Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Second Look into Cooperative Education

I've been avoiding thinking about cooperative education.

After my first day of basking in the glow of its concept, I spoke with my husband about it--my realistic, down-to-earth husband. I don't even remember what he said, but after that, my glow had burned down to a low fizzle. Teacher Tom, after receiving many comments from others also realizing that this type of education had been staring them in the face all this time as well, began a week long special all about coops. I read them along with everyone else, but could no longer get excited. It wasn't until the last day when I was finally able to (almost) put my thoughts into words. Tom asked if there were still questions to be answered and I finally choked this out,

I love the community that evolves from a cooperative school, but I'm concerned about teaching students that don't already have parents that are that engaged in their children's learning and future. How could I create a cooperative-like atmosphere when a full-fledged cooperative school isn't appropriate? I'll do my best to engage parents at whatever school I'm at, but what about parents that can't come into class to help? Or parents that can't pay the tuition for a cooperative school (I know yours is cheap, but I expect getting costs low is a difficult task that not everyone has the skills to do).

I guess what I'm trying to ask is, how do I get my low-income students into the wonderful atmosphere a cooperative school creates?

Someone else must have asked the same question. In his next post, he referenced the question and someone else's name. (Which is good because I just realized when I went to find my comment that I placed it on the wrong post. So there's a possibility he didn't even see it.) His full response can be found here, as it's too long to quote in its entirety, but the most important part of the answer was,

I'm only half joking when I suggest that instead of putting money into things like high stakes testing, new buildings and text books, or getting teachers competing against one another for bonuses, we might want to consider paying these poor parents to get involved with their kid's school. That's what the research seems to indicate will make the most difference.

(He goes on in an elaborated follow up post here.)

You know, one of the reasons I got into education was to make a difference in the world. The biggest difference. The greatest impact. The students whose parents love them enough to send them to an alternative preschool and go into the classroom to work once a week? They're already guaranteed to get a great education whether I'm involved with them or not. The kids that concern me live with their single parent who works three jobs and is too tired when she comes home to cook anything more than macaroni or read a bedtime story. Those are the ones that need me the most.

So to my question, "How can I make cooperative education work for students in low socioeconomic standing?" I'm pretty sure the answer is, "You can't."

And that's why I've been avoiding thinking about it.

It's a wonderful model, especially for today's world of parents who are choosing to stay home with their young children, homeschooling them, providing them local and organic diets, and keeping them away from anything plastic or corporate-made. Not that there's anything wrong with this type of parenting--honestly, it's how I see myself parenting when the time comes--but it's a luxury choice that the middle-class have. It's simply not an option for a lot of families in the United States at this time.

It's a wonderful model, but I no longer see myself getting involved in it. I'm thrilled to hear that it exists, and I loved learning about it. I wish everyone involved in cooperative education the most sincere best of luck.

Now, like Tom suggested, if we could only rearrange some government spending to pay the parents of those inner city children to come into the classroom instead of picking up an extra job...

To learn more about cooperative education, read Teacher Tom's Cooperative Nuts and Bolts series:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5

Also of interest is Montessori Candy, a blog about a cooperative Catholic Montessori preschool. Here is a list of their posts with the Coop tag.

Just a note, October is Coop month.