Monday, September 24, 2018

Side-By-Side Education

A majority of the children I teach are with me for multiple years, many of them three, and some even longer if they are a younger sibling following the steps of an older. Few experiences give me greater joy than to say to a child, "I knew you when you were in your mama's belly," and every year there are at least a half dozen to whom I can say that.

This is the foundational principle of cooperative schools: families belong at the center of a child's education. We own the school collectively, we run the school collectively, and we work together in the classroom not as "volunteers," but as essential personnel. If human existence were a 12 hour clock, we were hunter-gatherers for 11 hours and 59 minutes, evolving to live together as a collection of families, working together, creating a community in which not just our children, but all of us, can thrive.

I was a cooperative parent, which is true of most, if not all, of the teachers in our "system" of some 40 schools that affiliate through North Seattle College. I am still friends with people I met when our own daughter was a preschooler, still connected even as our children are now young adults, spread out around the world. Nearly every time I'm out and about in north Seattle on my evenings and weekends, I run into former cooperative parents, people whose children are now in grade school, middle school, high school and college, they call out, "Hi, Teacher Tom," and we catch up the way old friends do. This is what stands at the center of our school: families.

Teachers in more traditional settings often ask me how I do it, concerned that all these "untrained" parents would tend to "get in the way" or "do things wrong," but I can honestly turn that around: I don't understand how they do it without the day-to-day help of the parents. I mean, what they lack in pedagogical skills, they more than make up for by being the world's leading expert on their own children. I don't have to guess about things going on at home. I don't have to wait to ask questions. The parents of the children I teach are my colleagues, right there with me through the highs and lows, side-by-side, helping me noodle things out, just as I help them. And, of course, nothing can replace the love that parents bring into the room with them, not just for their own child, but, as time passes, all the children of the community.

If you are interested in learning more about how cooperatives work, click here. If you want to find out about the North Seattle College cooperative preschools, click here. And for more information about our own Woodland Park Cooperative School (preschool and kindergarten), click here.

As cliched as it has become, it does take a village to raise a child and that is exactly how the cooperative model does it.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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