Tag Archives: alternative education

Let’s Have a Real Discussion about Education Policy

Back in August President Obama gave a speech about education policy at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas. Here’s a snippet posted in a blog piece

Education should not be a Democratic or a Republican issue. It’s an American issue. It’s about what’s best for our kids. And I haven’t just talked the talk, I’ve walked the walk on this. Over the past four years, we’ve broken through the traditional stalemate that used to exist between the left and the right, between conservatives and liberals. We launched a national competition to improve all our schools. We put more money into it, but we also demanded reform. We want teachers to be paid better and treated like the professionals that they are. But we’re also demanding more accountability, including the ability of school districts to replace teachers that aren’t cutting it.

If you unpack this paragraph from his speech there is so much context underneath that bears further discussion and much of which I find particularly frustrating.

First of all, why shouldn’t education be a political issue? Isn’t the whole point of having a democracy to use it to bring a range of thinking to the table and continually find an ever-evolving consensus (or at least a working majority) to evolve our society and its institutions? What if he said, “Economic policy should not be a political issue, it’s about what’s best for the country”, would people accept that as well? Taking this argument to its logical end point, why have a political process at all?

Continue reading →

A Blue-Collar Girl in a White-Collar World

I am republishing this piece written by my daughter Emma and originally published on Daily KOS (click here to see on Daily KOS). Also some extensive replies Emma made to some comments she got…

I am (and to some extent, have always been) a writer, but my desire to become a novelist did not emerge until after I’d made the choice to drop out of high school and become an “autodidact” (someone who is self-taught — see My Experience With Unschooling). All I knew then was that being in a traditional school setting made me terribly unhappy (for reasons that could fill a separate blog piece) and that I’d always had a knack for creative writing. I had no idea what was in store for me, venturing out into the wilderness, leaving everything I was expected to believe about school behind.

Continue reading →

My Real Issue is Human Development

Human DevelopmentI write from the point of view of a parent, a “lefty parent” as I call myself, which is intended to have a double meaning of sorts. I grew up in the context and values of a liberal Midwestern university town (Ann Arbor MI), but also being left-handed, I tend to think outside the box of a mostly right-handed world, including the liberal or progressive “left” conventional wisdom of that world. My mom and dad were more left-libertarians than actual liberals and I have come to find that I share that subtle but significantly different orientation.

I really feel more like an ex-parent now, because our kids are grown up (now 22 and 25) and they have been basically running their own lives (for at least the past four years) since they learned to drive and figured out how to make their own living. That said we are still a close family, and their mom and I love seeing them whenever they are available and sharing our now mostly separate lives. We are proud of them and they reciprocate by acknowledging the positive role we have played in their lives, but otherwise the relationships between us look more like peers (though from different generations) than mentors and mentored.

Today at age 56, I have now had a full quarter century of both the perspective of growing up while being parented, and the flip side of being a parent myself (maybe now more ex-parent) and watching our two kids through their own growing up process. And you can squeeze about eight years in the middle there when I was a young adult pretty much on my own, neither parented or parent. All three periods have had their ups and downs, successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies, the whole range. But all in all, things have worked out for the better and I count my blessings (including my own health and my partner’s, plus our two kids surviving their youth and now fully functional as adults).

All that life experience, combined with a midlife crisis of sorts, inspired me to start writing this blog, and as of November 25 it will be three years since I posted my first piece, “Welcome to Lefty Parent”. Looking at the over 300 pieces I’ve written and posted since then, though many of them are about education and schooling, there are really two other more fundamental topics that are of the most interest to me. The first is human development in all its aspects. The second is what I have come to see as a key part of that development, which is the historical transition of human society, at least in the most recent 5000 years of history, from hierarchies of control to circles of equals.

Continue reading →

Day 4 – The AERO Education Conference in Portland

The last day of the conference, with just a short morning session. I did not attend any of the workshops but was there for the final keynote by Linda Stout and her closing call out to the youth at the conference to have their moment to speak.

Linda told her story of being the daughter of poor white agricultural workers in North Carolina, and how she managed somehow to get an education and go on to become a grassroots organizer. An organizer who built and led an organization that brought people together across racial, gender and class lines to help over 40,000 people overcome the obstacles of racist Jim Crow laws and vote for the first time.

Linda is a Baby Boomer like me, representing a generation that fought the battles for civil rights, women’s rights, and for peace instead of war. From that experience, her wisdom is that a movement for educational change needs a full spectrum of efforts on at least four fronts. First, activism for profound structural change in the U.S. education system. Second, “reform” efforts by people working within that system to try to hold the line and support individuals as much as possible until structural change can happen. Third, providing educational alternatives to conventional public schools to demonstrate new models that public schools can adopt. Fourth, setting in motion a shift in consciousness and intention, some would say the spiritual aspect of change.

Continue reading →

Day 2 – The AERO Education Conference in Portland

Once again experimenting with this thing of blogging each day from an event. Not terribly satisfied with yesterday’s quickly written piece… but on with the experiment!

As I said yesterday, this my third AERO conference, my strategy has evolved to focusing on connecting with people, not so much in attending workshops for the content of those sessions. Today I continued to reconnect with (and introduce Sally to) people I had previously met, while also meeting and connecting with some new folks.

Continue reading →

Day 1 – The AERO Education Conference in Portland

I have never tried this thing of blogging each day from an event. My typical blog piece requires about four to twelve hours of work writing or at least staring at the computer thinking what to write. Tonight I figure I have about an hour to pound this out.

This my third AERO conference, my strategy has evolved to focusing on connecting with people, not so much in attending workshops for the content of those sessions. Reconnecting with people I already know, plus making new connections with a few people that I don’t already know that I can include in my circle. Also with Sally in attendance as well, I really wanted to introduce her to a handful of people that I have either met at previous conferences or interacted with through the phone or the Internet on various projects or discussions.

Continue reading →

Day 0 – On the Train to the AERO Education Conference

When it was announced that this year’s Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference was going to be in Portland OR, I decided I would go, and rather than fly to Portland, I would take the train up the coast. I had journeyed back east to previous AERO conferences in 2007 and 2008 in Albany NY, but had not been able to attend the past two years. And this go round, Sally decided she would come too.

So our train was three hours late arriving in Van Nuys where we boarded, but once we were on the train and soon headed up the central California coast, it was “all good” as they say. So we spent the night in our cozy little sleeping compartment overnight and are now in northern California approaching Mount Shasta. As a means of transportation, the train is not about just getting from point A to point B, but enjoying the journey.

Continue reading →


As a follow-up to my previous piece, “Unschooling Rather Than Highschooling”, I want to bring you up to date on my two kids’ unschooling sagas as they continue to choose to chart their own course as young adults. Neither Eric or Emma has chosen to go to college (though Emma has taken several community college and university extension classes). Instead, they have continued to launch their own projects, some successful and others significant failures, but all profound learning experiences moving them along their developmental paths.

It’s ironic that neither has chosen to enroll in higher education given the family pedigree. Their four grandparents all have college degrees, including one PhD. Their mom has two Masters, one in public health and a second in marriage and family therapy, while I have two Bachelors, one in speech and the other in computer science. Aunts and uncles are highly schooled as well. Certainly their parents and the entire extended family had the expectation when they were born that they would go to college. My partner Sally’s parents even starting significant college funds for them when they were born.

Trying and failing… some people say there is no better way to educate oneself. Yet we have a conventional education system for our youth built around externally orchestrated programming for success. Educators and savvy parents collude to prepare students for successful testing to get into the best possible college to guarantee the best possible chance for success on the job.

Both our kids have chosen not to go with that program. Here are some of the projects they’ve undertaken during what would conventionally be college years for many of their peers.

Continue reading →

The Internet and My Tale of Two Crises

The Internet is our most dynamic new societal institution, developing quickly over the past 25 years from “Web 1.0” (providing static web pages with existing content) to “Web 2.0” (providing interactive environments for building connections between people, facilitating other societal institutions, and the “marketplace of ideas”). I think this is a good example, a good metaphor, for the direction we are moving (and should continue to move) in our entire society and its institutions, from top-down dissemination and control, to a more egalitarian exchange between a circle of equals.

Continue reading →