Choice and opportunity mean different things to different people. I have been reading as much as possible about President-elect Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. It can be hard to wade through the emotions of political thought expressed in many of these articles to reach some understanding. I think it is a fear of change and innovation and the possibility of a new protoype for American education beyond our 164-year experiment with forced government schooling that drives much of the resistance.

In a recent Washington Post article, Columbia University professor, Aaron Pallas, lays out "worst-case scenarios" for education under DeVos. In one scenario, Pallas warns: 
"Money is siphoned from traditional public schools and towards a diverse array of unregulated for-profit and private providers... Almost overnight, the percentage of students enrolled in private schools triples from 10 percent to 30 percent, and the percentage enrolled in charter schools triples from 6 percent to 18 percent. 

Coupled with a steady state of 3 percent homeschooling, for the first time in American history, a majority of school-aged children are not enrolled in traditional public schools. States have no consistent mechanisms for holding private schools, charter schools, and homeschooling families accountable for student performance, and American achievement spirals downward."
There are many reasonable concerns about uprooting an established societal institution, especially when it continues to be taxpayer-funded. But what often gets lost in these myopic, fear-laden articles is what it actually means in real life. For example, the work that DeVos has done to expand charter schools in her home state of Michigan has been sharply criticized because some of the charters are loosely regulated and aren't showing standardized test results that outperform regular district schools. For true innovation and choice to occur within an American education system, low regulation and little oversight are preferred. We need incubators of inventive ideas that are not tied to government oversight and regulation; otherwise, we simply replicate the singular blueprint of government schooling in only marginally original ways. 

There are astoundingly successful and impressive schools and school-alternatives, like Waldorf and Montessori and Sudbury schools and self-directed learning centers, that are private, largely unregulated, and not tied to government curriculum directives and testing requirements. Many of these schools and centers are places where professors of education at elite universities send their own children. Yet, it seems, the fear of "privatization" and its potential impact on the archaic model of coercive government schooling outweighs the hypocrisy.

The concern about test scores, for instance, in some of the Detroit charter schools that DeVos has advocated is used as evidence that many charter schools don't have better outcomes than conventional schools. According to The New York Times: "One well-regarded study found that Detroit’s charter schools performed at about the same dismal level as its traditional public schools." Apparently, charter schools must be held to a higher standard than even their "dismal" conventional-school peers. But beyond that discrepancy, why are we using standardized test scores as the sole measure of education quality? Waldorf schools, for example, don't even begin formal reading instruction until children are 7 years old, more at the peak of the natural reading bell curve. Surely if standardized tests were used to measure 6 year old reading aptitude in Waldorf children, the results might not be comparable to a district school that begins systematic reading training much earlier, regardless of a child's readiness. 

Truly innovative education choices will not, and should not, try to mimic a failing government schooling legacy. They should not be teaching to tests or cajoling their students to regurgitate arbitrary information in a standardized way. Truly innovative education innovates. It takes a broader, more unconventional view of learning and knowing and success and achievement. 

What about poor kids, though? After all, they are the ones most likely to be impacted by possible government vouchers through federal programs. (The federal government contributes less than 10 percent of the overall $620 billion a year K-12 government schooling price-tag, much of it toward Title 1 programs for low-income youth.) What about them? We don't want them in failing, unregulated schools, right? This argument always irks me, especially when I hear it from parents who send their own children to largely unregulated, innovative private schools or choose to homeschool/unschool them. Why do we think that innovative private or quasi-public schools would fail poor children? Is it the standardized test scores that we often reject as artificial and unnecessary for our own children? 

Or do we instead worry that offering choice and opportunity and innovation through voucher programs or charters or other vehicles of education choice leave behind too many other poor or disadvantaged children in failing conventional schools? I have a hard time following that logic because it seems to advocate retaining a coercive, inferior government schooling structure just so everyone has equal exposure to it. (Except, of course, for the parents of the 4.5 million children who are already able to opt-out of government schooling for private schools, along with the 1.8 million homeschoolers.) 

One criticism about the privatization of government schooling with which I agree is the inherent conflict when schooling is compulsory. Most parents must send their children to a government-approved school under a legal threat of force. This limits innovation and choice and opportunity in a whole host of ways, and is another reason I advocate for eliminating these archaic, 19th-century compulsory schooling statutes. Only then can we truly separate schooling from education.

There are many valid arguments to be made in challenging a transformation of any long-held, societal institution. But fear of education innovation and choice and opportunity should not be at the top of the list.