Amherst Life Blog

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bridging the Gap -- Issues in Private/Public Education

“Alternicize” Mainstream Education
by Shelley Etkin

There are varying opinions in today’s society about what the purpose of education is. Personally, I have many qualms with the institution of mainstream education as it is set up currently. I feel many schools present information in a narrow way that caters to only a certain type of thinker and learner, known as someone who functions in terms of mathematical and linguistic intelligence. Schools that are well off are obsessed with figuring out their statistical “level” by standardized tests and comparing themselves with one another. However, schools that receive poor funding are dealing with a myriad of issues within their institution as well as among the student body that prevent them from creating a scholarly culture.

In the Pioneer Valley area there are many alternative education initiatives. One example is the Montessori schools (named after an innovator in the field of education) in Amherst and Northampton. These schools strive to foster an environment of respect and creativity, in which each student develops on their own path and at their own speed, but still develop a love for learning. Children gain a sense of engagement in community and empowerment, learning from one another as well as the teachers in a hands-on, active way. Likewise, there is the Common School in Amherst whose philosophy is to “foster intellectual competence and strength of character within a setting that nurtures each child’s curiosity, identity, sense of self-worth, and respect for others.” The school has connections with environmental centers in the area and thus the kids inspired “with a sense of belonging to human culture and history, and instills in each child the confidence that comes from discovering, making and doing things for themselves.”

While such initiatives are valuable, we are still faced with issues of socio-economic class in terms of who has the desire to and is able to attend such schools. While I fully support the growth of these schools, and others like them, I feel we need to instill alternative methods and philosophies within our public school system. Additionally, the private schools should not slip under the radar as they currently are, catering to certain (often socio-economic) groups and learning/teaching styles. This means spreading resources so that all schools can have better access and smaller, more engaged classrooms. This means installing mentoring programs (on the small scale) and more accurately distributed funding (on the legislative scale) that helps foster an intellectual, communally driven environment in public schools.

Alternative methods can make kids feel engaged and an important part of a community. They can be empowered by a community that values them and their scholarly desires. This is what we should be focusing on in education reform if we wish to see institutional change and progress. We can make “alternicizing” education the civil rights movement of this generation and I am confident we will see the benefits on an individual, as well as institutional, level.

Shelley Etkin is a student in the Honors College at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. We look forward to reading more of her ideas on "alternicizing" education, and will field any comments/questions to her (please click on the "comments" link below -- you do not need an account to grace us with your reactions, ideas, etc.)


  • At 12:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    It is refreshing and rewarding to realize that a young intellectual woman recognizes the true value of education at times when/where education has turned to be business, and students customers/consumers.

    Yishar Ko'ach! (well done!)

  • At 2:03 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    This is an excellent editorial. Thanks for sharing it with our community.

  • At 5:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Could the writer perhaps talk about alternative programs in public schools? We would love to hear more about them, even if they are not in the area. We need models for our public schools: providing that information is a big help. Thanks for the post!


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