Charter schools offer chance for better education

By David Lyman

I was pleased to read Richard Anderson's essay on charter schools in in the Dec. 1 (page B5) edition of the Herald Gazette. I, too, am concerned about how we teach, or do not teach, our children, even how we teach ourselves as adults. I have a son in fourth grade and daughter in sixth grade. Any doubt of my concern? Education has been my career for the past 40 years, so I write this from a perspective of not only personal concern but from professional experience.

My wife and I elected to home-school our two children this last year while living aboard our sailboat and exploring the the Caribbean islands. It was not only cheaper to live on the boat than ashore, it was a great deal more enlightening and meaningful for us all, adults and kids.

Our children had been in an alternative school program prior to our departure, and are now in public school; we are now aware of these options. The children who have been home-schooled, and whom I have interviewed and had the firsthand opportunity to observe in college, were as bright, knowledgeable and excited about learning as any child who was the product of public or private schools, even more so.

What we observed from our children's experience this past winter was that they now are more aware of the world and the people in it. They are perhaps a little behind scholastically, but they are wiser. Real experience is always better than reading about the experience in a book. They played with, and learned from, West Indian, European and South African children. They know how chocolate is made, what volcanic dust tastes like and how to get along with people of all nationalities.

We are now back in Maine, where there are educational options available, but there is no public or governmental support for these options. While there are the Riley, Ashwood/Waldorf, Montessori, Watershed, and Community schools, all options to public school, none are funded, except by what parents and grandparents pay for tuition. If charter schools are to have a future in this state the entire funding of education will have to change, and it should, even if charter schools are not on the list.

If we took the 300 or so students currently attending private schools in the area and put them into the public school system, what would that do to current public school enrollment and budgets?

What is more valuable to the future of this country? More prisons, a larger military to engage in yet another pointless war, or more money spent on our children and their education? Someone pointed out that what we spent on Bush's War in four years could have sent every American child to college for four years. If education is the key to our nation's survival and future prosperity, why are we not putting this first?

Charter schools are a great alternative option to the current school system, one that needs to be supported. Those special schools, small and focused on specific career paths — math and science, art and performance, business and entrepreneurialism, etc. — will result in students who are more prepared to face and build their future.

Charter schools will reduce the amount of money available to fund the current school system, say opponents. But that need not be the case, not if we realize the importance of our children and their future. We can have our cake and eat it, too, if we have enough cake. We just need to spend more of the total state budget on education, and less on prisons and other things.

When my children attended private school it was costing us $15,000 a year for tuition, and we were getting a break on tuition. I'd be very happy to increase my taxes by $1,000 to $3,00 a year if we had access to educational options, such as charter schools, or other non-public schools — schools that are  more appropriate to the learning style of my two children. I'd be saving $12,000 a year and my kids would be getting a better education.

David Lyman, the founder and former president of Rockport College and The Maine Photographic Workshops, lives in Camden.