A colleague from our marketing department recently stopped me in the office to ask what exactly alternative education is, and I had to think for a second before answering. In a way, it’s easier to say what it isn’t: rigid rows of desks with equally rigid students regurgitating decontextualized facts verbatim. Like art, alt ed is largely in the eye of the beholder. You know it when you see it.
And as you’ll see when you read through the pages of this, Teacher Magazine’s alternative education issue, our definition seems to broaden with each new school—and unschool—we visit.
“Charting a Course” takes a visual look at a unique academic-vocational curriculum centered on farming the sea. “Teach Your Parents Well” explores an enterprising districtwide program to promote learning on the home front. And “Don’t Call it School” drops in on a “self-directed learning center” to see what kind of education kids get when they have to get it themselves.
Elsewhere in the magazine, you’ll find equally interesting alternatives to the same old usual, from in-class workouts to schools with sod roofs to a rather savage rebuke of homeschooling (page 14).
So what answer did I end up giving my colleague from marketing? The more I thought about the wide spectrum of alt ed programs represented in this issue, the shorter the explanation in my head became. All of them have the same goal—to improve the student. They just pursue it from different angles and different dimensions.
Finally, I settled on a definition that you teacher-leaders are likely already exemplifying: Alternative education is just education by extraordinary means. And that, not coincidentally, is what Teacher Magazine is all about.
—Scott J. Cech, Executive Editor
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2006 edition of Teacher