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A Co-op by Any Other Name …

A Co-op by Any Other Name …

I was standing at the sink washing dishes and absentmindedly listening to NPR. We were in the pandemic. Most of what I heard on the radio sounded rehearsed. The same words used repeatedly, until suddenly there was something different: “learning pods.” I turned up the radio and leaned in to listen.

The radio ladies were very excitedly discussing a “new” phenomenon: “learning pods.” To combat the lockdown-created isolation, parents in many places were getting together with a few other parents and their children to learn together. These parents were trying to limit COVID exposure by getting together only with others from their “pod.” The radio ladies were stunned and excited by this “new” development. I could not believe my ears. “Co-ops,” I said out loud to no one. “They’re talking about co-ops. The homeschooling community has been doing those for decades!”

Pandemic learning pods are still being analyzed and hailed as one of the great “inventions” to come out of the pandemic. Some states are even looking for ways to continue this pod model of learning, directing funds toward the development of pods connected to the school districts. Many parents and other educators are realizing what homeschoolers have known all along—community relationships are integral to education.

Homeschooling co-ops began in the 1970s, along with the homeschool movement in America, comprising involved families getting together to provide each other support, both educational and social.

Just like their wider communities, co-ops are diverse in size as well as educational focus. For example, some gather around the model of classical education, whereas others are purely social, such as the once-weekly co-op we attend that meets at a park and includes fun parties for the moms and kids. We do a Halloween party, a Valentine’s party, Nacho Day, and more. It’s a great time!

For a couple of years, our family hosted a small co-op every Wednesday at our farm that included just us and one other family. This became a sweet time of learning and building friendships.

Another type of co-op that meets nearby functions as a hybrid program where parents can drop off their kids three days a week while the other days are spent learning at home.

When I had my first child, there was already a large group of families at our church who met together to teach each other’s children and support one another. Many of the mothers had undergraduate degrees, and several were bilingual. This provided opportunities for the parents to focus on teaching within their own strengths and areas of expertise.

All this cooperating only strengthened the sense of community and lessened the overload that can occur from being solely responsible for educating one’s children. Rather than being reliant on the civil authorities to organize and explain what the community’s values ought to be, the individuals and community decided for themselves. There is no need for the authorities to organize and force cooperation because it’s in the individual’s and community’s best interests to do so. The result is a unique community bond founded on the value of educating one’s children.

These learning pods that burst forth during the pandemic did so despite tremendous opposition from the governmental authorities whose pressure on people to isolate caused an astronomical rise in depression and caused children’s education to suffer. We human beings are social animals, and our need and primal drive to gather and support each other could not be suppressed.

In the midst of those uncertain times, I found myself feeling encouraged and excited as I observed the human spirit reasserting itself in the form of spontaneous cooperation and order.

Image credit: Pexels

Heather Carson
Heather Carson

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  • Avatar
    Chris Robert Hughes
    December 27, 2023, 5:28 pm

    Good point Heather. But be patient with NPR. If we wait a few decades they may come to discover parenting. They could call it "dyadic interrelational training." What if they discovered the Bible? "A metaphysically-nuanced healing metanarrative."

  • Avatar
    December 28, 2023, 12:04 am

    I have been good friends with a number of families that have been doing this since the parents were kids doing it. When the scamdemic was foisted upon us, they never batted an eyelash, they just kept on keeping on. Scamdemic? WHUT scamdemic??!!?? I happened to drop by for visit when two of the moms were taking a gaggle of 5 to maybe 11 year olds out for their weekly tour of a very complex section of a large farmhouse's backyard. Ponds, wild uncut growth, wildlife, bugs, plants of all kinds…. each week as they walk they stop and the kids just observe… they they all get a chance to talk about something they see this week that is different from the way it was last week. I was astounded at how observant and knowledgeable these kids are. They knew more than my high school "science" classes knew about life cycles, seasonal changes, interaction between species, types of creatures…. some did not know the names of things, but they sure knew what they were about. Tagging the names on is easy.


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