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Saturday, November 29, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Guest columnist
Dare to drop out

By Tamara Scarlett-Lyon
Special to The Times

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I felt discouraged as I read Superintendent Raj Manhas' vision for education in Seattle Schools because it is not visionary at all. Rather it is a restatement of tired, familiar and uninspiring notions ("A vision of possibilities at Seattle Public Schools," Times guest commentary, Nov. 25).

Of course, most of us (I hope!) want all children to have access to similar opportunities for learning and flourishing. But opportunities for learning what?

My son, now in ninth grade, has been in Seattle schools since kindergarten, and even though he has been in alternative schools for many of those years, I am thus far extremely disappointed in the classes and coursework that he has been offered, especially in high school. The increased emphasis on standards and testing has made the curriculum even worse.

I appreciate any effort that individuals give to students, and I know there are many people working at all levels within and outside the school system to inspire, teach, and support children.

But I believe the school system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be totally rethought and recreated. This feels like a hopeless task to me because of all the complex vested interests, deep-seated habits and practical considerations that seem to stand in the way.

I would like to offer a vision of a school system where there are many different types of schools that are responsive to parents', teachers' and students' interests and needs.

Seattle has made efforts in this direction by offering alternative schools, but in recent years those schools have been slowly losing their original strengths and visions.

I would like a system where children are challenged and taught to think deeply about issues and learn the skills to express themselves in writing, in discussion, and via creative outlets like art, music, dance, etc.

I would like a system which encourages kids to discover and develop their individual interests and gifts, rather than be forced to suffer through boring, lifeless standardized textbooks and exams, forced to memorize things which they will forget two weeks later.

I would like each person in the community to take time and discover with their own visions what an ideal educational system might look like, and then begin to take steps to demolish the present system.

Tamara Scarlett-Lyon lives in Seattle.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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