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'When School's Not Working' explores alternatives to traditional education

Dustin and Crystal Harman share the alternatives they
Dustin and Crystal Harman share the alternatives they've explored to traditional education during the first 'When School's Not Working' meeting on Oct. 15.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — Marysville mom Crystal Harman was tired of fighting with her teenage son Dustin about his education, so when she read an article that Jim Strickland had written about the unorthodox educational journey of his own teenage son Sam, she knew she had to contact the Marysville dad.

Strickland teaches the Life Skills class at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, and although he'd written "A Week in the Life of an Unschooled Teen" for Life Learning Magazine four years earlier, he saw in Harman's story a broader unmet need that he could help to address.

From there, Strickland coordinated with Harman and Ken White, of the Education Department at Everett Community College, to organize a program entitled "When School's Not Working: Deschooling Our Lives to Get the Education We Need," on Tuesday, Oct. 15, in Strickland's regular meeting room at the Alfy's Pizza on State Avenue.

"In our first session, we were able to help a small group of parents and teens connect with each other, listen to each other's stories and have an opportunity to make their voices heard," said Strickland, who explained that the get-together was intended to facilitate the sharing of ideas and resources that each family had found helpful in their own search for a workable educational path. "I was impressed by how thoughtful, bright and articulate the teens were. Obviously, their trouble with traditional schooling had nothing to do with limited intelligence."

While Strickland acknowledged that the group's next step remains uncertain, he believes that it could be significantly helpful simply to get the word out, to other frustrated students and their parents, that they're not alone in the challenges that they face.

"As a teacher myself, I do all that I can to make school work for as many students as it can, but I know that no program works for everyone out there," Strickland said. "We can ignore this reality, and continue to blame students, teachers and parents, or we can reach out to these individuals, and help them find a way that works for them. Today's struggling teens can't afford to wait on the glacial pace of educational reform. We have to find solutions right now, while they can actually benefit from them. This is going to take creative thinking, broad community collaboration and a willingness to embrace non-traditional paths, without getting defensive or feeling threatened."

Prior to the "When School's Not Working" meeting on Oct. 15, Harman had already taken some steps with her son that yielded shifts in his outlook and learning, which started with her giving Dustin a copy of "The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education."

"Our first session [on Oct. 15] was a great opportunity to meet firsthand with other people for whom school doesn't or didn't work," said Harman, who would welcome even more attendees at any possible future meetings. "My son really enjoyed being there and hearing the stories of other teens and parents. He doesn't feel like such an oddball, or so alone in his feelings anymore. I think there are many other kids like him out there."

Harman agreed with Strickland, that spreading the word about alternatives to the traditional K-12 school system should be a priority.

"School works fine for many kids, but certainly not all of them," Harman said.

Contact Strickland by phone at 425-870-1631 or via email at livedemocracy@hotmail.com to get involved or to learn more.

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