Thursday, September 15, 2011

What is alternative?

One of my kids asked me what alternative meant the other day, and it made me think.  I responded as best I could in class, but I'm definitely still thinking about it.

According to my favorite dictionary writer, Mr. Webster:

Definition of ALTERNATIVE

: alternate 1
: offering or expressing a choice <several alternativeplans>
: different from the usual or conventional: asa : existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system <an alternative newspaper><alternative lifestyles>b : of, relating to, or being rock music that is regarded as an alternative to conventional rock and is typically influenced by punk rock, hard rock, hip-hop, or folk music

Clearly, this child was not wondering about the alternative music style.  I think that if I played my kids the kind of alternative music that I enjoyed listening to for a brief while growing up, their brains would explode.  That a whole 'nother story.  I think that the appropriate definition in our circumstances is "different from the usual or conventional: as existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system."  
Our school is different from other schools.  No one could argue that it's the same as most public schools.  How is our school different?  Our kids participate in class.  They're active, they don't disrupt or speak out of turn, they walk in a single file line and don't talk in the hallway.  They do as they're told, they don't talk back, and if they have a negative attitude or dislike something, they don't show it.  They almost always respond to a "teacher look," gesture (ie- arm motion to move down the hallway), or a verbal warning.  I have not had to yell this year, nor do I expect to have to yell to get my students' attention.  If they are working in groups, I can have everyone stop what they're doing and look at me within three seconds.  I've yet to wait more than three seconds for their attention.  Certainly, our kids must all be from great backgrounds to be such good students.  This assumption is incorrect.  Our kids come from all walks of life, all over the county, and from a variety of backgrounds.  Many of them certainly do NOT have a good home life.  How then, did we wind up with such well-mannered, attentive kids?  We must be a hoity-toity charter school.  This assumption is also incorrect.  We take our kids, nurture them, show them that someone believes in them, and cares what happens to them, and TEACH them how to behave.  Sure, they should have learned that at home.  But many of them didn't, and even if they did, a little reminder never hurt anyone.  Our kids listen, and they respect us, because we respect them.  
So yes, our school is unconventional and differs from societal norms.  We take kids from a less than ideal situation and do our best to teach them the skills they need to remove themselves from that situation and to live to their full potential.  Why does "alternative" have a negative connotation?

Health, happiness and success depend upon the fighting spirit of each person. The big thing is not what happens to us in life - but what we do about what happens to us. ~ George Allen

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