As we start up Session 3, it’s been remarkable to look back and see how far we’ve come in such a short time. What started with a “spark” of an idea last July (and just seven students) has grown to more than twenty part and full-time students, and a community that feels connected, relaxed, and empowered. For some it’s been an easy transition. Most of our parents, students, and teachers were ready to get off the treadmill and reconnect to an education that felt more personal and flexible. For others, taking the reins in their child’s learning took getting used to (and it was kind of scary). After all, so much of the information we adults were raised with points to one way, the right way, the only way. And, if dreams of a particular college education come with a litany of service projects, grades, and courses which must be covered before one can apply, then the path does have one way. Or so it sometimes seems.
I’ve learned through some pretty tough lessons that sometimes the best path for each of us is one we hadn’t ever thought of, and probably because we hadn’t seen it done before. However, once the mind is awakened to new possibilities, things begin to fall into place, somewhat effortlessly. The challenge remains in getting others to see what you can see. Sharing a vision requires that others are ready to accept a new path, and they must have trust in the process of discovery (and in the person or people who can see the road ahead with clarity).
A parent from One Spark Academy, one who is new to homeschooling this year and whose family has found incredible joy in our inclusive community, shared this quote by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:
All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self evident.
We both agreed that OSA seeps in over time. We are offering something that is out of the box, that which is calling into question the regulatory behemoth that has been public education for too many families. Her family was able to make the leap much more easily than some because she knew us, and trusted us. For families who don’t know us, the proposition that it can be so easy to get what you pay for and what you are promised in education is just daunting. They think, “What’s the catch?” And here’s the catch: there is none. We as OSA educators have empowered ourselves to say: “Here’s what we are providing. Here’s what we can do.” And then parents can make empowered choices.
As the founder of One Spark Academy, it is my goal to ensure we deliver on what we promise. If we can’t, then we will change what we are promising, and will communicate that change to families. We surely can’t do everything, but it’s abundantly clear that what parents and students appreciate so much about what we do is that in every step, in every day, we have clear goals in mind: to do good things, to be kind, to provide a safe haven for students, to educate our students well, to look forward, and to speak the truth.
I’ve learned that this openness can throw people off. Our simplicity threatens the tightly-bound regulation of educational institutions. As someone who lived with the paperwork overflow for years, constantly racing to find a place to slow down, and who questioned many things I was doing and whether or not they were good for kids, the clouds have lifted. Certainly One Spark Academy is not the only way. I’m a firm believer that there are still many wonderful paths and pockets in the educational system: public, private, and at home.
But, you’ve probably experienced the dilemma of knowing something doesn’t feel right, but not knowing a way not to do it. A couple of weeks ago, the Conejo Schools Foundation and the Open Classroom Leadership Magnet hosted a talk by Alfie Kohn. Alfie Kohn, an author of many well-known books about progressive education, basically told the audience that we (as a nation of educators and the parents who support the system) are doing it all wrong. Testing, homework, competition, a focus on achievement, busy work to the hilt… all are systems that adults seem to value but which push children to forget their childhoods and forget what it means to find their passions. When fifth graders are worrying about college, he sees a problem. And, so do I. What stood out about the night was that it was evident that many of the teachers and parents in the room agreed with what Mr. Kohn was saying, or at least some of it. But, I’ll have to bet that every one of those people walked out of that room thinking, “Bold ideas. But how can I do that? I can’t stop testing. I can’t stop doing x, y, z, a,b,c…” And unless you want to leave the system like I did, a move that is not feasible for most people, they are right.
At One Spark Academy, we’ve had the chance to start small, and keep it simple. By eliminating many of the obstacles that educational regulation and policy have created, we instead have simplicity and personal attention. Just good teachers who love kids, who do an outstanding job to educate them in a safe and healthy environment, who operate with complete honesty with families, and who (and this is the crazy part) are rested enough to come to work each day with a smile and our creative spirits intact.