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Learn, baby, Learn!: The Education Revolution in America

Stephen's at it again.  Now, he's cartwheeling through Colorado!
Stephen's at it again.  Now, he's cartwheeling through Colorado!
Hey, are you getting ready to read this dispatch? If you are, then I feel compelled to warn you that you are about to become a part of history. Drum roll, please. If you did not feel like you were a part of it before, then let me grant you a warm welcome to the history of alternative education in the US.

If you are not already familiar with the term, you should know that 'alternative education' is all about finding new and innovative ways to learn outside of the typical 8AM-3PM classroom. It's about spending 180 days of the year differently than being chained to a desk. It's about going out and experiencing the world, learning how to learn what you want to learn, and becoming self-empowered in the process.


Five reasons why Trekker Neda is da' bomb

The Odyssey and you, now, are part of the history of alternative education because with this website we have found a new way to look at history. We're learning about the voices in US history that have been paid little attention in traditional history classes and we use the Internet, not books, to do it. In that way, all of us get to take a virtual field trip around the United States to learn about this history first hand. It's just about the coolest thing in the world, which definitely makes it a top choice amongst alternative education fans.

It is no secret, but just in case you have not already figured it out, most of us here at the US Trek are borderline insane about alternative education. All of the trekkers have had some experience with alternative learning, whether it be rafting down a river, travelling outside of the US, or learning how to drum, and we all agree that our experiences going off the beaten path have changed our lives for the better. We learned new things about ourselves and the world around us, and we learned things that you just cannot get out of a book.

Check out the name of the plant next to Stephen in the Cultiva! garden
Check out the name of the plant next to Stephen in the Cultiva! garden
Neda and I just travelled to Boulder, Colorado to speak with some young people who are involved with alternative learning through a project called Cultiva! They work from one to twenty-five hours a week tending to Cultiva!'s 2-acre organic garden (organic means the garden is cultivated without the help of pesticides or manufactured fertilizers), donating their produce to the homeless, selling it at the local farmer's market, and starting off and maintaining other organic gardens throughout the Boulder area.

Neda and I met up with Cultiva!-ists, Chase and Gaby, at the Boulder Farmer's Market where they were selling organically grown tulips from their garden. We went to visit them because we wanted to hear why they decided to take time away from their typical school schedules to learn about agriculture and why they think alternative education is so cool.

"You learn how to work with other people. It teaches you business and marketing. It teaches you how to grow your own food," Chase told us. "It teaches me more, because I learn better by doing something than just reading about it."

Chase talks about the importance of learning by doing and working for the community with Cultiva!
Chase talks about the importance of learning by doing and working for the community with Cultiva!
Gaby said that she learns a lot from her alternative education with Cultiva! as well. She likes the one-on-one of working with people and on top of getting to spend a lot of time outdoors, she said "it's a good thing for me to do something for the community". Working with Cultiva!, in particular, "shows you don't have to have a lot of money to survive".

Chase and Gaby agree that getting involved with alternative education teaches them a lot more than if they were just sitting in a normal classroom. They learn and teach each other about sustainable agriculture and organic farming, they interact with the environment in a positive way, and they learn, little by little, that they have the ability to make the world a better place.

Chase takes a break from chatting with the US Trek to sell some tulips at the Boulder farmer's market
Chase takes a break from chatting with the US Trek to sell some tulips at the Boulder farmer's market
Chase and Gaby may not know it, but they (like you reading this dispatch) are prolonging the history of alternative education in the U.S. Parents and kids have always tried to find new and innovative ways to teach and learn, but alternative education as a movement did not really take off in the U.S. until the decades after 1850, when the Compulsory Education Act was passed. With that act, a formal education approved of by the government became mandatory in the US. Education standards and nationwide curricula were set.

That's Trekker Stephen with Cultiva!-ists, Chase, Ramona, and Gaby
That's Trekker Stephen with Cultiva!-ists, Chase, Ramona, and Gaby
You know those big standardized test you have to take every now and then? Well, you can blame the Compulsory Education Act for them. They did not appear in the US until much later, but they are definitely a part of the movement to standardize and nationalize education that began in 1850.

Since that point, alternative education has become critically important to parents and students who feel they should be in charge of their own education. The Free School Movement, in particular, started off the contemporary alternative education revolution in the US. It began in the 1960s when parents and students really became critical of traditional schools that seemed to focus less on the individual student than on the accomplishment of specific government-mandated skills. These parents and young people felt there was not enough creativity being nurtured and they felt traditional lessons were being presented in a way that forced students to find a right answer instead of looking at the shades of grey.

With the birth of the Free School Movement, new schools with new ideas about education started to pop up throughout the country as 'alternatives' to officially registered schools recognized by the US government. Those who were critical of traditional education began to develop schools that allowed young people to be democratic participants in their education. For the first time in a long time, students participated in the hiring of their own teachers. They developed their own curricula. They became self-empowered and learned how to learn.

Trekker Stephen hard at work
Trekker Stephen hard at work
Today, there seem to be a million and one types of alternative education opportunities from full-fledged alternative education schools to outdoor education projects like Cultiva! to homeschools. Ahh, yes...homeschools. Lest we forget, homeschools are particularly interesting to the history of alternative education because they did not become really popular in the U.S. again until the late 1980's and 1990's.

Families like the Harrells in Charlotte, North Carolina decided to forgo traditional education schools because they felt like they were being ignored in schools. If they were at home, they felt education would be more fun and efficient. And indeed it seems to be. Kate Harrell, said, "Blech!" when asked what she thought about going to public school. She later rethought that and along with her brother and sister, J.W. and Jesses, believes that she once thought she might want to go to traditional school, but now just wants to go for a day or so to see what it's like.

Whether you like it or not, you are about to finish reading this dispatch and are probably a lot more knowledgeable about alternative education in America than a lot of people. Maybe you are already involved in some type of off-the-beaten-path learning experience, but just in case you want to know more about how you can get involved, the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools can help. Their main objective is to help connect young people with alternative education opportunities and let all people know that there is an abundance of new and innovative ways to learn. There are some pretty fun people who work there and you can call them toll free at (888) 771-9171 to get some ideas!

You're done. Now go outside and do something different . Make yourself stronger and LEARN!!!


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Putting a cap on violence in our schools
Rebecca - Being a parent is a 24/7 job that never ends
Neda - Thinking of having a beer while pregnant? Think of your baby and think again!
Irene - Righting a national wrong as old as our school system
Rebecca - It isn't boot camp. It's teaching in America's schools