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Freedom of Education in Hard Times

by Tammy Drennan


It’s not real clear at this point where our economy is going or what the long-term repercussions of government meddling will be. One thing we do know is that people are tightening their belts, spending less, becoming more prudent with their money.


This is an important consideration for those of us promoting independent education. If people have less money to spend and are more reluctant to spend what they do have, how will private and home schooling choices be impacted? How will they be expanded?


Maybe now is a good time to point out that of all the things we spend money on, this is one area that offers the most potential for saving dollars without sacrificing liberty or excellence. As a matter of fact, we might even increase both.


Surely choosing and sticking with independence during rough times cements in our minds and characters a bent toward confidence in our ability to weather and rise above any storm. Refusing to fall back on government services for something so personal and basic as educating our children makes us stronger, less vulnerable citizens and human beings and adds significant credibility to the lessons we try to teach our children.


But can we do it on a shoestring without sacrificing excellence? One advantage to tough economic times is that people often become more honest about what things should cost and more creative in bringing costs down without compromising standards.


And since independence and creativity are the parents of excellence (ask Einstein and Edison, both of whom credited self-education and their creative capacities for their great successes), the potential for transcending our current limiting definitions of education is huge.


Obviously, the easiest form of education to economize on is homeschooling. Books and resources can be shared, reused and sold. Tutors can be shared. Parents can trade expertise during co-op classes or on their own. Relatives, friends, fellow church members can all contribute at far more economical prices than might be found in a private school or a learning center. Because homeschoolers tend to work together as small communities, all of these efforts can be expanded upon to increase the benefit and savings to everyone.


But what about private schools? What about churches hoping to embark on independent education ventures? The possibilities are endless. The power of parents should be employed. What can parents teach and help with? (This should always be done, but now is a better time for it than any.) What can be taught by retired parishioners? What can be taught by way of workshops rather than year-long courses? How can students be taught to educate themselves and become competent to tutor younger children? How can teachers collude to improve results while reducing their stress and work levels? How can churches and other groups partner? This is the time to break out of the mold, to think outside the box – way outside. What conventional thinking is holding your school or church back?


In the seventh grade, I attended a tiny Christian school – 60 students in K through 7. We had one teacher for sixth and seventh grades. Both intellectually and socially it was my most worthwhile year of school. Neither a lack of resources nor a shortage of teachers detracted from the level or variety of education offered. Besides all we learned, we put on plays, did art projects, had music, cooked and more.


Hardship is invigorating. It emboldens us to shed the status quo, to dig out of our ruts and our restrained thinking and sharpen our brains and our nerve. Necessity, it has often been said, is the mother of invention. Conversely, luxury is the mother of complacency.


There is no better time than now to choose liberty. Gather your colleagues, family and friends and ask yourselves: How can we do this without breaking the bank? How can we make it an experience that will benefit our children throughout their lives? How can we make it excellent in all ways?


Get specific. What concerns you? Science, math, advanced courses? Brainstorm. Gather good thinkers, daring individuals (and the timid ones), and chart every possibility. Solutions will emerge if you engage in the process, if every idea is fleshed out and examined, if you’re willing to go the distance. Is it supplies, regulations, salaries that concern you? Brainstorm! Don’t waste the gray matter between the ears of the people with whom you associate. Bring in everyone who has an idea – from the pastor to the parents to the janitor.


Let me close by sharing the story of James Tooley. Maybe you know of him. Mr. Tooley, while studying elite private education for the IMF,* stumbled on dozens upon dozens of private schools in India – started by regular people, paid for largely by very poor parents disgusted with public schools. Further investigation uncovered not dozens but hundreds of such schools, and not only in India but throughout Africa and China.**


If the poor parents of developing nations have the courage and the will to take back their children’s education from their governments, and if common citizens of those countries can find a way to serve these parents and children, what on earth could possibly be our excuse?


Why not start a brainstorming group this week? It can be as few as two people or as many as you like. Agree to examine every imaginable issue and obstacle and every imaginable solution, however outlandish. Bounce ideas off lots of people – that’s how you come up with more ideas and improvements. Bounce ideas around in your head as you work and play. Then start fine-tuning. See what you come up with. You’ll be surprised and excited, I assure you. From that point, you need only find the courage to act.


And please, share your ideas with us so we can add them to our collection and pass them along to the many others who are seeking ways to choose freedom.



*International Monetary Fund of The World Bank

**The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves. By James Tooley


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Updated March 26, 2010