Sunday, April 29, 2012

Summer and Educational Freedom

This week's column.

HARBESON: Those uncontrollable summer goose bumps

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — This time of year I always experience honkin’ goose bumps — the kind that comes from anticipation. This happens as summer draws near because I know the compulsion and forced association inherent in government schooling will soon disappear.

Sure, it’s a temporary reprieve, but it’s still exciting to watch even a short-lived shift toward a more healthy society — summer is the one time of year kids are not treated like prisoners.

I love to watch what happens in the summer when all families of kids who fall under compulsory attendance laws regain temporary control over their lives and are free to make choices about where their kids spend their days. This freedom creates a situation where people in the community interact with each other on a voluntary basis and work together to meet various needs that may arise when compulsory schooling is temporarily absent.

In the summer, many families look for places where they can send their kids during the day, or for a week or more at a time, and in response to that demand, individuals, organizations and businesses offer options for those families. People in the community see the market demand that exists in the summer and they work to fill the demand.

In this atmosphere, families and especially kids, are treated differently. They become customers who are respected by the people who have activities to offer. Those who want to help families by offering various options will work hard to create opportunities that are inviting and enticing because the relationships are voluntary, not coercive.

Organizations and businesses offer a huge variety of programs and options in the summer. The offerings cater to the kids because there is no need to focus on meeting government-imposed requirements. There are day-camps, overnight camps, classes, special interest clubs, etc. As a matter of fact, so many options are available that collecting and organizing them has become one of the services offered to help families. Magazines and newspapers even build entire issues around summer activities for kids.

I get goose bumps looking over what is offered in the summer to families who are temporarily freed from compulsory attendance laws because the summer season proves what educational freedom can look like. It’s easy to see how educational options can exist without the stringent government compulsion and control we see the rest of the year.

These camps, activities and classes exist even though no one is compelled in any way. They are set up with the family, not government, in mind. During the summer, people are focused on making connections with each other and not on meeting government requirements, and families enthusiastically share options they have found to be valuable.

No matter what the focus might be of a summer activity, if the kid is enjoying himself, learning becomes simply a natural part of the experience. In addition, many of these options create opportunities for older kids, whether they are volunteers or employees, giving them lots of valuable experience.

The summer focus on children as individuals seems to keep people from fighting as much with each other over school board antics, teacher union contracts, state funding formulas and other conflicts that arise naturally from government control of education.

If you haven’t really thought about how society literally changes in the summer, why not put yourself in observation mode this year? See if you can notice the change that happens when the government-imposed compulsory attendance schedule ends. Observe how kids are treated by organizations that don’t compel attendance in the summer and compare that to how kids are treated by the government school system that compels not only attendance but funding too.

Maybe you will see what I see — that when the entire premise of helping kids learn changes from being government enforced to family controlled, people have no problem cooperating and interacting with each other and the community becomes loaded with a wide variety of offerings based on interests — which leads to learning that sticks.

Will there ever be a day when this kind of respectful and voluntary interaction between families and those offering educational resources happens all year long? Who knows, but I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson inadvertently disturbs the peace this time of year due to her honkin’ goose bumps. Write her at

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