How to Start Your Own School, by Robert D. Love, New York: The Macmillan Co. 1973, Pp. 172, $5.95.
Have you ever wondered why businessmen serving on boards of educational institutions function differently than they do as board chairmen or board members of profit seeking concerns? Or why the tolerance of deficits is so high in the education industry and so low elsewhere? Or why the world's largest industry, American education, is viewed so differently from the food industry, the clothing industry, and other basic industries? Robert Love, a successful businessman, developed an interest in his children's education and started asking these questions and a number of others.
First, he wondered about his children's loss of interest in school—they lost their initial enthusiasm and after a few years their attendance was reluctant. Also, he wondered why the teacher praised his fifth grade son's reading ability when the child could not read the front page of the newspaper. Then he wondered where he could find an educational experience better than the schooling that his children were receiving in public schools in Wichita, Kansas.
When Love came to believe that there was something better, he did not set out to reform the world. He did not even set out to reform the public schools of Wichita. Instead, he joined with other concerned parents in an attempt to make the most of the one chance that they had to participate in the education of their own children—they started their own school.
As the comment on the jacket suggests, Robert Love's book HOW TO START YOUR OWN SCHOOL is "A concrete example of how a group of concerned parents rescued their children from the evils of public education." The subtitle further describes the book as "a guide for the radical right, the radical left and everybody in-between who's fed up with public education."
ALTERNATIVE TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Now if you've gotten the idea that the book is one big slam on the public schools, then you've been misled. "This book is not a book for people who are looking for a detailed critique of public education." The author allows that "any parents with a child in public schools could write their own critique." The story of Collegiate School is for those looking for an alternative to public education and interested in the philosophy behind one such alternative. Wichita's Collegiate School, conceived in an atmosphere where public schools preceded private schools, is such an alternative and is successful.
Love's arguments are hard hitting and realistic. He has taken a cue from Townsend's book, UP THE ORGANIZATION, as he illustrates how unconventional approaches led to success. He also tells the readers about the mistakes the school made.
This educational approach is one that argues for parental involvement. Among other responsibilities the Collegiate parent is charged with "establishing a home atmosphere conducive to learning." Contrasted to the parental involvement called for by Love, "attending an occasional PTA meeting is an easy way out."
The school's wariness of certification and disinterest in accreditation are but two examples of the school's unorthodox stance. The parents see little advantage in accreditation when Collegiate students have been accepted in such schools as Goucher, Baylor, Oxford, Princeton, University of Denmark, Sewanee, as well as local colleges and universities, without it.
The headmaster, formerly head of a teachers' education department at a state university, knows that course requirements in educational methodology infringed upon time available for study and preparation in the teacher's major field. Therefore, he prefers to hire English majors to teach English, Math majors to teach Mathematics, etc.
BUSINESS LIMITED TO EDUCATION
The trustees decided that Collegiate would be in the education business, and not in the food business, the apartment business, the transportation business, or the entertainment business. If a student wants food service, he can contract directly with a caterer who provides a full food service with no requirement to Collegiate of capital or personnel. If the student wants bus service, he can have it by sharing the cost of operating a bus with other students who want it. If a boy wants to play football, he must pay $30 extra to pay for coaching and equipment.
Love sees the education industry as similar to his own industry, the manufacturing of corrugated boxes. They both require capital, and involve consumption and production. Of course, he recognizes the major difference—"The situation we were up against—and still face, for that matter—is one which any self-respecting businessman would go out of his way to avoid.
We (Collegiate School) were entering a business field in which all potential customers were forced to buy a competitors' product, then throw it away unused if they decided to purchase ours."
Love also talks about budgets, pricing, chief executives, trustees and boards, grading, libraries, discipline and most every other aspect of the education industry.
The book is more than a history of events relating to Collegiate School. It is spiced with the author's personal involvement with the education of his own children and his commitment to do the best he could—an involvement and commitment that eventually ended long standing friendships and even precipitated differences among relatives.
Finally, Love does not think that his experience is extraordinary, but merely "the result of people wanting to control their own lives and willing to take the risks and accept the responsibilities."
An educator could not have written this book. It could only have been written by someone with a combination of inside experience in business and a strong commitment to a free market. The book offers the application of free market principles and not the rhetoric of "accountability" and other pretenses. It contains valuable insights for anyone favoring alternative institutions, whether or not educational.
George Pearson has authored various pieces concerning education, including "The Case Against Education Vouchers," which appeared in REASON's Education issue, April-May 1971.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "How to Start Your Own School".