Archived Story

Author advocates alternative ed

Published 12:00am Thursday, June 22, 2006

Barnhouse, a former educator herself, advanced those ideas as solutions to what she sees as the problems of public schools in her new book, &8220;It Takes a Whole Damn Village.&8221; She will present her findings June 30 at the Alternative Education Resources Organization annual conference in Troy, N.Y. In her book, Barnhouse makes the claim that the proverb she references, &8220;It takes a village to raise a child,&8221; rings true with respect to education. &8220;The implication is children need to be exposed to a lot of adults, not just segregated into classrooms,&8221; she said. &8220;I have come up with a way to do that without really threatening public schools.&8221; To do that, Barnhouse would eliminate school buildings, classrooms and classes altogether. Teachers, called &8220;pathfinders,&8221; would be kept on staff, but teach one-on-one with 24 students, each only for an hour per week, in a place such as the child&8217;s home. For the rest of the week, students would be &8220;wanderers,&8221; going in and out of businesses, government buildings and wherever they wanted to go, to learn about the economy. They would be accompanied by a &8220;tracker&8221; &8212; another person, like a family member, who chaperones the child. And, because the district budget wouldn&8217;t be hampered by normal building costs, each child would be provided with a laptop computer to record everything they explore and learn about. Barnhouse admits her theories have raised eyebrows. &8220;I kind of get blank stares when I bring this up as a topic,&8221; she said. &8220;Until I get to say it all, nobody knows what I&8217;m talking about.&8221; But she believes it&8217;s a better solution than continuing with the U.S.&8217;s current public school system, and far more practical than expecting all parents to homeschool their children or send them to private schools. &8220;For the most part, Minnesota is blessed to have the schools we have,&8221; Barnhouse said. &8220;But for the rest of the country, public schools are just disintegrating and I think it&8217;s because we have to do something different.&8221; Barnhouse credits many that have come before her, like John Taylor Gatto, John Holt and Pat Farenga, with advancing the freeschool movement. And the theory has already been at work at Summerhill, a non-compulsory school in England, since the 1920s. For those used to the discipline and structure of the schools they grew up in, it&8217;s not an easy sell. But Barnhouse said it&8217;s those very schools that are the problem, as they were designed to train children to grow up to work in the factories, and not to be curious about their world. &8220;My message is that school is a very unnatural place for children … they are dumbed down by the public school system,&8221; she said. &8220;(People) think I don&8217;t think the teachers know what they&8217;re doing. I don&8217;t think that. I just say, &8216;Let&8217;s do this instead.&8217;&8221; The book: &8220;It Takes a Whole Damn Village&8221; by Sandra Barnhouse. Synopsis: A critique of the public school system in the United States. Barnhouse suggests children should be given more freedom and less structure, and the entire community should get involved in raising them. Publisher: Authorhouse, Jan. 2006; 211 pages.

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