“So why does a guy who seemingly did ok in the academic world think there should be more alternative routes through high school? That’s simple: to give a voice to the millions who in the rear view mirror were marginalized and to advocate for the millions ahead who will benefit by an opening of paths that hold academic integrity and which meet the realities of today.” – John M. McLaughlin in The Appeal of Alternative Education.
In other words, education should provide a preparation for life for all children, not just those in the traditional public schools. This is why we must transform our public education system.
ACTE program chair, Don Nielsen, summarizes the broad objectives of education in his recommended mission statement for a school: “To serve as the primary partner, with parents, in the total development of their child into a responsible citizen.” Children must learn to deal with the realities of the world in which we live, and schools are coming up short.
In order to transform our public education system, many constraints on the system have to be eliminated. As Nielsen asserts “We must get the right people into the teaching profession and qualified leaders leading the system before any meaningful and sustainable change is likely to occur at either the school or district level.” That would mean starting with certification laws, increasing qualifications for those entering the profession, and developing leadership training for principals and superintendents. Nielsen continues, “then we must make changes in the governance model of our districts.” In a sense, when you break down these barriers, you are creating the alternative.
Once these issues are addressed, we can approach the time constraint. As McLaughlin says, “[alternative education] recognized that high school does not have to be tied to a place and a time—just like real life. It recognized that learning was the most important thing, not time warming a tablet-armed desk.” He ironically notes that “in this world of fingertip access to almost anything, we ask high school students to sit within a building for seven and a half hours for 180 days and call it a year of school. How antiquated. How ridiculous.”
So what if schools operated on the novel concept McLaughlin offers: “You do you and we’ll find a way to get you the schooling you need to move ahead in life”? For instance, McLaughlin argues, “Maybe a Monday, Wednesday, Friday morning schedule gets the job done or maybe it’s Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, or maybe it’s Saturdays. Alternative school recognizes that the needs of the student might require accommodations[.]”
In addition to alternative methods, schools need to teach more broadly—they must promote total development. Total development means the child is taught values, learns right from wrong, acquires self-confidence, and can get along with others. The child also develops a good work ethic, in addition to knowing math, science, English, reading, writing, and other subjects.
Total development produces a responsible citizen. Nielsen contends that the goal is that “the child, upon graduation, is able to take care of himself or herself and will not become a burden to society. It means the child will enter adulthood capable of making a living or capable of continuing his or her formal education. It means that he or she recognizes personal ownership of behavior, self-management, and creating success.”
McLaughlin notes the urgency of these reforms: “The sooner we see that a lot more high school education should be alternative education, the faster we grasp the future.”