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The Great Educational Awakening is Here
Are you in?
On May 22nd, 2023, the Governor of North Carolina (my state) issued an unprecendented State of Emergency for Public Education in response to Senate Bill 406, “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future”.
I learned about it on Twitter and gave it a listen.
Over the next five minutes, the Governor made claims, predictions, and accusations about public education.
As a former N.C. educator, politically homeless, and as someone who has been paying attention to the state of public education for close to three decades, his speech was frustrating at best and propagandistic at worst.
In response to the bill, he used words like “atomic bomb” and “choke the life out of public education”. Keep in mind he’s referring to the expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, which started 10 years ago and which largely impact and support low income families, not “millionaires” as he claimed.
A writer for EdNC shares:
“Students will be awarded scholarships based on their free-and-reduced lunch status, Lee said. After prior recipients are awarded, at least 50% of the remaining funds must go to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, the bill says.”
Will this expansion be open to all, including millionaires? Yes. However, do we reallly think millionaires are sitting around waiting on the government to give them roughly $4000 of taxpayer money to send their kids to private school?
Come on, now.
As I said, he makes a lot of claims in his speech. I suggest you listen for yourself. If anything it could be great practice for reading between the lines, or in this case, revealing what’s true between inflammatory words.
The merits of his speech aside, I think it signals desperation. Public schools are in big trouble and he knows it. This is not news. We have all witnessed the mounting problems, but now serious momentum for school choice is picking up across the country.
(And keep in mind, I’m no fan girl for school choice in that I’m uncomfortable with the government taking our money to redistribute as they see fit. The gross mishandling of funds and wasteful spending are well documented across ALL sectors.)
However, the system being as it is, I’d rather parents and children have a say so in where they go to school instead of being forced into failing or unsafe schools because of their zip code.
The big question for me is, “Why are politicians so afraid to give parents a choice?”
Public School Exodus
The pandemic opened a lot of people’s eyes. For the first time in history, virtual schooling created an opportunity for parents to see what was being taught and how students were treated day in and day out. This caused parents to question the schooling status quo. Thomas S. Dee, a Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, writes:
In just the first full school year after the onset of the pandemic, national K-12 public school enrollment fell by 1.1 million students, an unprecedented decline of over 2 percent. Roughly a third was in kindergarten alone, where enrollment fell by over 400,000 students. This historic exodus varied considerably across states as well as by grade.
Kerry McDonald, author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside of the Conventional Classroom writes a column at fee.org. She has this to say about the microschool movement:
While the education disruption beginning in 2020 catalyzed interest in alternative learning models such as microschooling and homeschooling, the momentum is hardly waning.
In 2017, before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic, she was writing about the public school exodus:
Parents are fed up. As mass schooling becomes more restrictive, more standardized and more far-reaching into a child’s young life, many parents are choosing alternatives. Increasingly, these parents are reclaiming their child’s education and are refocusing learning around children, family, and community in several different ways.
And most recently, in her article entitled, Gallup Poll Reveals Americans’ Plummeting Confidence in Public Schools, Kerry shared:
Americans have soured on public schools. That’s the takeaway from Gallup polling results released earlier this month showing that Americans’ confidence in public schools is at a low point, with only 26 percent of respondents indicating a “Great deal/Fair amount" of confidence in that institution.
Another, albeit small, indicator of the movement away from conventional school is the hashtag “unschooling” on Instagram. When I first started sharing on Instagram, it was barely existent. Now, close to a million posts are associated with #unschooling. Obviously, this is only one social media platform, but if social media has taught us anything it is that social trends, for better or for worse, are revealed through what people post, share, and research.
Teachers are leaving, too
The exodus isn’t specific to students, teachers are leaving, too. How bad are teacher shortages? According to this article in Forbes, bad:
While the United States has experienced recurrent shortages for decades, the pandemic has turned a periodic blaze into a five-alarm fire.
…a RAND Corporation study found that nearly all school districts changed operations in one or more of their schools during the 2021–22 school year because of teacher shortages—including combining classes, cancelling courses, and asking teachers to take on additional duties.
Various reasons contribute to the perfect storm of teacher shortages: burnout, early retirement, and a decrease in the pool of newly degreed teachers. As a former teacher in public school myself, the burnout issue is real. Lack of support, overcrowding, poor communication, and long hours are just some of the issues I saw or experienced and that was over two decades ago. The stories I hear from current teachers indicate worsening conditions. Hopefully, the rise in awareness, more community involvement, and the free market will help us change course.
The Power of the Free Market
To me, the indicators are clear. The Great Educational Awakening is here. We are in the beginning stages of a shift in how education is viewed in this country. Parents are stepping up and stepping in. Teachers are pivoting and taking their training and skills outside of the conventional schooling model. Everywhere you turn there are alternative learning spaces popping up.
Homeschooling has been on a steady rise. According to one report there has been a 10% increase since 2016. Even working families are opting out of traditional school in favor of piecing together a mixture of activities and classes to support their children’s education and care. The days of claiming homeschooling is only for “the wealthy”, “the religious” or “one working parent” are waning. Thanks to technology, budding community support, and parents willing to think outside the box, children are experiencing childhoods outside of school walls. This does not mean they are receiving less education, though. If anything, this movement is elevating a customized education over the standard schooling one. Every child who homeschools can receive an IEP (Individualized Education Program), not just children diagnosed with a disability. Actually, kids with special needs have the potential to be more supported with less paperwork and red tape. Alternative education allows for flexibility, one-to-one support, customized learning, and a customized environment.
Instead of trying to bend children to meet the inflexible schooling system, homeschooling can bend to meet the child.
We, the people, actually do have the power to effect change. We can feel frustrated and let down by elected officials AND we can do something about it. There’s no need to wait for governmental programs, handouts, or permission. Change in our systems is historically slow and clunky. My advice? Build something you and your family love and invite others. I can promise you, you will not be alone.
Hello! Thank you for reading my Substack. The beautiful 43-page downloadable e-book I have co-written with Ann Hansen of Inner Parent Coaching is out now. If you are new to homeschooling/unschooling, are unschooling curious, or are looking for a way to explain unschooling and self-directed education to a family member, spouse, or friend, we have written this book for you! Grab a copy here or share with a friend who could use some assurance and a confidence boost.