While homeschooling is most often associated with a conservative Christian upbringing, there are many valid reasons why a "liberal" parent might choose to educate his/her kids outside of the rigors and propaganda of the industrial "Prussian" model of education. (I learned about the whole Prussian thing from Shimon Waronker on my tour of PS770 The New American Academy; it's basically the thing that you and I think of when we think of "school" - one teacher per grade at the head of class, pupils staring forward, requiring permission to go to the bathroom, teachers working in isolation etc. Though I must say the way it's described by detractors makes it sound like pure 1984 brainwashing, while my experience with public school felt very inquisitive and fun, lots of breakout groups and experimentation. But it IS interesting to think of the modern system as all about delivering a fundamentally obedient adherence to structure, society and State.)
So last week on my way to work I stopped off at the Brooklyn Apple Academy on a gorgeous early Spring day and stepped into a private house on one of Lefferts Manor's most gorgeous tree-lined blocks. The school is being hosted by a local couple whose kid attends, and a financial arrangement is worked out to use their home as school. As I stepped inside I was greeted by the sound of gleeful playing, as the actual "structured" school day doesn't start til "tea" is served around 9:30. The first thing I noted was the colorful chalkboard that had all sorts of useful and organizational info on it, looking thusly:
A cursory look shows that the days are actually quite structured, despite their artiness, and that "work time" includes actual lesson plans, often involving visits to actual local spots of interest and people doing interesting things. An upcoming visit, for instance, is to the Sacred Vibes Apothecary, a sort of New Age healing center that mixes up all manner of herbal remedies and tinctures. So yeah, there are school options out there that will introduce your kid to things other than the "state-sponsored" Zoo, Museum and Aquarium. (Dominant Culture getting you down? Head on over to Sacred Vibes for an elixir called "Think Different, But Still Do It On An iPad.")
But all joking aside, this is very real education. If inquisition and discovery are the main methods by which we learn, there's no reason to assume knowledge comes only or even mainly from "school." Plus, learning in a super-small group in a non-traditional school building might appeal to parents uncomfortable with the usual trappings of elementary school. Noah and his partner Lizzi Mazal are clearly skilled and loving educators, and the vibe is chill but with enough thoughtfulness to assuage any fears of a hippy-commune free-for-all. (Though, a little hippy-commune-free-for-all now and then ain't so bad, at least if everyone bathes regularly.)
This coming Fall, the school starts teaching 5-days a week to a small group of 4 or 5 and it won't be just preschool anymore. (Fascist!) forms needs to be filed and strict guidelines followed. But organized "homeschooling" has plenty of precedent, and given the skill and sweetness of the teachers, I'm sure these kids will turn out great and free-thinking. One catch of course - it ain't free. The parents pool money to come up with supplies and various trip costs and the salaries of the teachers. I don't know a precise figure, but it's gotta be north of $10K, maybe quite a bit north. BUT, even good quality private schools can't match the teacher:student ratio.
All in all, it's worth checking out. For the DoE-phobic, this sort of school could be the perfect alternative.