Isabel Lyman is a longtime homeschooling advocate. Her columns about home education have appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal Investor's Business Daily, National Review, the Boston Herald, the Dallas Morning News, and the Daily Oklahoman. She has also been published in the refereed research journal, "Home School Researcher," and by the Cato Institute of Washington, D.C.
She holds a master's degree in social science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a doctoral degree in social science from the Universidad de San Jose, Costa Rica. She taught high school for over a decade at a small private school founded by her husband, and she is the mother of two teenage sons.
I would like to say "thank you" to the very fine folks who helped make this book a reality: Kirik Jenness, the CEO of Bench Press International (and my sons' former karate instructor), who eagerly agreed to publish the manuscript; David Boaz, executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, who published the policy analysis I wrote, "Homeschooling: Back to the Future?" which became the impetus for this book; Rich Jefferson of the Home School Legal Defense Association, who faithfully answered the scores of e-mails I sent him; the various newspaper and magazine editors who allowed me to pester their readers when they ran my homeschooling columns, which provided much of the material for this book; the homeschoolers who agreed to be interviewed for this project; my children, Dan and Wid III, who were the guinea pigs for this educational adventure; my mother, who prayed for me (gracias); and last, but not least, my husband Wid.
Wid may be one of the few men in the country who earned a commercial truck driving license after receiving a Ph.D. in civil engineering. He is also an outstanding copy editor, first-rate football coach, and dedicated homeschooling father. I am your biggest fan, Pops, even though you told me I had to write a straightforward book and keep the wisecracks to a minimum.
I would be amiss not to mention that I am extremely grateful to the good Lord for allowing me to live in a country where homeschooling is freely practiced and where a commoner such as I can write a book. God bless America.
And God bless homeschoolers. They are the brave-hearts of our age. It is to them that this work is dedicated.
The Homeschooling Revolution / 5
Homeschooling exemplifies the American dream. It requires initiative, patience, and much hard work, but its rewards are long-lasting. For many parents, homeschooling has proven to be a marvelous way of educating their children and achieving family unity.
This book evolved from the columns and articles have written about homeschooling over the last seven years. During this time, I often received correspondence from parents and requests for interviews from reporters who wanted to learn more about homeschooling. The most commonly asked questions include: Why homeschool? What type of family homeschools? What about socialization? How do homeschoolers fare academically? What are some of the limitations of homeschooling?
These queries, my own journey as a homeschooling mother, and my curiosity as a freelance journalist motivated me to write The Homeschooling Revolution. I deem it a 'revolution' because in a short period of time, homeschooling parents have engineered a major change in American education. No longer do Americans think it is necessary for a credentialed professional to teach a child to read and write, but rather a loving parent can accomplish that task -more often than not, more competently than the professional.
It is my hope that this book offers a window into the modern day homeschooling movement. While much of the book was written in the solitude of my office, the research was conducted in the busy, lively homes of homeschooling families. I have enjoyed many conversations, not with ivory tower thinkers, but with down-to-earth people who are prac
The Homeschooling Revolution / 6
ticing what they preach. Writing this book was a rewarding project, but not nearly as rewarding as my endeavors as a homeschooling parent. Done properly, homeschooling is an exciting way to teach-thine-own. I hope this book reveals that many, many American families are doing the job in an outstanding fashion.
Isabel Lyman August 2000
The Homeschooling Revolution / 7
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Homeschooling 101 9
Chapter 2 The Movement -Yesterday and Today 23
Chapter 3 Legal and Political Inroads 33
Chapter 4 The Socialization Question 45
Chapter 5 What About Academics? 59
Chapter 6 The Marketing of a Movement 71
Chapter 7 The Print Media and Homeschooling 81
Chapter 8 Growing Pains 93
Chapter 9 Profiling Homeschoolers 209
Chapter 10 Conclusion 123
Chapter 1 Homeschooling 101
It is a wintry morning in New England. Anne Maxson, 48, sits at a long table in her federal-style home situated on two acres in Amherst, Massachusetts. Anne, a small business owner and single parent, is savoring a mug of coffee. Her face becomes animated as she rattles off a laundry list of reasons why she has chosen to remove Richard, her youngest child, from the Fort River Elementary School in order to homeschool him.
"I didn't like the whole language approach to teaching reading and the awkward way they teach printing. The books they assigned the children were boring, and Richard found himself correcting the third grade teacher's math errors," she shares with frustration.
Anne adds a complaint that would be amusing if it weren't true. "The kids in my son's class knew more about bead work than spelling."
The singular event that pushed Anne and Richard into homeschooling was even more absurd. It was the controversial incident that brought Richard's school a great deal of negative publicity.
The principal of Fort River Elementary, Russ Vernon-Jones, decided to host a "blacks only" breakfast on school grounds for African-American staff and parents. Outraged by what she saw as illegal discrimination, Anne alerted the Boston Globe to the event; she was severely criticized by teachers for speaking to the press. Although the breakfast was eventually deemed illegal by Amherst's town counsel,
The Homeschooling Revolution /10
the principal, to Anne's chagrin and that of other local taxpayers, did not even receive a reprimand for his role in orchestrating the "no whites welcome" event. At that juncture, Anne decided to pull Richard out of public school and teach him herself, an idea she once deemed radical.
"I couldn't see my son going to a school where the principal had broken a federal law, and there were no repercussions," notes Anne.
Richard is enrolled in the sixth grade of the Calvert School, a popular correspondence program. In addition to spending an average of three hours a day with his mother as his main teacher, he shares a U.S. postage stamp collection hobby with his grandmother. He also earns a substantial amount of pocket money doing yard work and plays on an ice hockey team. Richard enjoys the tranquility of the home classroom where he says he is not distracted by the antics of other students and where his lively mother is more fun than previous schoolteachers.
"Being a widow, I feel a great responsibility to my late husband to do the right thing and give my son an education that emphasizes straightforward academics, not social engineering," explains Anne. (1)
Not far from the Maxsons live the Shumways.
Alan, 52, is a roofer, and Debbie, 47, a dance instructor. They have three children -Rick, Cory, and Stephanie. Alan's mother and stepfather live part of the year with them in a cozy apartment attached to their house that Alan built. Debbie currently schools her two teenage boys. Rick is 14,
and Cory is 13. Stephanie, 11, attends a public elementary school, but will begin her homeschooling when she reaches middle school.
When they attended public school, the Shumway boys were categorized as special education students for their language-based disabilities. After Rick's brief and productive stint at a private school which closed, Debbie was faced with a decision: homeschool him or put him back in public school. The Shumways decided to homeschool Rick, as well as remove Cory from public school, for the 1998-99 school year.
Debbie spent three months working her way through the chain of command at the Amherst-Pelham regional school district to become the first parent in Amherst to home-school a pair of students with special needs. The Amherst schools are legendary for the generous budget that goes toward the special education program. But the Shumways were uncomfortable with their sons having to face the pressures of being in a program that is also known to attract students who really act up. "The behavioral problems of others can negatively influence my sons' academics," admits Debbie.
Nowadays, the boys spend their mornings in a well-apportioned corner of the family room, equipped with a computer and modem, studying English, geometry, science, and world geography. They are active adolescents who enjoy their extracurricular activities, including snowboarding and music.
Debbie and her family have adjusted to homeschooling and find their lifestyle is less stressful as a result of their choice. "My mother always told me I should be a school teacher. Now I am," she says contentedly. But she adds that
The Homeschooling Revolution /12
she does not know how long she will homeschool, preferring to commit herself to one year at a time. (2)
In the blue-collar town of Ware, about twenty miles east of Amherst, Ken Robinson settles down to another day of schooling his 12-year-old daughter, Whitney. The dining room table is strewn with both Whitney's textbooks and Ken's lesson plans. This is where the two spend several hours a day working through a sixth grade curriculum. It's a charming room to work in, filled with antique furniture, an icon of Saint Patrick, and oil paintings depicting scenes from beloved fairy tales, like The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The art work is by the award-winning artist, Ruth Sanderson Whitney's mom.
Ken, who holds a law degree and master's of business administration, practices law part-time in order to act as his illustrator/author wife's business manager and to teach Whitney. He briefly schooled his older daughter, Morgan, now a college sophomore and a former National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. The Robinsons' curriculum is an eclectic blend of the modern and the traditional -grammar, math, Latin, science, historical novels, recorder practice, target shooting, and religious education from a Russian Orthodox perspective. When the lessons are done, Whitney often heads to the family barn to ride a quarter horse named Rocky. She also participates in Girl Scouts, takes swimming lessons, plays soccer, trains in Tae Kwon Do and socializes with other homeschoolers.
Ruth, 47, and Ken, 46, have chosen to homeschool because they were disappointed with the mediocre quality of education at the local private school their daughter attended
in kindergarten and second grade. It was, in Whitney's terse opinion, boring. Public schooling has never been considered by the family, and Ken is not shy about voicing his opinions about that institution. He says, "The quality of education is lacking, and the socialization is negative. I don't want my daughter placed in a morally hostile environment that pretends to educate someone in a value-free environment, since government schools are anti-Christian."
Meanwhile, Ken has cheerfully resigned himself to the task of being Mr. Schoolmarm. "I enjoy having the opportunity to provide my daughter with a real education. That is the most precious gift I can offer her," he notes.
Whitney, who upon observation seems to take her assignments seriously, says she likes learning with her father. She admits to occasionally wishing she could attend school with other children for the social component. Yet, she readily agrees that the advantages of homeschooling -including doing two years in one year and not getting ignored if she doesn't understand the material -outweigh the disadvantages. (3)
Anne Maxson, the Shumways, and the Robinsons are educational pioneers that embody the can-do spirit that is synonymous with the homeschooling movement. They are also generous parents who have reinvented their lifestyles, whether temporarily or for the long run, to accommodate their children's educational and emotional needs. And while they live in only one corner of the country where home-schooling occurs, they are representative of that portion of American families who have decided that sending one or all of their children to school, whether public or private, is not in their children's best interests.
The Homeschooling Revolution /14
I, too, am a traveler on the educational road less taken.
My encounter with homeschoolers began in the Pacific Northwest, during my first year of married life. My husband and I were living in Bellingham, Washington. Our apartment managers, a sweet couple named Tim and Jan, were better at dispensing hospitality than fixing leaky faucets. Over dinner and Uno games, we discovered that underneath their laid-back veneers they harbored ambitious plans. One drizzly night they told us that Matthew, their three-year-old son, would not be attending kindergarten, first grade, or any other grade for that matter. They planned to educate him at home, and Jan was not even a college graduate. Since we were budding individualists and were expecting a baby, our curiosity was piqued.
Once I had been introduced to the teach-thine-own concept, my investigative juices began flowing. I read all the homeschooling literature I could find (which wasn't much 18 years ago), starting with Home-spun Schools by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.
I discovered that homeschooling was not really that new, but rather it was a return to the way education was before the days of common schools and compulsory attendance laws.
I also discovered that the reasons to homeschool were as diverse as the methods employed. Some parents choose to homeschool because they desire a tailor-made, not a factory-made, approach to learning. Others prefer to include religious instruction -be it the Bible, Torah, or Koran -with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Some utilize a back-to-nature approach which allows children to understand their world through experience and apprenticeship. Resourceful parents
are finding the will and the way to make homeschooling work for their families.
We made our decision to homeschool for these reasons and more. Not long after asking ourselves Why home-school? we began wondering, Why not homeschool? We both had bachelor's degrees, and I had briefly worked as an elementary school teacher in south Georgia. By the time our son was born in Miami, Florida, we were converts to the modern-day homeschooling movement.
As I prepared for the time that school would begin, I realized that there is more to homeschooling than teaching a child how to write cursive, find square roots, and recite the capitals of the fifty states. I needed to be able to answer the following questions with a yes: Was I willing to bypass a lucrative career to stay at home? Was I willing to be the art teacher, physical education instructor, dean of students, cafeteria worker, and custodian? Was I willing to seek out friends for my child? For some parents, especially those with a large brood, the homeschooling lifestyle would challenge the organizational and homemaking skills of even a Martha Stewart.
Still, my desire to play a daily role in training my child's mind and shaping his character was overwhelming. It seemed like there was no better use of my or my husband's time and energies. We began to informally teach our firstborn phonics by using Scrabble blocks, and were ecstatic when Dan read simple stories at age five. My husband, the math man, had similar results with numbers. We had taken the initial step and tasted success. The homeschooling marathon had officially begun, and we would enroll Wid III, Dan's little brother, in our homeschool. In his case, we were ecstatic when he read simple stories at age eight.
The Homeschooling Revolution /16
As the years have passed, and our curriculum has advanced from colorful math flash cards to complex physics problems, we have faced the typical struggles many home-schooling families confront. Grandparents question the wisdom of making ends meet on one, sometimes modest, salary. Store clerks wonder aloud why our child isn't in school on a Tuesday morning. Friends muse that we are a tad overprotective of our offspring. Sometimes our own children tire of Mom and Dad as their teachers. Sometimes we tire of teaching. I found myself confessing as much in an article I wrote for National Review in 1996. I stated, "There are days when I wish I could march out of my home in an Armani suit to make piles of money on Wall Street; days when I wish I could hand my children over to the 'professionals.' " (4)
Nevertheless, we have had much joy homeschooling our boys. In our little schoolhouse, located in the college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where we lived during our sons' formative years, we made use of traditional and nontraditional curricula, as well as the perks of the modern culture. We borrowed oodles of library books, bought books on tape (from Pippi Longstocking to Harry Potter), surfed the Internet, conducted science experiments (including hatching baby chicks and dissecting a Carolina grasshopper for a television reporter), viewed umpteen videos about World War II, and even took a year off from all manner of formal learning, ad libbing whenever the need arose.
Socially we have never lacked opportunities for our sons and have exposed them to a smorgasbord of experiences. They have played on numerous sports teams, attended camps, traveled to other lands, trained in karate, sacked groceries, watched animal surgery, and taken classes with other homeschoolers. Memories include Dan, now a serious ice hockey player, electing to take a sewing class as a little
boy (the only male to do so, much to the delight of his feminist teacher), and Wid III receiving a first-class geography lesson when he joined his trucker dad on the road. For several summers, we hosted children from inner-city New York in our home through the Fresh Air program. We've entertained Nelson Mandela's grandson at a Halloween party, chatted with Pat Buchanan in our living room and on Lexington Green, traveled to Costa Rica to meet then-President Rafael Calderon Fournier, dined with the residents of a shelter for the homeless, and given one son our blessing to try public school in Oklahoma for a semester.
During the dozen years we've been teaching our boys, my husband and I have been schooling ourselves. By taking turns in master's and doctoral programs, both of us earned Ph.D.'s. We also ran a tiny school, adjacent to our Massachusetts home, teaching other parents' teenagers. We called our extended homeschool Harkness Road High School, a co-ed day school which offered back-to-basics courses and some vocational training. Our curriculum was challenging -a grade of B was required to pass each course, and our instruction was personal, since we limited enrollment to twenty students. Our diplomas were real, 17 of our 20 graduates went on to college, and we had two National Merit Scholarship finalists.
We believe our efforts of laboring in the vineyards of
|attitude that will serve them for a lifetime.|
The Homeschooling Revolution /18
What Is Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is defined simply as the education of school-aged children at home rather than at a school. (5) Homeschools are as varied as the individuals who choose this educational method.
They [homeschools] range from the highly structured to the structured to the unstructured, from those which use the approaches of conventional schools to those which are repulsed by conventional practice, and from the homeschool that follows homemade materials and plans to the one that consumes hundreds of dollars worth of commercial curriculum materials per year. (6)
Some homeschoolers' philosophy can be boiled down to a phrase: The world is my classroom. Or, as John Lyon, writing for the Rockford Institute, has succinctly observed:
Schooling, rather obviously, is what goes on in schools; education takes place wherever and whenever the nature with which we are born is nurtured so as to draw out of those capacities which conduce to true humanity. The home, the church, the neighborhood, the peer group, the media, the shopping mall ... are all educational institutions. (7)
Many home educators subscribe to the notion that the student who receives his instruction simultaneously from the home and the community will become a much more culturally sophisticated child than the one whose learning experience is marginalized to an institutionalized setting. Concurrently, homeschoolers are never limited to interacting with same-age students, on a daily basis, as is the case with students in a conventional school setting -a situation which
often makes them peer-dependent, instead of invigorated by learning. The historical record offers noteworthy examples of individuals who experienced the 'the-world-is-myteacher' model. Achievers like Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, Agatha Christie, Andrew Wyeth, Pearl S. Buck, and George Washington Carver were educated at home.
Today, prominent homeschoolers include Jason Taylor, who plays football in the the National Football League; Amanda and Tyler Wilkinson, who, along with their father, Steve, comprise the popular country music trio the Wilkinsons; Michael New, an army medic who was courtmartialed for refusing to don a United Nations uniform; the late Jessica DuBroff, the 7-year-old who aspired to be the youngest girl to pilot a plane across the country; Zac, Ike, and Tay Hanson, the brothers who make up the rock group Hanson; Jedediah Purdy, the homeschooler-turned-Yale-lawschool student, who is the author of For Common Things: Irony, Trust and Commitment in America Today; Christina Aguilera, the pop music princess and grammy-award winner; Kevin Johnson, who plays basketball for the University of Tulsa and became the first homeschooler to play in the March Madness tournament; and acclaimed artist Thomas Kinkade, who has four homeschooled daughters.
Homeschooling vs. Government and Private Schooling (Religious and Secular)
There are stark differences between homeschooling and public schooling. Homeschooling is based on a core American belief in freedom, the freedom which allows families to teach whatever interests them on a schedule that suits their lifestyles. Homeschooling parents can teach that God created the world or they can teach evolution, without fear of
The Homeschooling Revolution /20
offending a special interest group. Homeschooling parents can use materials that are boy-friendly for their sons and not worry that they will face a challenge from The Ms. Foundation. Homeschooling parents don't take a dime from taxpayers, nor do they impose their educational methods on other parents. Homeschooling parents have the luxury to pursue more than academics with their children. They can take the time to travel abroad, raise llamas, train for a triathlon, or open a bakery.
Government schooling, on the other hand, is a duress-based system. The public school is a well-organized monopoly funded by confiscatory taxes. Woe to the homeowner who chooses to not pay property taxes because he has no children. He may have a lien put on his home or face imprisonment. To boot, public school administrators, teachers, and union officials often act as paid mouthpieces for a failing system. Woe to the dissident who complains property taxes are too steep when advocates want to build another elementary school. He will be tarred as a heartless Grinch, because education is always blindly promoted 'for the children's sake.'
A young person attending public school has little control over time or social contacts. He must submit to a draconian set of standards: state-mandated courses, attendance requirements, and grouping by age. He is not at liberty to escape from lazy teachers, rude classmates, or ideological indoctrination.
Of course, home education is an alternative not only to public education, but to private schooling, as well. Most would argue that, for those who can afford them, private schools (religious and/or secular) offer students a better choice. Many private schools have superior teachers, more rigorous standards, and a safer environment than the major
ity of public schools. Some even include religious and character education instruction. But the framework in which information is disseminated is basically the same.
Note the similarities between public and private schools. One adult, typically a woman, is expected to communicate information to a group of unrelated, uninterested, and intellectually-varied students. Sometimes there are more than 25 of these charges. The information has been selected by adults other than the students' parents or their teachers, as have been the textbooks and instructional methods. All students in a school are subject to the same predetermined academic standards, grading policies, and behavioral guidelines. Few, if any, parents or students consider questioning this format. Grade levels are determined primarily by age, regardless of aptitude.
Students are expected to arrive and depart at the same time every day. Between arrival and departure, each day is structured to implement a group of adults' perceptions of what a typical school day should look like. Seldom is there opportunity to vary the regimen to accommodate the students' interests and abilities. Very often it is a loud bell or buzzer that informs faculty that one topic of study must end and another begin.
As in public schools, students in private school's have little say concerning the teachers they are taught by or the students they are expected to learn beside. And often it is student-teacher and student-student conflicts that interfere most with children's ability to learn.
Most academic curricula in private schools mirror their public school counterparts, as do credit and graduation requirements. Even the extracurricular activities are similar.
The Homeschooling Revolution / 22
The fact is that most private schools can't even exist without conforming to an educational paradigm established and regulated by public education bureaucrats. During the eleven years my husband and I operated our private high school, in accordance with Massachusetts law, we had to have the approval of the local public school committee. They reviewed our curriculum, teachers' credentials, and educational philosophy on a yearly basis before granting us the authority to continue with our school.
The bottom line is this: If children are enrolled in a school (be it public or private), almost without exception, someone besides the people who know them best and love them most are assuming the responsibility for their academic experiences. This one difference separates homeschooling from all forms of institutionalized education. It is this distinction that sets homeschooling apart and invites the information and analysis presented in the pages that follow.
Chapter 2 The Movement -Yesterday and Today
Homeschooling, as we know it today, may not have existed if not for a pair of Paul Reveres who alerted parents to the pitfalls of dispatching their children off to schools. These two men offered a solution to parents. The seeds of what has grown into the modern-day American homeschooling movement were planted by them 30 years ago.
In 1969 Raymond Moore, a former U.S. Department of Education employee, laid the groundwork for what would become the greatest populist educational movement of the 20th Century.
Moore, who holds an education doctorate from the University of Southern California, and his wife Dorothy, a reading specialist and former Los Angeles County elementary school teacher, began to inquire into previously neglected areas of educational research. Two of the questions the Moores and a team of like-minded colleagues set out to investigate and answer were: Is institutionalizing young children a sound educational trend? and, What is the best age for school entrance? (1)
The Moore team sought advice from over 100 family development experts and researchers, including Urie Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University, John Bowlby of the World health(Buy now from http://www.drugswell.com) Organization, and Burton White of Harvard
The Homeschooling Revolution /24
University. These specialists made recommendations that went against the status quo. They believed that there should be "a cautious approach to subjecting [the child's] developing nervous system and mind to formal constraints." (2) Psychologist Bronfenbrenner went a step further and claimed that subjecting children to the daily routine of elementary school can result in excessive dependence on peers, a trait he viewed negatively.
In the process of painstakingly analyzing thousands of studies, 20 of which compared early school entrants with late starters, the Moores began to conclude that developmental problems (including hyperactivity, nearsightedness, and dyslexia) were often the result of prematurely taxing a child's nervous system and mind with continuous academic tasks, like reading and writing.
The bulk of this research, which overwhelmingly supported shielding young children from daily contact with institutionalized settings, convinced the Moores that formal schooling should be delayed until at least age 8 or 10, or even as late as 12. Dr. Moore explained the upshot of his research, stating, "These findings sparked our concern and convinced us to focus our investigation on two primary areas: formal learning and socializing. Eventually, this work led to an unexpected interest in homeschools." (3)
The Moores went on to author a series of books about homeschooling, including Better Late Than Early and Home School Handbook. The books, which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, are written from a Christian and research perspective, but contain a broad message for all interested parties. They offer practical advice to parents on how to succeed as home educators. The Moores advocate a firm but gentle approach to home education that balances
study, chores, play, and work outside the home in a loving atmosphere geared toward a child's particular developmental needs.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, a second voice emerged in the ongoing debate about the shortcomings of public school education. The late John Holt was an articulate advocate for decentralizing schools and returning greater autonomy to teachers and parents, while subscribing to unorthodox ideas about children's rights (e.g. allowing them to use drugs, engage in promiscuous activity, and own property). Holt, who did teaching stints at both experimental and conventional schools, denounced the lack of liberty schoolchildren had, even in the most pleasant school settings, where he viewed the practice of testing, for instance, as having detrimental effects on learning. Holt, trumpeting a libertarian note, also lamented the compulsory nature of schooling. He wrote ...
[Y]ou will surely agree that if the government told you that on one hundred and eighty days of the year, for six or more hours a day, you had to be at a particular place, and there do whatever people told you to do, you would feel that this was a gross violation of your civil liberties. (4)
Holt came to view schools as places that produce obedient, but dull citizens. He saw the child's daily grind of attending school as preparation for a life of paying confiscatory taxes and blind subservience to authority figures. Sounding like British author Charles Dickens, Holt compared the dreariness of the school day to the experience of having a "full-time painful job." (5) How Children Fail, the
The Homeschooling Revolution / 26
book which he published in 1964, foisted Holt into the national spotlight with its revolutionary tone. Holt argued that students' attendance at schools causes them to dislike learning because "they fail to develop more than a tiny part of the tremendous capacity for learning, understanding, and creating with which they were born and of which they made full use during the first two or three years of their lives." (6) Ultimately, Holt concluded that the humane way to educate children was to give them the freedom to learn at home and expose them to the larger world that surrounds them.
To disseminate his views, Holt founded Growing Without Schooling in 1977, a bimonthly magazine for and about individuals who were pursuing educational activities outside the framework of school. The publication became a tool that allowed the burgeoning number of home educators to network with one other.
In summary, Holt espoused a philosophy that could be described as a laissez-faire approach to home-based education or, as he termed it, "learning by living." It is a philosophy that those sympathetic to John Holt's writings have come to describe as "unschooling."
What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't school at all. It is not an artificial place, set up to make "learning" happen and in which nothing except "learning" ever happens. It is a natural, organic, central,
|human institutions. (7)|
The constituencies attracted by Raymond Moore and John Holt, individually, reflected the contrasting backgrounds and lifestyles of the two researchers. Moore, a former Christian missionary to Japan, earned a sizeable (but hardly exclusive) following among parents who chose to homeschool primarily to impart traditional religious mores to their children and are representative of the "Christian right." Holt, a humanist and Ivy League graduate, has become a popular figure with the wing of the homeschooling movement that comprises a coalition of homesteaders, former hippies, and New Age devotees. Still, those who work with Holt Associates, like Susannah Sheffer, caution that Holt's books, like Moore's, have always attracted individuals who are more complex than these stereotypes. Curious parents sensed that these men were not spouting educational jargon. Rather, they had reached their conclusions by watching scores of children be shortchanged by a system that is based on age-oriented grouping and government-prescribed credentialism.
Although they worked independently of each other, these two men have earned national reputations as educational mavericks, eloquently addressing the angst felt by a diverse body of Americans about the present-day educational system -a system that many suspect furthers the careers of educational elites, rather than serves impressionable children. By the 1970s the countercultural left, who had responded more strongly to Holt's cri de coeur, comprised the bulk of homeschooling families. By the mid-1980s, however, those affiliated with the religious right dominated the modern-day homeschooling movement. This group would change the nature of homeschooling from a crusade against the so-called establishment" to a crusade against the secular forces in society that denigrate the traditional core beliefs of religious conservatives.
The Homeschooling Revolution /28
Buttressed by their media appearances, legislative and courtroom testimony, prolific writings, and speeches to sympathetic audiences, Holt and Moore worked tirelessly to deliver the message that homeschooling is a good, if not superior, way to educate American children, that it has the potential to resurrect the positive aspects of pre-industrial society, when American families had more opportunities to work and learn together instead of apart.
Numbering Today's Homeschoolers
At the end of the century, the growing popularity of homeschooling has produced a national, grass-roots movement abounding with support group networks, bestselling how-to books, pro-homeschooling legal advocates, and scores of homeschool high school graduates. Patricia Lines, who worked at the federal Department of Education and has done extensive research estimating the homeschooling population, believes there could currently be a million homeschoolers. (8) Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, thinks the number is much higher, perhaps as many as 1.7 million, and posits that home-schooling is growing at the rate of 15 to 40 percent per year.
(9) The Home School Market, published in April 1995, estimated that the number of home schooled children had doubled since 1990 to 800,000 and would double again in the next five years. (10) No exact figures currently exist, but there seems to be a general agreement that homeschoolers comprise at least one percent of the school-age population. Table 1 is an estimate of the current homeschooling population. I compiled these numbers mainly by contacting state education agencies.
There are several caveats when using numbers provided by the states, since compulsory school attendance laws (the laws which require school-aged children to attend school on a regular basis or be considered truant) vary from state to state. For instance, in Pennsylvania a child is not required to enroll in school until he reaches his 8th birthday; in Missouri the age is 7, but in Georgia it is age 6, unless the child is under age 6 and has attended more than 20 days in a public school. That particular five-year-old is subject to the state of Georgia's compulsory attendance laws. (11) Parents who begin home educating a 6-year-old in Philadelphia are not obligated to report this undertaking to school officials and will not figure in that particular state's count of the homeschooling population. This would not be the case, obviously, in Atlanta.
In many states, compulsory attendance ends at 16. Therefore, homeschooled students in those states, who are 17, do not figure in the homeschooling population data base, unless they are participating in a public school's extracurricular activities. Another problem is that some state agencies do not keep a count of homeschoolers, like Mississippi, and rely on state-wide homeschooling support groups with a large membership pool to provide estimates of the number of homeschooled children. In such instances, the estimates come from homeschooling advocates, as denoted in the table by an asterisk.
A handful of states had no advocates or public officials who have come forward with a number. As a last resort, I contacted the Home School Legal Defense Association, and Rich Jefferson, the association's director of Media Relations, contributed numbers, but only for 1996. This is specified by a double asterisk. All other figures are for the 1998-99 school
The Homeschooling Revolution / 30
Finally, it should be noted that there is a portion of the homeschooling population that is "non-compliant." Noncompliant families are either ignorant of the law, or they hold religious or philosophical convictions to not comply with state mandates. Consequently, these families remain invisible to researchers. So the mystery of how many students are taught at home probably will not be resolved satisfactorily anytime soon.
The debate about numbers is a politically-charged issue which can be used by advocates or opponents of home-schooling as a tool to make their arguments. However, that a number is being debated, that state departments of education are tracking the population, and that many state education web sites are listing the names and numbers of non-government homeschool support groups as a way of assisting parents with this choice, all show the significant impact of the movement upon the policy-making process.
The Movement -Yesterday and Today / 31
Table 1 Estimation of the Homeschooling Population
|Alaska||2400* (private homeschoolers)|
|Idaho||between 4,000 and 10,000|
|Illinois||between 67,000 and 77,000**|
|Iowa||between 16,000 and 18,500**|
|Kansas||between 15,000 and 20,000*|
|Maryland||between 28,000 and 32,000**|
|Mississippi||between 16,000 and 19,000**|
|Missouri||between 31,000 and 35,000**|
The Homeschooling Revolution /32
|Ohio||between 63,000 and 71,000**|
|Oklahoma||between 20,000 and 22,500**|
|Texas||between 150,000 and 200,000*|
|Utah||between 14,700 and 16,700**|
|Wyoming||between 3,000 and 3,500**|
|Total||between 893,217 and 990,817|
Chapter 3 Legal and Political Inroads
On the Legal Front
One barrier to the practice of homeschooling is compulsory school attendance laws. As education author Samuel
L. Blumenfeld has argued, "Today the law is not being used to force delinquents and truants into the schools, but to harass and regulate home schoolers and fundamentalist Christian schools." Blumenfeld also believes such laws violate the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits "involuntary servitude." (1)
Blumenfeld has observed that there has been no concerted effort to repeal compulsory attendance laws or have them declared unconstitutional. (2) But in the late 1970s, throughout the 1980s, and even into the 1990s, as the home-schooling movement gained more converts, compulsory attendance laws were successfully challenged in court.
For example, one landmark case with a positive outcome for homeschoolers was decided in Massachusetts. In Perchemlides v. Frizzle (1978), a Massachusetts state court established the right of the Perchemlides family to home-school their son. The court concluded that "the Massachusetts compulsory attendance statute might well be constitutionally infirm if it did not exempt students whose parents prefer alternative forms of education." (3)
A milestone case for religious homeschoolers was Michigan v. Dejonge (1993), brought by a homeschooling family with two school-aged children. The Dejonges were convicted of violating a Michigan compulsory education law,
The Homeschooling Revolution / 34
since they failed to have their children taught by certified teachers. The DeJonges countered that the conviction was a violation of their right to freely exercise their religion, since they homeschooled for reasons of faith. The Michigan State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents. The court stated, ".... the Dejonges believe that the Word of God commands them to educate their children without state certification. Any regulation interfering with that commandment is state regulation of religion." (4) The court's conclusion? "We hold that the teacher certification requirement is an unconstitutional violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment as applied to families whose religious convictions prohibit the use of certified instructors. Such families, therefore, were exempted from the dictates of the teacher certification requirements." (5)
In reality, some of the legal battles homeschoolers have won have been resolved only at tremendous emotional and financial costs to families. Parents who homeschool can encounter the most extreme penalties possible. Their children can be removed from their homes or sent to live in foster homes, and the parents can find themselves jailed for their choice.
In such a crucible landed a clan of farmers in southwestern Idaho. The Shippys, a family of land levelers, resided in the picturesque community of New Plymouth, Idaho. By many accounts, the Shippy brothers, devout Christians and pacifists, were respected laborers with model families.
In November of 1984, Sam and Marquita Shippy, Floyd and Roxy Shippy, and Robert and Cecilia Shippy were jailed for failing to submit to the state of Idaho regarding the education of their school-aged children (totaling sixteen chil
dren). At the time of the sentencing, all three wives were breastfeeding babies.
The Shippys' problems with educational bureaucrats began in 1982. It was then that this close-knit family created a homeschool -Black Canyon School. The Shippys believed they had to "register" their homeschool with school authorities, and their nightmare began when they inquired about the particulars of the process. The Board of Trustees of the New Plymouth School District, headed by school superintendent Michael Jacobsen, had a long list of mandates for homeschoolers -the type of requirements that would be appropriate for those operating a conventional, private school. For example, the parents were told to post "Exit" signs over the doors of their homes, since their homeschool was required to "meet the local and national standards for health(Buy now from http://www.drugswell.com) and safety of the children." The Shippys were also expected to provide "methods by which normal social growth and peer interaction will be provided," as well as the "qualifications of the teacher (s)." (6)
The Shippys did not see the need to comply with these intrusive requirements, and when they refused to have their homes inspected, they were hauled into court. Along with a fourth brother, Terry Shippy, and his wife, Connie, the couples were charged with a misdemeanor for failing to enroll their children in school. Although a six-month jail sentence was suspended, the four couples were placed on two years' probation with the stipulation that they enroll their children in public schools or an approved private program and that the children accrue no unexcused absences.
The children went back to public school. Not long after, in the autumn of 1984, school officials noted that the Shippy children were frequently absent from school and
The Homeschooling Revolution 136
complained that they were not being provided an adequate education. On November 8, 1984, Payette County 3rd District Magistrate Byrne E. Behrman, reimposed the jail sentence on three of the Shippy couples for failing to follow the court order to provide regular schooling for the children. This, in spite of the fact that Sam Shippy told the Idaho Statesman that the children spent their days reading, writing, and working around the house when they were not attending school. (7) The Shippy children were placed under the guardianship of relatives who agreed to send them to public school. After three weeks in jail, the parents were released, and the children were allowed to return home for a Christmas visit.
When the holidays ended, Sam and Marquita decided they had endured enough persecution and did not return the children to their relatives. That decision set the scene for a horrific show-down. On January 10, 1985, county sheriff's officers arrived at Sam and Marquita Shippy's home and forcibly carried their six children to state vehicles, loaded them in, and drove them away.
The Shippy children spent several months in foster care before they returned home for good. During their time in the care of the State, some of the Shippy children's deeply-held religious beliefs, which influenced their recreation and dress habits, were violated. For example, Sheri Shippy, then 14, attended a graduation dance against her wishes. She also had to wear jeans to school instead of the customary long dress she regularly donned.
The Shippy situation ended on a sour note. Sam and Marquita Shippy moved from Payette County to Gem County (Idaho) to avoid further confrontations with school officials in New Plymouth. And, in 1987, Robert Shippy was again jailed for failing to comply with court-mandated home
schooling procedures. During his prison term, Cecilia, his wife and the mother of their 11 children, passed away.
But almost two decades after the Shippy tragedy, homeschool regulation in Idaho is a lax affair. Bob Fontaine, the state's coordinator of elementary education, can only vaguely estimate how many homeschoolers there are because "it is impossible to have any kind of count of homeschoolers in Idaho, since it is not necessary for homeschoolers to register with local school districts or even participate in statewide standardized testing." (8) Thanks to the courage of the Shippys and legislators like Bob Forrey of Nampa, Idaho (who advocated on behalf of this persecuted family and who began the process of shepherding a bill through the legislature to soften the state's compulsory school attendance laws), homeschooling is today a viable choice in Idaho.
And the good news continued to sweep through other states. By 1995, in response to homeschoolers' numerous court victories at the state level, 33 states had enacted home-schooling legislation. Today, homeschooling is legal in all states. According to the literature of the National Homeschool Association of Webster, New York, "Homeschooling is legally permitted in all fifty states, but laws and regulations are much more favorable in some states than in others." (9)
States such as Texas are considered friendly to homeschoolers in that there is no requirement for parents to initiate contact with the state. On the other hand, homeschooling families in states like Massachusetts are heavily regulated. (Curriculum is subject to the approval of the local superintendents, and submission of standardized test scores can be required, as can periodic reports on the students' progress.) Until last year, homeschooling families in Lynn,
The Homeschooling Revolution /38
Massachusetts were required to have their homes evaluated by school officials. Two Lynn families, the Brunelles and the Pustells, went to court over the issue of home visits, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in their favor.
Oklahoma has a constitutional provision guaranteeing what could be interpreted as the right to homeschool. Article 13, Section 4 reads that the legislature shall provide for the "compulsory attendance at some public or other school, unless other means of education are provided, of all children in the State who are sound in mind and body, between the ages of eight and sixteen, for at least three months each year."
In spite of the magnitude of legal gains, homeschoolers can still be thrown curve balls, now and then, by school officials. Indeed, no family can be 100% sure that there will be no action taken by statists who are determined to hamper the homeschooling efforts of committed parents, whom they perceive as the 'competition,' while boosting the public school education monopoly, even if their tactics infringe upon the right of innocent children to learn at home in peace.
In the fall of 1999 another Shippy-like homeschooling brouhaha erupted around a 36-year-old mother from Burlington, Vermont named Karen Maple. Ms. Maple was held at Chittenden Regional Correctional Center for tangling with public school officials who did not approve of the home-school she set up for Trevor, her 15-year-old son. Trevor thrived in the home atmosphere, based on the outstanding scores of his Stanford Achievement Test. But Ms. Maple was deemed a criminal and was prosecuted by the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services for truancy. Her crime? She refused state officials' demands to take her son to a child protection agency, so his educational needs could be evaluated.
Legal and Political Inroads / 39
Ms. Maple's time in jail separated her not only from Trevor, but from a two-year-old daughter she was breastfeeding. This travesty of justice caused the Wall Street Journal to jump into the fray. An editorial in the Journal noted, "Such cases are but the latest battles in a war that today extends beyond the issue of home schooling to the fundamental rights of families to raise their children the way they see fit." (11) In the end, Judge Michael Kupersmith released Karen Maple after she had spent nearly two weeks behind bars.
The lawyers on staff at the Home School Legal Defense Association are called upon regularly to assist some of the organization's 60,000 members with legal assistance. Christopher Klicka, an attorney for HSLDA, notes that during the 1990-91 school year, nearly 2,000 homeschoolers with problems sought assistance from his organization. Those problems "involved various degrees of harassment, ranging from actual or threatened prosecution to the attempted imposition of restrictions in excess of the law." (12) In 1999, the Home School Court Report (also affiliated with HSLDA) reported on the following two cases:
1) In New Jersey, Eduardo and Pamela Morales of Mahwah found themselves confronting the inconsistencies of that state's law. At the start of the school year, they informed their local superintendent of their intent to home-school and what textbooks their children would be using. Since New Jersey state law does not require this type of notification, it was a shock to the Morales family when the vice-principal of Mahwah Township insisted on examining the textbooks. Mr. and Mrs. Morales declined, and they were criminally prosecuted for being in violation of the compulsory attendance law. (13)
The Homeschooling Revolution /40
2) In Kansas, a 10-year-old child known as "Donnie C" was labeled as a special education student when he attended public school. His parents, Jeff and Tina Cipolla, decided to remove him from school to teach him in their home. But bureaucrats in Crawford County were not eager to let him go. The county attorney and the court-appointed guardian ad litem scrutinized both the competence of his parents and the number of hours of instruction in the Cipolla's homeschool, simply because public school authorities have deemed Donnie a "child in need of care." (14)
These situations seem to lack logic, are troubling and costly, and detract from the effort that might be expended by the 'authorities' in providing public school students with a better education and safer schools. In general, however, most homeschoolers have few complaints about the current legal climate and eagerly make use of the legal resources available to them if they do encounter a roadblock.
On the Political Front
One focus of the homeschooling movement over the past couple decades has been to support legislation favorable to home education and prevent unfavorable legislation from being enacted. It is one aspect of the movement which can bind various groups of homeschoolers together and reminds them of their common belief that children learn better at home.
Homeschoolers have shown they exercise political clout and have a track record to prove it. In 1994, for example, homeschoolers overwhelmed Capitol Hill switchboards for several days in their efforts to get Congress to drop a drive that would have forced parents to get teaching certifi
cates before they could homeschool. Of this intense lobbying effort, the Congressional Quarterly noted that House members were besieged by homeschoolers with "calls, letters, and faxes for over a week ..." Their efforts paid off. The House voted with home educators, 424 to 1, on that issue. (15)
In 1999, the U.S. Senate proclaimed the week of September 19-25 as National Home Education Week. On that weekend, the Home School Legal Defense Association sponsored a rally in Washington, D.C., which drew five of the nine presidential candidates -Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, and George W. Bush. All were apparently eager to court the vote of homeschooling parents and to speak on behalf of the rights of parents to educate their children however they choose. Candidate Forbes said the following: "You've shamed the regular school systems with what you've achieved. For those who have carped and criticized and said, 'What about socialization?' ... you look at some of our schools, you call that socialization?" (16)
Many homeschoolers have also won struggles to be allowed to have access to the local public school's extracurricular activities. It's not uncommon to hear stories like that of Stephen Moitozo II of Maine (who is the owner of Homeschool Associates and BookmobileOnline.com, which offers parents curriculum support). As a teenaged homeschooler, he played on the football team of Lewiston High School, Maine's largest public school. During his senior year, he started on offense and defense, served as captain, and was selected the Most Valuable Player. He believes he is the only homeschooler on the East Coast with this sports resume. (17)
While some homeschoolers have opted to be a tangential part of the educational mainstream, the movement as a whole has been lauded by some for their commitment to
The Homeschooling Revolution /42
being separated from it. Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, wrote a widely-publicized letter to supporters about the status of the conservative movement. In the letter, he shared his frustration with how little the conservative social agenda (e.g. banning partial birth abortions) has been implemented, despite the number of supposed conservative activists who hold elected office.
He blames the political culture's corruption for the decline of particular moral standards in society, and puts in a positive word about homeschooling. Weyrich writes, "Therefore, what seems to me a legitimate strategy for us to follow is to look at ways to separate ourselves from the institutions that have been captured by the ideology of Political Correctness, or by other enemies of our traditional culture." He continues, "What I mean by separation is, for example, what the homeschoolers have done. Faced with public school systems that no longer educate, but instead 'condition' students with the attitudes demanded by Political Correctness, they have seceded. They have separated themselves from public schools and have created new institutions, new schools, in their homes." (18)
At the other end of the political spectrum is Judy Mann, a liberal writer for the Washington Post, who wrote a column entitled, "Home Schooling's Progressive Wing." In her column she applauds left-of-center homeschoolers for discovering a positive alternative to the "culture of death" into which many teenagers have immersed themselves. As Mann observes, "These home-schooling parents may have much to teach professional educators about how to develop safe and effective learning environments -where all children feel appreciated -so that we can stop the bloodshed at our schools." She ends her piece sounding like a gung-ho
reformer: "Public schools are institutions for educating the masses, which means kids who don't conform are often bored or cast out. The secular movement toward home schooling is itself creating environments in which children can soar." (19)
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, host of one of the most popular radio talk shows in the 1990s, is not unfamiliar with homeschoolers. Dr. Laura, as fans address her, averages 30,000 to 50,000 attempted calls a day from folks clamoring for her blunt advice on relationships. Dr. Laura is famously known for advocating stay-at-home parenting vs. daycare. But in the September 1998 issue of her publication, Dr. Laura Perspective, subscribers learned she is also sympathetic toward homeschooling. Perspective included a two-page excerpt from The Homeschooling Book of Answers by Linda Dobson. Also featured in the issue were several website postings from individuals writing to www.drlaura.com which enthusiastically debated the subject of home education. (20)
While some political and cultural pundits are energizing the homeschooling debate, leaders of education reform organizations are also taking a serious look at this choice. In 1994, Marshall Fritz formed the Separation of School and State Alliance to get government entirely out of the business of schooling, and out of the business of compelled attendance, financing, curriculum, testing, and credentialing. Fritz sees growing public support for his idea, and has courted influential homeschooling leaders -Mary Pride, Gregg Harris, and Cathy Duffy -to sign on to his proclamation. Recalls Fritz, "In July, 1990,1 sat in the front row at my first homeschool conference. Cathy Duffy gave the keynote address. Within twenty minutes, tears were welling -no, streaming -and I nudged my friend who came with me and said, 'This is the beginning of the parent re-responsibilization movement.' " (21)
The Homeschooling Revolution / 44
The Children's Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit organization started in 1998, gives vouchers to low-income parents to help them gain access to the private schools of their choice. Bankrolled by the likes of philanthropists Ted Forstmann and John Walton, the organization has also earmarked scholarships for those who choose to homeschool. Some inner-city families are indeed using the vouchers for this purpose.
There has also been a smattering of high-profile political candidates who are homeschooling parents. One candidate, Gex Williams of Kentucky, a homeschooling father of six, came close to becoming the congressman for the fourth district in 1998. Michael Farris, Home School Legal Defense Association founder, garnered 46% of the vote for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993. Christina Jeffrey of Georgia is both a college professor and a homeschooling parent. She ran in the Republican primary for Newt Gingrich's vacated congressional seat when he resigned as Speaker of the House in 1998. Homeschooling parents also serve in state legislatures, on city councils, and on school boards throughout the United States. For example, State Rep. Kevin Calvey of Del City, Oklahoma has two children who are homeschooled.
In addition to the progress homeschooling families make academically, they are finding that as individuals and as a movement they are able to bring about change and find success in the legal and political realms. Such has been the case for some 25 years, and there are no indications that the progress will be impeded,
Homeschoolers have come a long way, and, unlike comedian Rodney Dangerfield, they are getting respect these days.
Chapter 4 The Socialization Question
Barnaby Marsh's parents, John and Cheryl Marsh, raised him in the Alaskan wilderness near Talkeetna. They gave him the equivalent of a fifth grade education, and then allowed him to do his own learning. During Barnaby's adolescent years, he lived with his family in what he describes as "an extended exercise in wilderness survival," highlighted by sojourns to Anchorage.
To his credit, Barnaby made the most of his unusual circumstances. He continued his education by reading the classics and observing his natural surroundings, which included a study of the red-necked grebe, a waterfowl.
Today Barnaby is in his twenties. Did he grow up to be like a Boo Radley misfit -the recluse in To Kill A Mockingbird? Is he now a misanthrope, having been deprived of the privilege of 'hanging out' with other high schoolers? Not even close. Barnaby's bona fides are enough to make the parents of a suburban slacker weep.
He spent his maiden semester of college, which was his first time in any school, at Harvard University, where he completed several part-time courses to determine how he would perform in a formal academic setting. He then elected to enroll at Cornell University, because he admired their ornithology department. At Cornell, he founded the Ecological Conservation Society; participated in non-competitive crew, golf, basketball, and swimming; was a reviewer for The Ibis (a respected ornithological journal); and served on the Undergraduate Research Board. In 1996, during his senoor year at Cornell, he became one of the 32 American recipi
The Homeschooling Revolution / 46
ents of a Rhodes Scholarship. He is completing his doctoral dissertation, finishing up his third year at Oxford University in England, and has been elected to a very competitive research fellowship at Oxford. (1)
Alexandra Swann was raised in the desolate desert of New Mexico. Her parents, John and Joyce Swann, were more sympathetic to middle-class amenities than the Marshes. Consequently, her free time didn't center around gazing at desert wildlife. Instead, Mrs. Swann, armed with only a high school education, assumed full responsibility for her thenfive-year-old daughter's education. Never attending school meant Alexandra spent her days at home with her nine siblings, helping her mother manage the household, and learning from the Calvert School's correspondence course program. For Alexandra, the lifestyle excluded her from cheer-leading try-outs, proms, and gossiping with classmates in the halls.
Did Alexandra cry herself to sleep for leading such a family-oriented, insulated existence? Again, not even close.
By age 16, Alexandra had earned her diploma -a master's degree in history from California State University's external degree program. At age 18, she was hired by El Paso Community College to teach western civilization and U.S. history to students her own age. She says that all her students were products of the public education system. "I was horrified because there were so many of them who couldn't read and write," recalls Alexandra.
Like Barnaby, Alexandra is currently in her late twenties. She manages a mortgage and loan business with her
father. She has self-published a book about her educational experiences and has been written about in national publications like National Review and Investor's Business Daily. Very active in her church, Alexandra didn't grow up to be a bitter Miss Havisham, the woeful Dickens' character in Great Expectations, rueing her past.
That the feats of Barnaby Marsh and Alexandra Swann were accomplished when the homeschooling movement was barely a blip on the educational-reform screen makes their stories all the more remarkable. "Twenty years ago we didn't know anyone who homeschooled. There was a concern we would become vegetables, unable to function in society," says Alexandra. (2)
And therein lies the heart of the matter.
Spend time, even briefly, chatting with homeschoolers, and they will inevitably indicate that the most frequently asked question they encounter is about socialization, not academics. Neighbors, extended family, critics, and clerics have always been curious about how homeschoolers acquire social skills. The questions run something like this: How does a homeschooled child make and keep friends? How does he get exposed to young people from all walks of life? Isn't a homeschooled child isolated? These are apparently the same concerns of the National Education Association, which adopted an anti-homeschooling resolution at the association's annual convention in the summer of 1999. Resolution B-67 states that "home schooling programs cannot provide
The Homeschooling Revolution /48
the student with a comprehensive education experience." In the same breath, the NEA also demands that "home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools." (3)
As Kathleen Lyons, a spokesperson for the National Education Association, puts it...
Too often missing from the debate on home schooling are the benefits that public schools provide children, advantages that most common measures of education success overlook. Educating children to live and work in a global society where they will have to interact with people from different races, economic status, backgrounds, and ethnic groups is best taught by experience. Public schools provide such experiences. Further, public schools offer students the opportunity to sharpen essential skills that are required in the job market today, such as problem solving in cooperative groups. (4)
That sentiment is echoed by Lyons' colleague, Bob
Chase, National Education Association president. Notes
Chase in a letter to the Wall Street Journal:
Education is more than forcing facts into a child's head. It is learning to work with others and interacting with people from different races, backgrounds, and ethnic groups. Public education represents a slice of reality that goes beyond participation in 4-H activities, ballet classes, and church socials. It is a preparation for the real world that students will have to face whether they are leaving the security of a school or their parents' home. (5)
Giving the benefit of the doubt to Lyons and Chase, let us assume that the advocates for a powerful teachers' union are committed to producing well-rounded, intelligent students. This begs the question: What concern is it of the State?
That schools can deliver what NEA proponents assert is a dubious, perhaps dangerous claim. With alarming frequency, school administrators are discovering that browbeating churlish adolescents to remain in school, especially bored males, can cause chaos. After the Columbine tragedy, for example, WorldNetDaily, an Internet news site, reported a huge surge in interest in homeschooling across the United States. WorldNetDaily reporter Paul Chesser quotes a source from the Christian Home Educators of Colorado explaining, "Calls have increased fivefold, from about 60 a month to over 300." (6)
Another serious issue in public schools is the growing problem of sexual harassment. The issue came to the forefront when a fifth-grader named LaShonda Davis of Forsyth, Georgia complained that she was repeatedly sexually taunted by a young male classmate. When school officials at Hubbard Elementary School, LaShonda's school, failed to do anything about her plight, Aurelia Davis, the girl's mother, sued the Monroe County Board of Education, claiming it violated Title IX. The case of Davis v. Monroe County School Board was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In May, the Supreme Court justices ruled that public schools can be sued and forced to pay damages for failing to stop sexual harassment by students. (7)
The case is revealing on many counts. That school officials did nothing about criminal behavior is sobering. That a child as young as LaShonda would have to endure such torment indicates that the oversexualization of children in soci
The Homeschooling Revolution / 50
ety, combined with a lack of moral training, creates awful mischief. Finally, that the federal government would have to step in to bring a stop to crude actions, which in another era would have gotten a student promptly expelled, seems drastic. If school officials can't discipline conduct gross and unbecoming, then it is unrealistic to assume children will control their impulses to misbehave.
Consequently, the notion that attending school teaches a young person stellar socialization skills is a debatable proposition. Schools enjoy a notorious reputation as nondemocratic communities where a pecking order of cliques always emerges and bullies dominate the weak. And it is hardly a modern problem. Consider a scene from school life in the late 1800s in a quaint, one-room schoolhouse as depicted in Farmer Boy, the story by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her husband's (Almanzo Wilder) childhood in upstate New York. Laura writes, "These big boys were sixteen or seventeen years old and they came to school only in the middle of the winter term. They came to thrash the teacher and break up the school." She goes on to say that the teacher took care of the bullies by thrashing them with a 15-foot long blacksnake ox-whip given to the teacher by Almanzo's father. (8)
Parents have long complained about the unacceptable clothing, manners, friends, and entertainment that their children often copy from school-aged peers. Besides that is the narrowness of spending time with throngs of people one's own age, year after year. Raymond Moore, a founding father of the homeschooling movement, makes the point:
The average owner of a fine dog is more careful in obedience training than most parents are of their young children. The owner would laugh you to scorn or answer angrily if you suggested that he send his young dog down to the kennel
or pound daily in a yellow group cage to receive some socializing by his peers. He knows that a dog's manners and normal restraint go out the window the moment he moves in with the pack. Yet that is precisely the exercise most American early schoolers go through each school morning beginning in the school bus. (9)
Critics who leap on the socialization bandwagon have forgotten their own nation's colorful past as one which lauds the principled individualist -the Daniel Boones, the Davy Crocketts, the Nathan Hales, and the Harriet Tubmans. These were individuals who went against the grain and whose heroic tales have inspired legions of Americans. Many children delight in reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. It is a wonderful story of how American families, often living in the wilderness as jack-of-all-trade trailblazers, tamed the land. They also had a quality of life which seems far more interesting than our own homogenized, one-size-fits-all, we-are-theworld, mass media culture.
If anything, homeschoolers should be lauded for offering a less-jaded perspective on society because of their experiences. As Joshua Harris, a twenty-something ex-homeschooler, who once edited a magazine for homeschooled teens, points out, "Homeschoolers of my generation have a unique perspective, in general, just because they have not seen life in the same perspective that everyone else has. So, we have a real opportunity to inject fresh ideas, whether about relationships or education, into the mainstream." (10)
Defining socialization is an arbitrary exercise. If by 'socialization,' one means the ability to control obnoxious behavior, knowing how to carry on a conversation, being responsible enough to hold a job or support a family, contributing to the community, and so forth, then there is no evi
The Homeschooling Revolution / 52
dence that homeschooling parents have failed their children. To that end, two ground-breaking research studies debunk the myth that homeschoolers grow up to be social misfits.
In 1992, Larry Shyers, then a doctoral student at the University of Florida, wrote a dissertation in which he successfully challenged the notion that youngsters taught at home "lag" in social development. In his study, 8-to-10-yearold children were videotaped at play. Their behavior was observed by trained counselors who did not know which children went to regular schools and which were home-schooled.
The study found no real difference between the two groups of children in self-concept or assertiveness, which was measured by social development tests. But the videotapes did reveal that youngsters who were taught at home by their parents had consistently fewer behavior problems.
The results of this study draw into question the conclusion made by many educators that traditionally educated children are more socially well adjusted than are those who are home schooled. Although the traditionally educated children participating in this study achieved high mean self-concept and acceptable assertiveness scores, their mean problem behavior scores were well above the normal range of 0 to 6 suggested by the authors of the DOF [Direct Observation Form], indicating a lack of appropriate social behaviors. This finding supports many parents', educators' and researchers' suggestions that traditionally schooled children may not be socially well adjusted. (11)
In contrast, the home schooled children in this study received mean problem behavior scores well within the normal range on the DOF. This finding supports the belief held by home school
The Socialization Question / 53
proponents that home schooled children are socially well adjusted. If children have fewer problem behaviors due to imitating adult behaviors, as suggested by this study, less emphasis may need to be placed on social interactions between children. (12)
In other words, homeschooled students appeared to be better behaved and have higher self-esteem than their public school counterparts -a character strength which has been cultivated because of the amount of time they spend in the company of mature adults, as opposed to immature peers.
The second piece of research was compiled by J. Gary Knowles and James A. Muchmore of the University of Michigan. In a study entitled "Yep! We're Grown-up, Home-schooled Kids -and We're Doing Just Fine, Thank You!" these researchers tracked 46 adults who agreed to be questioned for life history interviews and who had been home educated as children. From this pool, ten individuals were selected for the interviews with care given to forming a diverse group with regard to "age, sex, family background, formal school attendance, present and past residential locations, and vocation." (13) Three of Knowles and Muchmore's conclusions are revealing. First, "The characteristics of the home-educated adults in this study suggest that they grew up with specific advantages that contributed to their independent views of society and their roles in it." Second, "Even in a time of growing unemployment, these people were gainfully employed and productive members of their communities." Third, "The adults reflected positively on their home education and their present occupations. Spirituality and a sense of moral purpose were values shared by many of the adults." (14)
The Homeschooling Revolution / 54
Homeschoolers, according to Knowles and Muchmore's findings, appear to grow up to be content, hardworking adults with a strong sense of right and wrong. Hardly the social zeroes many critics claim they become.
It might be useful to also include the observations of
A. Bruce Arai, of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. Professor Arai wrote a peer-reviewed scholarly analysis titled "Homeschooling and the Redefinition of Citizenship." In his paper he argues that compulsory schooling cannot be the primary agent for citizenship education. Arai finds tha: homeschooled kids are good citizens by noting the high participation levels of homeschoolers in volunteer work and in activities outside the home. Arai writes, "This suggests that homeschooled kids and their parents are keen to integrate into the wider society rather than pulling back from it, as is commonly presumed." (15)
Homeschooling pioneers, like Barnaby Marsh and Alexandra Swann, have been the backbone of the movement. But those who write about more mainstream homeschoolers find that as a group they are very socially inclined. After conducting numerous interviews with homeschoolers of all stripes, I have found, like Professor Arai, that they are busy people -joining sports teams, attending scout meetings, enrolling in college courses, volunteering for internships, working part-time jobs, running youth groups, pursuing political activism, managing small businesses, and attending houses of worship. One phenomenon of the modern home-school movement, which has proven to be a solution to the socialization dilemma, is the emergence of a plethora of homeschool support groups. Every major city and most other areas, in all 50 states, have at least one support group where parents can combine their efforts and provide educational and social opportunities for their children.
Richard G. Medlin, writing in the Home School Researcher, detailed the results of a survey of 1,500 homeschoolers. Almost all agreed that they wanted access to a local homeschool support group, and 85% of the families surveyed belonged to such a group or intended to join one.
Homeschool support groups range from the simple to the complex. For example, the Richmond Regional Home Educators of Richmond, Virginia has volunteers who organize a staggering number of activities, including a band, gymnastics and karate classes, a yearbook, and a graduation ceremony for high school seniors. (17) In Homer, Alaska, Carol Simpson discusses the field trips the homeschoolers in her support group might go on -dog sled rides or an overnight trip to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where visitors can sleep among the seals and sea lions. (18) In the Oklahoma City area, OCHEC magazine, a publication for area home educators, lists twenty-eight such groups. (19) Many of these groups' leaders perform a yeoman's work, from offering information about state homeschooling laws to organizing conferences.
National groups have also formed for persons of various religious beliefs. Jews, Muslims, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Mormons, and Unitarians have groups and web sites, and often communicate with fellow homeschoolers via newsletters. Pursuing their respective faiths and their educational choices often becomes a collective exercise. The 3rd Islamic Education and Muslim Homeschooling Convention, for instance, was held in New England in the summer of 2000. Writing in The Catholic World Report, John Mallon describes a Catholic support group in Steubenville, Ohio, comprised of 53 families. According to Mallon, "The parents support one another spiritually by praying with and for each
The Homeschooling Revolution / 56
other, and on the first Saturday of the month the parents and children attend Mass as a group." (20) Lisa Hodge Kander and Joan Horowitz distribute a newsletter, Jewish Home Educator's Network. The newsletter offers a schedule of Torah readings and activity ideas for the Jewish holidays. (21)
Homeschoolers with learning disabilities, Down Syndrome, or cerebral palsy also have large support networks. Tom and Sherry Bushnell direct one such organization, National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network, which has over 12,000 families on the group's mailing list. (22) In a Washington Post column, Judy Mann described what she dubbed homeschool's "progressive wing." One group, the Montgomery Home Learning Network of Maryland, is made up of some 150 secular homeschoolers. (23) Another association is geared toward Native American homeschoolers who want another option besides government reservation schools. (24) The Home Education Radio Network, a call-in talk show hosted by Vicky Brady, a homeschooling mother, offers information via the air waves.
(25) From the evidence, it appears that homeschoolers eagerly network with others.
Like everything else they have done, homeschoolers are redefining the debate about socialization. They question whether school-based socialization is preferable to family-based socialization, whether the teacher-supervised brand is preferable to the parent-supervised version.
Since my husband and I have opted for the parent-supervised approach, we have played the key role in organizing our sons' social endeavors, which have been many and eclectic. We have tried to offset their peer-oriented activities with significant interaction with adults. Not encouraging mindless, waste-of-time recreation, we have aimed to provide creative, fun learning experiences, like raising our
The Socialization Question / 57
pygmy goat, Mr. Tumnus. Living in a university town helped us introduce our children to people from all over the world, like the Chinese family which regularly fed us dumplings while debating the merits of socialism. And we have taken advantage of the availability of playmates and activities within the homeschooling community.
Homeschooling parents are at liberty to decide what types of socialization opportunities are best for their children, and how much they want to facilitate. They choose to make the decisions of where, when, and with whom. To them, the question isn't whether to socialize or not, it's whose socialization plan to implement. They have opted for their own, and the research results are on their side.
Chapter 5 What About Academics?
Besides growing up to be extremely productive members of society, it's hard to ignore that Barnaby Marsh and Alexandra Swann were both excellent students. The data surrounding homeschoolers who elect to take standardized tests indicates that this is the norm, not the exception to the rule.
Patricia Lines, researcher with the federal Department of Education, concludes that "virtually all the available data show that the group of homeschooled children who are tested resembles that of children in private schools." (1) Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, notes that, regardless of income, race, gender, or parents' level of education, homeschooled children consistently score between the 82nd and 92nd percentiles on achievement tests.
(2) The data from the Washington Homeschool Research Project, which has analyzed the SAT scores of homeschooled children in Washington state since 1985, demonstrated that the scores of those children were above average. Jon Wartes, writing on behalf of the project: "Fears that homeschooled children in Washington are at an academic disadvantage are not confirmed." (3)
In 1999, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) published what some have deemed the most comprehensive study to date of the scholastic achievements of homeschoolers. Lawrence Rudner, a statistician at the University of Maryland, analyzed the standardized test scores of more than 20,000 homeschooled students across the country. Students in kindergarten through 8th grade took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), and students in grades 9 through 12 took the Test of Achievement and Proficiency
The Homeschooling Revolution / 60
(TAP). The results of the Rudner study reveal that a large majority of homeschooled students score well above the national average. Most of the scores were in the 75th to 85th percentile, which means that these homeschoolers scored higher than 75% to 85% of their conventionally-schooled peers. (4)
"Young home school students test one grade level ahead of their counterparts in public and private schools. As they progress, the study shows that home schoolers pull further away from the pack, typically testing four grade levels above the national average by eighth grade," says Michael P. Farris, president of HSLDA, who commissioned the Rudner study. (5)
While Rudner himself agrees that there are demographic limitations to the study, in that the families who participated are overwhelmingly white and Christian, his research affirmatively answers the question: Does home-schooling tend to work for those who choose to make such a commitment?
Other significant pieces of evidence about the educational progress of homeschooled children are plentiful and colorful. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation selected more than 70 homeschooled high schoolers as semifinalists in its 1998 competition. There were 137 homeschooled semifinalists chosen in 1999, and 150 in 2000. (6) Homeschooler Charles Foster of Norman, Oklahoma, one National Merit Scholar, was courted by several Ivy League institutions. He opted for Rose State College in Midwest City and became the state's first homeschooled student to receive a full athletic scholarship to an Oklahoma college. (7) As another indication of high achievement, Susan Richman, of the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency,
reports that a hundred homeschoolers participated in the agency's online Advanced Placement courses in 1998. (8)
The 1997 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee was won by Rebecca Sealfon, a thirteen year old from Brooklyn, New York, who became the first homeschooled student to do so. Rebecca explained that her secret for success was studying word lists for up to three hours a day. This discipline enabled her to easily spell the winning word -euonym -correctly. (9) The 1999 National Geography Bee was won by David Beihl, 13, of Saluda, South Carolina. "I've had lots of time to study," said David, who has been taught at home since kindergarten. He correctly gave the winning response, "La Nina," the Spanish nickname for the weather condition that produces unusually cold ocean temperatures. (10) The 2000 National Spelling Bee was won by George Thampy, a 12-year-old homeschooler from Maryland Heights, Missouri, who also finished second in the National Geography Bee. Indeed, the top three finishers at the 2000 spelling bee were homeschoolers, as were four of the 10 finalists in the geography bee. (11)
Another important component to the academic success of homeschoolers is the sizeable number of students that have been admitted into U.S. colleges and universities. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a boom in home-schooled students winning admission to selective colleges. For example, in 1995, Houghton College in upstate New York had 11 homeschoolers in its freshman class of 340. (12) Dr. Brian Ray's 1997 book, Strengths of Their Own -Home Schoolers Across America, surveyed the post-graduation endeavors of 232 high school homeschoolers. Writes Ray, "Immediately after high school graduation from home education, 25.4% went to a four-year college on a full-time basis, 12.1% went Part-time, and 8.2% went to community college." (13)
The Homeschooling Revolution / 62
Christian Liberty Academy, based in Arlington Heights, Illinois, is a satellite school program which was begun by Dr. Paul D. Lindstrom. Since 1967, the school's correspondence curriculum has helped thousands of home-schooling families. Dozens of colleges, including Yale University, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the Citadel, have accepted graduates of this program. (14)
Taking college or professional courses while still of high school age seems to be a natural extension of the education of many homeschoolers. For instance, teenagers who participate in the Pathfinder Learning Center, a drop-in center for homeschoolers in Amherst, Massachusetts, regularly take classes at Greenfield Community College as part of their curriculum. (15) Aaron Davidson, who eventually graduated from Taylor University (Upland, Indiana), preceded his university enrollment with classes at the College of Siskiyous in California and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. (16) A watershed moment from the early days of homeschooling was when Harvard University admitted the homeschooled son of Californians David and Micki Colfax. Later, two other Colfax boys were also admitted to Harvard. (17)
Now homeschoolers are starting their own college. Michael P. Farris, president of HSLDA, is the mastermind behind Patrick Henry College, a two-year college set in rural Virginia. It will cater largely to students who have been homeschooled and will open in the fall of 2000. (18)
It is not difficult to understand how homeschooled students can do well academically. Many of them receive their instruction in a one-on-one setting, especially at an early age. Their teachers/parents have a clear idea where their interests lie and the style of learning most suited to them. Also, parents have a wide variety of resources at their
disposal. If one textbook does not fit, it can be discarded and another obtained.
Homeschoolers are free to progress more rapidly at home, if they have special aptitudes in particular subject areas, than if they are required to conform to the learning paces of others, say, in a classroom setting. Some parents even venture outside the home to contract the services of tutors who have expertise in subject matters in which the parents may be weak, such as music, foreign languages, or advanced math. In many areas of the country, where home-school cooperatives exist, parents can share their expertise and offer classes for one another's children on a part-time basis.
It is this freedom that parents have to direct their children's progress through various subjects that helps to make their home education successful and manageable. Most parents can discern when their children have mastered the material and are ready to move on.
In my little homeschool, I have tried to make the learning as natural and spontaneous as possible. Consequently, our family has held formal instruction to a minimum and integrated book-based learning into the fiber of family life. A typical day usually includes two hours of sit-down-at-the-desk academics. And that happens only after the boys have been alert for a good part of the morning. This has been our one-on-one time, when pencil and paper are necessary, and the desk-setting is most appropriate for the work we are doing.
Besides this formal hour or two, the day is laced with question and answer sessions (say, in the car), educational video viewing, quiet reading, and games (like Scrabble).
The Homeschooling Revolution / 64
Learning is an all day, every day, all year experience for us. Occasionally, our sons have studied with other children and under other adults.
Although we in our family have selected a very eclectic approach to homeschooling (i.e. not adhering to one particular curriculum, teaching style, or evaluation criterion), many parents opt for someone else's marketed formula for homeschooling. Perhaps a friend recommends a set of textbooks; maybe a magazine advertisement catches a parent's eye; or it might be that a group of parents review several curricula and choose one for their group of children (as in a learning cooperative). Whatever the means, whatever the tools -with committed, diligent parents, homeschooled students can come out on top.
Many programs are available to parents. Sometimes one curriculum can meet a family's needs; other times the 'teachers' will need to mix and match to best serve their children. Here are four examples that exist in the marketplace of homeschooling ideas. These are merely the tip of the proverbial educational iceberg.
Escondido Tutorial Service
For parents who desire a classical education for their children, Fritz Hinrichs founded the Escondido Tutorial Service (ETS). Using online-video conferencing software, tutors work directly with students interested in studying the classics.
What is a classical education?
The core of Classical Education is the trivium, which ... emphasizes concrete thinking and memorization ... in grade school; analytical thinking and understanding ... in middle school, and abstract thinking and articulation ... in high school. (19)
The unique subjects of grammar, logic, and rhetoric supplement a study of "the history, art, and culture of
|of a Biblical worldview." (20)|
The primary goal of classical education is "to give children the tools to think for themselves and to be independent, lifelong learners. Children taught by this method routinely exhibit academic proficiency." (21)
So, parents who have not had a classical education themselves can provide one for their children via the Internet. Geometry, the Great Books (e.g. Homer's Iliad and Plato's Republic), apologetics, Shakespeare's plays, New Testament survey ... it's all available. Click on, and begin to learn.
The Robinson Self-Teaching Curriculum
One package, one price ($195), one stop shopping for a homeschooling curriculum. This 12-year pre-packaged education plan was developed by Dr. Arthur Robinson, widower and homeschooling father of six children. "The curriculum offers self-taught preparation of children for the modern world. This includes education in math, physical sci
The Homeschooling Revolution / 66
ences, history, literature, economics, and general studies."
Dr. Robinson and his children live out their home-schooling on a family farm, where the kids study and work, mostly independently. Dr. Robinson claims to spend "less than 15 minutes per day (on average) engaged in working as the children's teacher. They are teaching themselves." (23) Even at that, all of them are excelling academically. Zachary, the oldest child, scored a combined 1480 on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) on his first try.
According to Dr. Robinson, a parent's function is to "provide excellent books, a good study environment, and a daily schedule conducive to good study habits -and then get out of the way!" And because children learn primarily by example, parents should model the behaviors, habits, and thinking they want their children to exhibit. He says, "If your children learn to self-learn, they will continue to do so throughout their lives and, in so doing, will be able to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them."
The curriculum includes 12 years of education, with 22 CD-ROMs, printable books, a 120,000 page library resource, exams, math flash cards, and much more. And no matter how many children are in the homeschool, only one curriculum is necessary.
At Calvert, our proven approach to teaching is our hallmark: Train a child early and well, teach the basics when it fits the child's development (at a time in their lives when they are eager to be trained), and then add content and analysis to the highest standards. (25)
Ranging from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade, each year of the Calvert curriculum contains textbooks, workbooks, and lesson manuals. Both standard and enrichment courses are offered. Education Counselors are also available by phone or e-mail.
Calvert's goal is to make homeschooling easier for parents and children. So far, more than 400,000 students have participated in the Calvert program, which is approved by the Maryland State Department of Education.
An added benefit of the Calvert School is its Advisory Teaching Service (ATS). For a 'reasonable fee,' students can have their unit tests evaluated by an advisory teacher who grades the work and issues a report containing helpful suggestions and comments, either through regular mail or online. Students enrolled in ATS can earn completion certificates and have transcripts of grades furnished to other schools. (26)
A Beka Video School
In the 1998-99 school year, more than 23,000 students, grades kindergarten through 12th, were enrolled in the A Beka Video Home School and A Beka Correspondence School. (27) Actual classes at Pensacola (Florida) Christian
The Homeschooling Revolution / 68
Academy, taught by the school's master teachers, are videotaped and made available to homeschoolers. Although instruction is initially delivered in a traditional, Christian-oriented classroom setting, homeschooled students can learn in the comfort and quiet of their own homes. Parents facilitate, schedule, and oversee these lessons, and can supplement them if they choose.
Included with the teaching videos are the Teacher Kit and the Student Kit, containing workbooks, solution keys, test booklets, test keys, and various teacher (parent) guides.
A typical year's curriculum looks like this: 6th grade ... reading (character-building, patriotic stories), spelling and vocabulary (35 words and definitions per week), English grammar and usage, creative writing, Geography: History of the Western Hemisphere, science (creation, chemistry, physics), arithmetic, Bible stories, poetry and art.
Quite a broad array of homeschooling learning aids exist. Some are geared toward parents who want to teach; others are especially for those parents who want only to facilitate their children's learning. While one curriculum may be appropriate one year, an entirely different approach may be best in a subsequent year. Or, as is sometimes the case, one child may excel using one method and a sibling benefit more from another. Only those closest to the children, the parents, will know what works best at any given stage of development, in regard to both the materials presented and the teaching method employed.
One thing has become certain: Just about any curriculum that covers all the basics can be used by parents to pre
What About Academics? / 69
pare their children for successful test-taking. Because most standardized tests focus on the topics covered in a traditional, liberal arts academic program, children who study these topics from an early age can score well, usually better than most public school students, who more and more have less and less taught to them about the basics.
And indications are that homeschoolers will continue to fare well when measured against their institutionally-educated counterparts. If standardized test scores can be used as a gauge of learning, home education appears to be very effective. A growing number of support groups and a broad selection of curricula will make jumping on the home education bandwagon increasingly doable for more families. And as a growing number of homeschoolers move up through the ranks and go on to college, the movement's success stories will draw others in.
The Marketing of a Movement / 71
Chapter 6 The Marketing of a Movement
In Texas, where the natives are supposed to like everything big -from big hair to big steaks -even the homeschooling conferences are good-sized affairs. When the North Texas Home Educators' Network held their annual conference at the Piano Centre in the summer of 1999, over a thousand participants came, saw, and conquered the fundamentals of home education.
Homeschooling conferences are well-attended by parent educators because they serve several purposes. Parents get the opportunity to listen to nationally-respected speakers; they can browse long lines of curriculum tables; they can receive legal information about the laws in their particular state; and they have fun hobnobbing with like-minded mavericks. Year-round, homeschooling organizations host large state-wide conferences which feature homeschool advocates (like Christopher Klicka, Mary Pride, Raymond Moore, Patrick Farenga, or Linda Dobson), as well as scores of workshops. A 1993 conference in Massachusetts keynoted Martin Luther King III.
At the two-day conference in Piano, a suburb of Dallas, an airy exhibit hall of vendors' tables included representatives from Texas Tech's Extended Learning Program, the National Writing Institute, Geography Matters, and Rod and Staff Publishers, a publishing company run by Mennonites. There was also science equipment, such as microscopes and plastic cages containing tarantulas. For the technologically -minded there was plenty of computer software, teaching videos, and online class programs. Complimentary copies of glossy homeschooling publica
The Homeschooling Revolution / 72
tions, like The Teaching Home and the Texas Home School Review, were distributed to conference participants.
Thirty-two workshops were offered. Parents could unravel "The truth about dinosaurs" or sigh with relief after attending "No more fear in fractions!" One speaker dealt with the topic of the Internet, and another offered information for teaching driver's education. As part of the program, five homeschooled teenagers comprised a panel who fielded questions from the audience about their lives. Lawrence Burges, 16, an African-American lad from Baton Rouge, Louisiana shared how his homeschooled brother, Eric, was the evidence manager for politician Woody Jenkins. (Jenkins, a Republican, charged Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, with voter fraud when the two vied for a U.S. Senate seat in 1996.)
This being Texas, a state with a booming Hispanic population, a seminar in Spanish entitled, "LA Mejor Razon: For que Educar en Nuestro Hogar" ("The Best Reason: Why Educate in Your Home") was offered. The speaker was a Mexican-American homeschooling father of three named Jorge Gomez. Gomez' goal is an ambitious one. He wants to inform Mexican immigrants that their adopted country has laws which give parents the freedom to homeschool. He is enthusiastic about homeschooling, because he observes that assimilating into public schools is negatively impacting Mexican youth. Gomez finds that young Mexicans are adopting more liberal values than the conservative ones historically embraced by Hispanics. (1)
At this conference one of the "big-gun" speakers was Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition and father of four. Lambert gave an introductory presentation about homeschooling covering legal and socialization issues. There is still much misinformation about home
schooling, and new generations of interested parents keep coming along, thus 'taking that first step' seminars are always in demand.
In the comfortable atmosphere of Piano, the novice and the veteran gained valuable knowledge which helped many to achieve their academic goals, as is the experience of most participants at homeschooling conferences.
That these conferences attract hundreds, even thousands, of parents seems to demonstrate how eager families are to solicit advice to make their homeschools both manageable and enjoyable. Indeed, homeschooling is a philosophy that radically affects the convenience-driven American lifestyle. It requires that parents plan the best way to teach, semester after semester, a variety of subjects. Conferences motivate parents to talk to numerous professionals to determine the best way to teach their children. Whatever the challenge a particular family faces, homeschooling is usually done in addition to managing a household and carrying out more traditional parenting duties. Reinventing oneself as a homeschooler is an ambitious goal, and gleaning knowledge from those who have gone before is very beneficial.
Janice Quitmeyer, public relations coordinator for the Christian Home Educators of Colorado, agrees that "home schooling is a way of life. It's a huge commitment. Your reasons for homeschooling have to go further than safety." (2) She might add that the reasons also go beyond mere discouragement with a lax superintendent, an inappropriate sex education class, a police officer who roams the school halls prowling for miscreants, or students smoking in the bathrooms. Even very good reasons to homeschool a child can dissolve on that fall day when a parent, who hasn't cracked open a high school text in years, is faced with the task of
The Homeschooling Revolution / 74
teaching an energetic 15-year-old how to balance chemical equations or conjugate verbs in Latin.
Increasingly, homeschoolers, in addition to confer-ence-shopping, have many affordable resources at their disposal. They can participate in homeschooling cooperatives, where volunteer parents pool their talents to teach each other's children. They can frequent businesses, like gymnastic studios or health(Buy now from http://www.drugswell.com) clubs, which are courting homeschoolers by offering classes during school hours. Thanks to the market, homeschoolers need never feel alone in their endeavors.
Here are other ways the free market is working to serve home educators:
*Books. Many families begin their entry into home-schooling by reading a book. Sounds simple? Indeed. Popular homeschooling books are plentiful and authored by folks with interesting bona fides: How to Tutor by Samuel L. Blumenfeld, a bachelor; The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator; You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechik, a grandmother of four with an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction; Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax, the California homesteaders who sent several homeschooled sons to Harvard; and The Big Book of Home Learning by Mary Pride, a homeschooling mother of nine. Home Education Press, operated by a second-generation homeschooling family -Mark and Helen Hegener -publishes philosophical and practical books about homeschooling, including the critically acclaimed, The Art of Education, by Linda Dobson. A shrewd consumer need only log on to any online bookseller and choose from scores of titles available about homeschooling.
*Magazines. There are several respected homeschooling publications which have circulations of 15,000 to 25,000. Homeschooling author Mary Pride publishes Practical Homeschooling, a colorful magazine which, among other items, contains product reviews and first-person vignettes from homeschoolers. The magazine is a family venture. Ted Pride, 19, Mary's eldest child, manages the web site for the publication. (3) Homeschooling Today, one of the newer magazines, is published by a former vice-president of the Conservative Book Club, Maureen McCaffrey. It is a glossy publication and features a popular section called "Understanding the Arts," which displays color reproductions of art masters. The Teaching Home, begun in 1980 and a staple among Christian homeschoolers, contains an insert which alerts families to news about homeschooling in their particular state. Growing Without Schooling looks like a lengthy newsletter and is popular with unschoolers, those who prefer to learn through a wide variety of life experiences. The online magazine HomeSchool Dad is filling a specialized niche for busy fathers who desire information about educational activities that can be accomplished without too much preparation. The aforementioned Hegeners also distribute Home Education Magazine, which features articles that are hardly run-of-the-mill, like "Homeschooling in the Fifties," "The Chronically Ill or Disabled Parent," "Conflict Amongst Homeschoolers," and "Homeschooling in Tunisia."
*Curricula. An amazing number of suppliers offer textbooks, CD-ROM software, science kits, and educational games. The Education Industry Report notes that "Over 50 correspondence schools and curriculum providers compete in this market ..." (4) Saxon Publishers, founded by a retired
U.S. Air Force test pilot named John Saxon, offers math and phonics for preschool through grade 12. Frank Wang, the President of Saxon Publishers, says that homeschoolers cur
The Homeschooling Revolution / 76
rently account for 10 to 15 % of total sales, which translates into 19,150 homeschool customers. (5) A Beka textbook publishers, which offers materials for preschool through grade 12, had more than 250,000 homeschoolers purchase their books last year. Affiliated with the Christian fundamentalist school of the same name, Bob Jones University Press provides art, drama, math, literature, church history, and science textbooks for homeschoolers.
Another established religious company which offers a cornucopia of materials to homeschoolers is Christian Book Distributors. Their catalog, Homelearning and Homeschooling Resources, offers such items as art supplies, family games, and popular books, such as The Home School Organizer, by Gregg Harris. The Drinking Gourd Book Company carries an eclectic selection of multicultural materials. Parents can order books about Native Americans, African-American short stories, Chicano history, or accounts of the Holocaust. Jane Williams, publisher of the Home School Market Guide, says her publication recognizes the existence of 165 such catalogs. (6)
*Correspondence Programs. Many homeschooling families rely on correspondence school programs, rather than crafting their own game plan, for books, tests, teacher support, student records, and supplies. The Calvert School home instruction program of Baltimore, established in 1906, offers courses for kindergarten through grade 8 and is approved by the Maryland State Department of Education. Beverly Vickers of Calvert says that the program currently has over 17,000 students worldwide. (7) A Beka video and correspondence school had more than 24,000 homeschooled children enrolled in these programs in 1999. Clonlara School, headquartered in Michigan, offers a Home Based Education Program, which was begun in 1979 and has had 4200 graduates. Clonlara School Compuhigh, another program for
homeschoolers, offers high school over the Internet. Clonlara founder, Dr. Pat Montgomery, believes that until age twelve, a child should not be subjected to formal schooling, bells, or tests. (8)
*Newspapers. Homeschooling newspapers are also available. The Link, which has a circulation of 50,000, is published by Mary and Michael Leppert of California. (The issue I perused was nearly fifty pages long!) It has many ads for an interesting assortment of products and services which range from inviting homeschoolers on board a marine floating lab to playing ElementO, a board game about chemistry. The Moore Report International, a newspaper distributed by home-school heavyweights and Washington state residents Raymond and Dorothy Moore, has 2000 subscribers. It offers the latest research from the Moore Foundation, as well as testimonials and advice on everything from how homeschooling families can subsist on one income to why more boys than girls are enrolled in special education programs.
*Professional Educators. There are non-homeschoolers who are eager to pitch their educational wares to homeschoolers. The University of Missouri Center for Independent Study, established in 1911, is one of the largest independent study programs in the nation. The center offers college and high-school level courses, but has developed an elementary school program, catering exclusively to homeschoolers. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, a professional association, distributes a brochure aimed at inviting home educators to join their ranks. The Teaching Company Superstar Series offers high school courses, such as chemistry, geometry, and world history, to homeschooled high schoolers via videotapes of the college teachers they consider to be the best in the United States. As the catalog notes about the courses: "For students taught at home, the The Homeschooling Revolution / 78
teachers on these tapes may be an answered prayer." (9) Oxford Tutorials offers high school homeschoolers another choice -the opportunity to study the Classics online.
*Think tanks. Advocates, researchers, policy makers, and journalists can bone up on state-of-the-art research through the National Home Education Research Institute based in Salem, Oregon and headed by Dr. Brian Ray. The institute publishes a quarterly journal, The Home School Researcher, which features the work of respected academics. This "home school think tank" has thrust Dr. Ray into the national spotlight. He is often called upon as an expert witness for courtroom and legislative testimony and is frequently interviewed by national and international media outlets. Established multi-issue think tanks, such as the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and the Cato Institute of Washington, D.C., have published widely-distributed monographs on homeschooling.
*Web sites. Families may want to hold membership in a homeschooling organization, like the National Homeschool Association. Or, they may desire to purchase used textbooks or familiarize themselves with the Federation of New Zealand Homeschoolers. Perhaps they want support from parents who are homeschooling twins. Assuredly a web site exists to fit the interest. Sites like www.homeschoolzone.com and www.unschooling.org offer a bonanza of information. Chat rooms and bulletin boards are also utilized by homeschoolers as a way of exchanging homeschooling tips or in order to post legislative alerts. The Internet has played an invaluable role in helping homeschoolers in remote areas feel connected to the outside world. Home Education Magazine offers a section for those requesting cyber pen pals. No doubt, the personal computer and the Internet will help facilitate navigation through the 21st Century for homeschoolers.
The Homeschooling Revolution / 79
Borrowing a page from homeschoolers, some education reformers are proclaiming that cyber schools are the schools of the future.
*Paraphernalia. Families who want to announce to the world that they are homeschoolers can buy bumper stickers, tote bags, baseball caps, or t-shirts from independent suppliers. Popular messages include: "We learn best in the nest," "Homeschoolers have class," and "My child is an honored student at home." These goodies can be ordered online or purchased at conferences.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of the information and resources available to homeschoolers. But it suggests that the world of homeschooling is rapidly growing broader and deeper. Marketers of the movement see the vast pool of home educators as a source of income, and they use their products to raise revenue and awareness. Very often, the suppliers are homeschoolers themselves and merely want to share methods and materials which have worked for them.
An increase in the number of products and services available to the homeschooling community has allowed more parents to take the initial steps toward teaching at home and has made their task simpler and more successful. As more parents discover innovative tools and gain experience in their home schools, the marketing of the movement should broaden even more.
Chapter 7 The Print Media and Homeschooling
The names "Zac" and "Tay" are painted on many young faces. "I love Ike" posters and glow-in-the-dark necklaces abound. Roses are thrown on the stage. And there is no shortage of shrieking 8, 9, and 10-year-old girls.
Welcome to a Hanson concert in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Hansons are a pop music sensation -perhaps the hottest homeschooling music group in the country, if not the world. They figured in an October 5th, 1998 Newsweek cover story on homeschooling. The group consists of three teenage brothers -Isaac, Taylor, and Zachary Hanson -who hail from Tulsa, Oklahoma. They wear their signature blond hair long. The Hansons became household words when their catchy single "MMMBop" became a recording hit. To date, the closely-chaperoned teen idols have garnered several Grammy nominations and a place in the 1999 Guinness Book of Records as the "youngest group to earn a platinum single in the United Kingdom." They also earned a spot on the National League of Junior Cotillions' "Best Mannered People" poll. (1)
The fact that the photogenic Hansons are home-schooled has been the subject of many entertainment industry articles, from US to USA Weekend. This is a long cry from the days when a black-and-white photo of Idaho homeschooler Solomon Shippy, being carried away from home by grim-faced sheriff's deputies, graced the cover of Samuel L. Blumenfeld's book, Is Public Education Necessary?
Much has changed in the last five to ten years in the way the media reports the news about homeschooling. In
The Homeschooling Revolution / 82
fact, homeschoolers have little to fear in the way of media scrutiny, because American public education is facing so many negative challenges that homeschooling appears to be just one more option for parents. Homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, and homeschoolers have graduated from such institutions as Harvard University and the U.S. Naval Academy. Concurrently, public education is in such disarray that former critics now pay attention when the subject of homeschooling comes up. Frankly, the toughest question that reporters pose to a home educator concerns socialization, and most parents can hit that softball out of the ballpark. Erik Van Guten, a graduate student who wrote a critique of homeschooling, grudgingly admitted that the media often spurs on the decision to homeschool. (2)
Homeschoolers, whether as individuals or as a group, make for an intriguing human interest story to many in the media. Eric Goldscheider, a Boston Globe correspondent, says that homeschooling is an appealing topic to write about because "it offers a slightly contrarian view of education, and journalists like the contrarian point of view." Goldscheider also admires the aspect of personal courage required for both parent and child to undertake this adventure in alternative education. (3)
Goldscheider's perspective, both sympathetic and curious, is not uncommon among the media. Families who homeschool are in demand for interviews. It is because they swim against the mainstream, as researcher Patricia Lines has noted, that they have received considerably more media attention than their numbers might warrant.
Upbeat stories about homeschoolers have been featured in such media powerhouses as the Wall Street journal and the New York Times. Here are a few ...
*From the Union News-Sunday Republican of Massachusetts -an article about homeschool graduates who are attending college. The story describes how Diana Calderazzo, a native of Florida, was homeschooled on a 33foot-long sailboat throughout her high school years. Being educated on the high seas didn't limit her from getting admitted into prestigious Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Reporter Ronni Gordon writes that while Calderazzo's homeschooling experience equipped her with the maturity to develop top-notch independent learning skills and excellent rapport with her professors, she still experienced a difficult freshman year. The Smith co-ed confides her struggles to the newspaper reporter: "There were deadlines and time limits" and "the pressure of public humiliation if I did something wrong." Diana persevered and graduated from Smith with a major in theater. (4)
*From USA Weekend ~ a snappy article accompanied by color pictures of Josh Harris. Harris, 23, is a homeschool graduate and the author of a book entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The article, by Cesar G. Soriano, carries this sub-headline: "At 17, Joshua Harris abandoned casual dating as selfish and premature. Today, his message fuels a popular book and sold-out seminars across the country." (5)
*From the Washington Post -an article in the arts section entitled "Wilkinsons: A Brother, Sister & Pop Sensation." Writer Bill Friskics-Warren describes a trio of musicians father, son, and daughter -who topped the charts in Nashville with the debut single, "26 Cents." The son and daughter, Amanda and Tyler, are both in their teens and homeschooled by their parents. (6)
*From Truckers News -a feature article about an eightyear-old boy named Gregory Rossiter with the headline
The Homeschooling Revolution / 84
"Home-Schooling -On the Road." Gregory is homeschooled in the cab of his mother's (Edie Rossiter) Peterbilt truck. In addition to his hands-on geography lesson, Edie gives her son boxing and Spanish lessons. Writer Donna G. Pierce notes that Rossiter's job with Smokey Point Distributing of Arlington, Washington has a family-friendly policy toward homeschooling parents. As Pierce puts it, "Because it understands the family is important, the company agrees to let drivers home-school their children and take them on the road." (7)
*From People magazine -a two-page story about Lisa Whelchel, a homeschooling mother and the actress who played Blair in the sitcom, The Facts of Life. The article focuses on the contented lifestyle Whelchel enjoys as a minister's wife and mother of three young children whom she teaches at home. Whelchel makes her decision to homeschool and to give up Hollywood sound like an easy one. She says, "Kids now come into contact with things at a much earlier age, before they are ready to handle them. I want them to have a fighting chance in the real world, but they need to get strong first in who they are, the love of their parents, the love of God." (8)
*From Newsweek -a story about Teresa Williams and her partner, Jo Deutsch. This gay couple is homeschooling their two young sons in Maryland for the academic freedom it allows them. According to the article, "... home schooling does give them more control over their kids' contacts. The kids have lots of interaction with youngsters from straight families in their home-schooling group." (9)
Largely because of this type of coverage, the print media has played a major role in publicizing this countercultural trend to mainstream America. Without such reporting,
The Print Media and Homeschooling / 85
the story of such a private endeavor might not be as widely disclosed to the public. Journalists also perform a yeoman's service when they make readers, many of whom are parents frustrated with the educational status quo, aware that home-schooling is legal, doable, and chosen by a wide swath of Americans from coast to coast.
My Study of the Print Media
What follows is my attempt to determine the impact of the print media upon the national conscience. The body of homeschool research is small, but growing. As a rule, scholarly studies do not filter down to the masses. Therefore, many of the myths and realities about home educators are likely to come from the homeschooling families in the neighborhood or from reporters. In an information age in which news travels so rapidly, citizens often form their opinions about the culture via the narrow Tens' of the media camera. With that in mind, it is crucial to the future of homeschooling to determine how its past has been chronicled and how its present is being portrayed.
Method/Scope of the Study
I examined 340 articles from all over the United States, as well as some international material, written between 1985 and 1997, from local newspapers, regional newspapers, national newspapers, regional magazines and national magazines. None of the articles were from publications with a built-in bias toward homeschooling (i.e. no homeschooling Publications).
The Homeschooling Revolution / 86
Of the 340 pieces I collected, 95 (or 29%) were national in scope, and 245 (71%) were regional or local in local in scope. Sixty-seven articles were opinion pieces about home-schooling, with 53 (79%) by writers who were partial toward homeschoolers and 14 (or 21%) by those who seemed unfavorable toward homeschooling.
The articles about homeschooling were catalogued into six divisions: general information, homeschooler of distinction, legal/legislative victories or losses, the grassroots movement of homeschooling, first person accounts, and editorials. More specialized articles focused on such topics as homeschooling and computers, controversial homeschoolers, or homeschoolers trying to gain access to public school programs, especially sports teams.
After I catalogued the newspapers and magazines, the next stage of the research involved a content and qualitative analysis of the articles. The goal of the analysis was to identify the topics, themes, and individuals that comprised the substance of the news stories. This process allowed me to develop analytic categories based on the examination of the material and draw conclusions concerning the overall print media treatment of homeschoolers. This, in order to answer two simple questions: Has homeschooling been depicted by the print media in a positive fashion? and, Has the print media played an important role in influencing public opinion as to the validity of homeschooling as an educational option?
To help determine the answers to those queries, I analyzed the written media accounts, focusing on the following: article themes, motivating factors in choosing homeschooling, organizations cited, authorities quoted, frequently debated points, headlines, photographs, students' com
ments, and sidebars. Analyzing these aspects of this sampling, it was possible to determine the perspective and possible impact of the stories.
Results of the Study
It's a cliche but a truism: Journalists don't tell people what to think, but they do tell people what to think about. As the Center for Media and Public Affairs has stated, "Journalism is notoriously susceptible to fads and fashions, as it beams its narrow searchlight over the vast expanse of the social and natural world, pausing to highlight first one problem and then another." (10)
From that vantage point, homeschooling fits into the category of the unusual news story. It is the type of story reporters, with their appetite for the controversial and the offbeat, as Eric Goldscheider pointed out, delight in covering. No surprise then, that homeschooling coverage includes elements of conflict between homeschoolers and education officials and underscores harsh critiques of public education. Less controversial, it also showcases especially high levels of parental involvement in their children's lives and the growth of homeschooling as an organized movement.
But the media story has been fundamentally a story about academic success -the story of committed mothers who are daily teaching their sons and daughters how to read and write at kitchen tables -teaching them without the public school's social and political distractions, which hamper real learning.
The stories were heavily dependent on quotes from homeschooling families and authorities, such as Home
The Homeschooling Revolution /88
School Legal Defense Association staff attorneys. Home-schooling proponents were cited 31% of the time, compared with homeschooling opponents, such as a public school superintendent, who were quoted only 5% of the time. The positive theme of "a day in the life of a homeschooling family" was the number one article theme (26% of the articles).
The most frequently debated issues were how well homeschooled children performed academically and socially, as compared to their conventionally-schooled peers. The message that "homeschooling is good" dominated (60% of the articles). The message that "homeschooling is not a good choice" figured in only 6% of the articles. Statistics of homeschoolers' high test scores, numerous homeschool success stories, and references to how ubiquitous the movement has become provided favorable tones in the stories.
The message that "homeschooling is good" was reinforced by a high percentage of positive headlines (57%), stirring photographs (94%), positive comments from home-schooled students about their lifestyle (53%), and opinion pieces that were pro-homeschooling (73%). Based on the results of this representative article sampling, it is not a stretch to conclude that homeschooling has been depicted by the mass print media in a positive light. Therefore, the answer to my first question, Has homeschooling been depicted by the print media in a positive light? is "Yes."
Although the media leaves little doubt that home-schooling is growing in popularity with American families, the future of American public schools is usually discussed in vague terms. This is ironic, given that the most dominant reason to homeschool, cited in over 200 articles, was dissatisfaction with public education. Public school bureaucrats, when they were quoted in the stories, often criticized homeschooling
as an unworthy choice. No administrator dared acknowledge that the glaring short-comings of their schools might have been the impetus for steering worried parents toward home education for their children.
Writing about homeschooling has given the media a vehicle to broadcast the concerns of Americans about the public schools. Conservatives often criticize the media as being the handmaiden of school unions. But some media outlets have not ignored their task to report that public schools are falling short, and, as a result, some families have rearranged their lives to homeschool. I did not spot an article about a teenager who disliked being homeschooled or parents who breathed a sigh of relief upon returning their children to public schools, although, perhaps, such stories exist. Consequently, the journalistic body of work surveyed strongly suggests a "Yes" answer to the second question of whether the media has played a role in validating homeschooling as an educational option for willing parents.
Limitations of Media Coverage
In 79% of the articles analyzed, the mother was depicted as the primary teacher. In no story did the media venture to question whether this phenomenon could be construed as a backlash against the forces of hard-line feminism that say a woman's place is in the workplace, not the home. Indeed, the media story that remains to be written is the one about hundreds of thousands of women who are leading happy lives based on their accomplishments at the hearth, as opposed to in the marketplace. These women's homeschools are enabling their daughters and sons to become successes in the "real world." This theme of a renaissance of time-honored female roles in post-feminist America is one that merits examination.
The Homeschooling Revolution /90
Continuing with the familial theme, there were few articles noting that most homeschoolers live in two-parent homes. The majority of pro-homeschooling experts that were quoted are homeschooling fathers. Surely in an age when rearing children in single-parent homes sounds fashionable, and when sagas about deadbeat dads are frequent, the story of these involved fathers deserves more attention.
Also, largely absent in the reporting is the mention of ethnic and racial minorities or the economically less privileged who choose to homeschool. In fact, only 6% of the articles had members of minority groups photographed or quoted. In light of the melting pot of cultures and races that is a hallmark of the United States, more effort could be expended to interview more ethnic groups of homeschoolers. For instance, Donna Nichols-White, an African-American, provides multicultural homeschooling resources through a catalog called "The Drinking Gourd."
In only 2% of the articles were graduates of home-schooling a story theme. Given that the modern home-schooling movement is more than two decades old, there could be more coverage about homeschool graduates who are now ensconced in careers, raising children, or obtaining graduate degrees. Also, given the public obsession with how homeschoolers socialize, the attitudes of these young people toward the popular culture, the institution of schooling, and the role of the family merit some in-depth attention, in order to learn what they think.
In general, the homeschooling community has not been subjected to the type of investigative reporting reserved for, say, political candidates. Consequently, there were no negative pieces focusing in on the ideological and academic differences that have flared up between conserva
The Print Media and Homeschooling / 91
tive homeschoolers and liberal unschoolers. Nor were there any articles featuring families who have had to change their strategy when their once-compliant charges became feisty teenagers.
Of course, the media's lack of scrutiny is to the advantage of homeschoolers. The homeschooling community can be assured that they have received plentiful and constructive media coverage, particularly now that articles are widely disseminated via the Internet. It is clear that the Fourth Estate has played a crucial role in positively manipulating public attitudes toward home education and establishing its place in the mainstream.
Whether the era of good feelings between homeschoolers and the media will continue is hard to predict. Homeschoolers themselves have an opportunity to control the message of their cause by several means: creating web pages, continuing to publish magazines and newspapers, making themselves accessible for media interviews, sending out press releases about their labors, appearing at school board meetings, or even running for public office as school reform champions. As the late John Holt prophetically wrote, "The press and other media have been virtually without exception friendly to home schooling and home schoolers; I cannot recall a single interview or report that was hostile. But it will be important during the coming years for home schoolers to keep the media well-informed of what we are doing, to answer any questions they have about our work and progress, and to make as many allies among them as we can." (11)
The Homeschooling Revolution / 92
It seems appropriate to conclude with a brief observation from the newsletter of the National Home Education Research Institute of Salem, Oregon. Dr. Brian Ray's (the institute's president) experiences with the broadcast media are revealing. He writes:
And the NBC Today Show aired a story on home schooling on July 27th (1999) that included clips of an interview with me. It was fascinating to contrast this Today Show story with the one in which I was the live in-studio guest in 1988. Eleven years ago the producers tried to incite a debate between the president of the National Education Association and me. This summer, however, the show ended up being an eight-minute nationwide promotion of home schooling with only a couple of obligatory 'concerns' voiced by the current NEA president. The shift in approach was positively amazing. (12)
No doubt, the print media has helped.
Chapter 8 Growing Pains
The most successful grassroots educational movement of the century is not without its growing pains. While this statement may hearten critics and alarm supporters, the news of difficulties needs to be put into perspective. Such problems are to be expected in a flourishing movement, trying to earn its niche in the American mainstream, and which now includes parents with varied motivations and educational methods.
There are at least three stumbling blocks which homeschoolers have encountered. The first focuses on the philosophical clashes that have arisen between unschoolers and homeschoolers; the second reveals what headaches can occur when parents offhandedly delegate their homeschooling responsibilities to others; and the last involves the problems of homeschooling adolescents.
Statements of Faith
In one corner are the "unschoolers" -those who prefer a relaxed, child-directed approach to learning. In the other corner are the traditional homeschoolers, who favor a "school at home" approach that sticks to a daily program of academics and electives in a structured environment.
Unschoolers tend to shun standardized tests, grouping by grades, rote learning, and many of the practices associated with school. Conversely, a traditional homeschooling household is more preoccupied with grades, standardized test score results, diplomas, and college admission require
The Homeschooling Revolution / 94
merits. The differences in educational philosophies also carry over into how the two formulate support group goals, support group participation being a staple of the homeschooling movement.
One disagreement between the factions focuses on heavenly matters. Evangelical Christians, who are partial to the "school at home" method, often form support groups which require participants or board members to subscribe to a set of religious doctrines. Or, in the lingo of homeschool support groups, they adhere to a "statement of faith." Many of the faith-based support groups are quite large, which is to be expected, given the sizeable number of conservative, evangelical Christians who homeschool. (Indeed, religious families have much clout in the movement and have produced many stellar graduates.)
Christian Home Educators of Colorado is a support group with 12,000 families. The group posts a statement of faith on its website which declares that the Bible is the "inspired and infallible word of God" and "salvation is offered as a free gift to the sinner." (1) In contrast, the Colorado Springs Homeschool Support Group, which has 600 member families, asks only that constituents have a "genuine and active interest in homeschooling" and "make a payment of dues." (2) The Colorado Springs group advises ...
There is no membership restriction of race, religion, or personal homeschooling option, but it is understood that many of the members do hold specific religious or educational convictions. Because of this diversity, each member agrees to show tolerance and understanding when others' convictions may differ from their own personal views so that the unified purpose for the support group may be maintained. (3)
Massachusetts Homeschool Organization of Parent Educators, a statewide homeschool support group, also subscribes to articles of faith. They echo those of the Colorado group. The Massachusetts organization believes the "Bible to be the inspired, divinely preserved Word of God, the supreme and final authority for all faith and life." (4) These creeds, which seem more appropriate for church membership than for a group preoccupied with academic issues, is the Achilles' heel of some homeschooling leaders and parents. Lori Challinor penned an essay in Home Education Magazine recounting her experiences with the religious enthusiasts.
To join my local homeschooling group, I was asked to sign a full page 'doctrinal' statement, which assured the group leaders that I believed in the inerrancy of the Bible, and other fundamentalist tenets of Christianity. As I've mentioned, I am a Christian, but I didn't make the grade by their standards. I wanted a home-schooling support group to provide homeschooling support -I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. (5)
Challinor persevered with the group, and her story had a happy ending. "I joined the group without signing the statement (must've slipped through the paperwork maze), and despite the ominous start, I did find homeschooling support, and many genuinely nice and (surprise!) tolerant people." (6)
Patrick Farenga, publisher of the journal Growing Without Schooling, does not favor mixing homeschooling know-how with matters of faith. "We believe religion and politics are your business, not ours," says Farenga. (7) Alexandra Swann, a self-described fundamentalist Christian and home-school graduate agrees: "We should be working with all people, sharing our experiences, whether their faith agrees with ours or not." (8)
The Homeschooling Revolution / 96
Scott Somerville, a staff attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association, has frequent contact with evangelical Christian support group leaders. He says, "These (statements of faith) intentionally exclude people who do not share religious beliefs. Obviously, the people who are excluded are going to be pretty unhappy about a written statement of faith." Somerville, however, defends them.
Why do local support groups tend to come up with statements of faith? The answer comes from the nature of voluntary associations; a voluntary association exists only as long as there is a shared vision that is strong enough to motivate unpaid volunteers to sacrifice their immediate and personal interests for the common good. Local support groups with Christian leadership routinely gravitate toward the model of a church and church leadership to try to articulate and fulfill the shared vision. (9)
No doubt homeschoolers will probably be happier mingling with like-minded homeschoolers, so forming a group with a particular focus makes perfect sense. It is no different than choosing to be in the company of Republicans instead of Democrats, and vice-versa. And no doubt those not in the homeschooling loop will view this particular rift between secular unschoolers and religious homeschoolers as risible. But it is a serious issue that has polarized pockets of the homeschooling community.
Parents who organize homeschool support groups are at liberty to gather under whatever religious or philosophical umbrella they choose. Yet, some of the non-religious, who are new to homeschooling and eager for assistance from veterans, shy away from seeking counsel from those who appear more eager to proselytize than to share homeschooling expertise. The question to ponder for those on both sides of
the aisle is: How to maintain unity while respecting the differences of others?
Lori Challinor encourages fellow homeschoolers to remember two powerful truths they have in common. "All of us believe that children learn better at home than in institutions. All of us believe that we have a constitutional right to homeschool with a minimum of state interference." (10) It remains to be seen if homeschoolers can overcome these distractions and remind themselves that the privilege to home-school was not attained without the heroic parents, of diverse ideologies, who fought lengthy battles in legal courts and in the court of public opinion. May their gains not be sacrificed on the altar of petty differences.
By definition, homeschooling is done primarily by parents, under the same roof that the family eats, plays, sleeps, and sometimes works. Some families, however, successfully rely on tutors to teach their children at home. Fred Foote, a homeschooling father of six from Haslett, Michigan, has a hands-on involvement while employing a tutor for his homeschool. He regularly reviews three folders of paperwork per child, which have been prepared by the tutor. One folder is the children's academic work; another contains their daily journals; and the third is a progress report which shows how the Foote children are faring in each of their eight areas of learning. The family's goal is to have all the children at college level in all major subjects by the age of 13.
Says Foote, "What may be surprising to some is that homeschooling with a tutor is pretty affordable when the number of children gets to three or four. It's more than afford
The Homeschooling Revolution / 98
able (it's cheap!) if the next best alternative is a fancy private school or boarding school. Also, using a tutor allows us to homeschool in a situation where my wife is very supportive but just not academically inclined." (11)
The growth of the movement has motivated many enterprising entrepreneurs to offer both inside and outsidethe-home services to help parents at their task. But what happens when parents casually opt for a hands-off approach and turn over their children to those service providers? What are the consequences for the children? the families? the reputation of homeschooling?
The Pathfinder Learning Center
Pathfinder Learning Center in Amherst, Massachusetts opened its doors in 1996. It has been described by its founders, Josh Hornick and Ken Danford, former public school teachers, as an "academic YMCA." Pathfinder acts as a drop-in center for unschooled teenagers who pay a yearly fee of $1500. In return, students receive support services, the opportunity to network with other unschoolers, and access to educational resources. The center is an attractive alternative for teenagers with working parents or for those who have become ill-served by traditional schooling, like 14year-old Mishy Leiblum. "School is, like, an unnecessary hassle. I didn't get much out of it, and it was taking a lot out of me," Leiblum told the Boston Globe. (12) Steve Theberge, then 16, was encouraged by Pathfinder's founder to pursue his interest in political activism. This homeschooler worked with such groups as Food Not Bombs and the American Friends Service Committee. (13)
Growing Pains / 99
But with some parents assigning the academic burden to their children, Pathfinder's teenagers became the focal point of an academic misunderstanding involving one Massachusetts school official. In August of 1997, Gus Sayer, the local superintendent of the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, made a startling announcement at a school committee meeting. The superintendent said he was dismayed at the quality and quantity of school work submitted by a number of secondary-level homeschooled students. Said Sayer, "I approved many of these plans with reluctance, as the commitment of families to assume responsibility for home education programs was not always certain, and the ability of families to provide a comprehensive instructional program was often in doubt." (14) Coincidentally, many of the families under fire were affiliated with the Pathfinder Learning Center.
Traditional homeschooling parents, who had had no ties to Pathfinder and had expended much effort working through lessons with their children and dispatching detailed progress reports to the superintendent, were chagrined at the complaint and the negative media publicity it generated. Some of these parents later converged upon a school committee meeting and aired their opinions. One homeschooling mother, Carol Soules, was quoted in the Amherst Bulletin, pointing out that attending Pathfinder was not the same as being homeschooled. "The very definition of home education is that education will take place in the home. It requires parent involvement and requires a huge parent commitment."
The Homeschooling Revolution / 100
To their credit, Pathfinder's founders responded quickly and well to the criticism. In a personal column to the local newspaper, Ken Danford wrote . . .
The superintendent expressed concerns regarding non-reporting families, parents who he believes take home-schooling lightly, working parents supervising home-schoolers, and students with any failing grades being allowed to begin homeschooling. We encourage our members to comply with state law on homeschooling and to file plans and progress reports to the superintendent. He has the responsibility of monitoring these families, and is understandably concerned if many homeschoolers fail to submit reports. We suggest he work to ensure that his communication with home-schooling families is clear and then hold these non-reporting families accountable for their choices. (17)
In 1999, the Boston Globe ran a feature story about the Pathfinder Learning Center and showcased its success in earning a niche in the alternative education mainstream. But writer Eric Goldscheider mentioned that the center had taken a tougher stance with the teenagers -video game playing had been halted and twice-a-year meetings with parents had become a requirement. Danford notes that since the events of 1997 none of the families affiliated with Pathfinder have had any problems complying with the superintendent's office, now that they understand what is required of them.
Edmond Homeschool Co-op
In the buckle of the Bible belt, homeschoolers who organized a teaching cooperative faced a similar set of problems as the Amherst unschoolers. The cooperative, or co-op, as it is nicknamed, has approximately two hundred home
schooled students, from kindergarten through high school. Twice weekly they take classes -from biology to algebra to quilt-making -at a local church. The classes are taught by volunteer parents with expertise or interest in their subject areas. The co-op's organizers adhere to a September to June school year schedule, and the cost to families is a nominal $10 to $15 per month.
Part of the purpose of the co-op, according to Susan Good, the director, is to allow middle and high school students a taste of traditional school. Included in this 'taste' are opportunities to mingle with others, accountability to test taking, and exposure to teachers who are not their parents.
Students who attend the co-op, like those affiliated with the Pathfinder Learning Center, are grateful for the opportunity. Jeremy Waller, 14, says, "It is better than being isolated at home. I like noise." Megan Good, 14, and the daughter of Susan Good, believes that the negative aspects of school socialization do not surface in this parent-run setting. "There's not enough kids to have well-established cliques." Brook Welch, 15, says she prefers the co-op's small-sized classes and drug-free environment, as opposed to the larger ones and the drug culture she would encounter in the public school she would have to attend. (19)
But during the co-op's second year, its academic goals almost got shipwrecked. Some of the teenagers Good was trying to assist were causing strife. By November, teachers were grumbling about students who missed assignments and sat in their classes like bumps on logs or disrupted their studious classmates with incessant chatter. They wondered if the co-op was being used as a babysitting service for undisciplined homeschooled students and their uncooperative parents.
The Homeschooling Revolution /102
Good and her fellow teachers held a long meeting to discuss their predicament. They decided to re-affirm the main purpose of the co-op: To help parents with the academic component of homeschooling, not replace them as teachers. A serious course of action was agreed upon. Probation notices were sent to the parents of recalcitrant students, and they were required to sit in on classes for two weeks and monitor their children's progress. If the grades and behavior of the students did not improve after this probation, they would face disciplinary action (i.e. be asked to leave the coop). (20)
The wake-up call worked. Some of the non-productive students lightened their class load, and others became serious about their school lessons. By December, the academic atmosphere had improved.
Unquestionably, many free market endeavors that facilitate the homeschooling process have been a boon to families, especially those who want to teach teenagers -a group with a high attrition rate. Currently, adolescents, ages 14 and up, are not a majority in the ranks of the homeschooling movement. Research indicates that 70% of home-schooled students are 7 tol3 years old. (21)
The dilemmas, however, encountered by the Pathfinder Learning Center and the Edmond Co-op raise serious questions about what occurs when parents abdicate the grind of teaching and the accountability that accompanies that responsibility and only offer a "safe house" from dangerous schools. Teenagers, not known as an intellectual
group, can fast become underachievers when they are unchaperoned. This is especially true of older students who have been removed from an academically inferior school and whose poor study habits are ingrained.
Ben Boychuk, the director of publications for the Claremont Institute, a California-based think tank, had an editorial experience that tempered his enthusiasm for home-schooling. While working as a managing editor for activists David Horowitz and Peter Collier's publication, The Report Card, Boychuk commissioned a pair of 16-year-old home-schooled girls to write an article about school violence. The teenagers were to share their ordeal, as former public school students, of putting up with fights, an increased security presence, and closed off bathrooms to prevent drug dealing.
Recounts Boychuk, "To make a long story short, the copy was a disaster. It wasn't even spell-checked. This raised a number of questions in my mind. Didn't Mom review this? If not, why not? How is homeschooling, in this instance, better than a public school English class?" Boychuk later learned that the girls were even receiving some of their English lessons from a public school teacher. "It's hard to undo that kind of (academic) damage," says Boychuk. (22)
Certainly rescuing a vulnerable child from a dangerous school is a commendable action of any caring adult. But if parents play a distant role in supervising their children's work, are they competently managing the homeschool? And how fair is such an arrangement to the young people if their parents aren't modeling a disciplined lifestyle -a character trait that allows individuals to flourish at jobs, college, and relationships? Rookie homeschooling students will always require much supervision from the people who know them best and love them most -their parents.
The Homeschooling Revolution /104
These concerns about parental responsibility merit scrutiny and debate by homeschooling advocates, since American families are required to comply with compulsory attendance laws. If not, zealous school officials will be delighted to step into the gap to impose tougher home-schooling regulations. Busybody neighbors might be tempted to report the parents to child protection services if they perceive the children to be truant. Homeschooling parents, who delegate the academic responsibilities to others, need to exercise discretion.
Back to School
What do homeschooling parents do with a 14-year-old son who has lost interest in science and history and literature and wants to 'hang out' with other boys his age? What do these parents do with a 15-year-old daughter who can't imagine not going to a prom or having her picture appear in a yearbook? Most parents who have attempted to homeschool their children through the teen years have faced problems of this sort. Really, what to do?
One option is to fight (sometimes, literally) through these 'phases' and hold rigidly to the game plan that worked so well during those early years. At the other end of the spectrum is to throw in the towel and opt for the traditional, institutionalized approach of public or private schooling. Some homeschoolers have created middle grounds between these extremes, seeking resolutions to their struggles. Consider my own situation.
Dan, my 16-year-old son, is a barbarian. He loves collision sports. He played on our local public high school's football, ice hockey, and lacrosse teams in Massachusetts -the
only homeschooler in our town to play public school sports. My husband and I were happy that he wasn't reluctant to be a pioneer. I was also pleased that my family was receiving something in return for payment of our property taxes -taxes that are largely used to subsidize public education, after all. Critics of our decision were surprised to learn that mixing homeschooling and state did not change how our home-school was regulated. Scott Goldman, the principal of the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, merely requested that we submit Dan's grades and keep attendance. It was less work, in fact, than the years we previously spent providing curriculum plans and schedules for the superintendent, which had produced a relationship of trust with him.
Dan might have never had this opportunity if several Bay State families had not challenged the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association's policy that prevented homeschoolers from participating on interscholastic teams. In four separate lawsuits, court injunctions against the association's eligibility rules (which denied homeschoolers equal access to sports teams) forced schools in the Commonwealth to let the homeschoolers 'play ball.' (23)
When we left for a sabbatical to the Sooner State in May of 1999, we learned that homeschoolers are back to being separate and unequal. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association has crafted rules which require a student to be legally enrolled in a government school before he can play on its sports team. Never mind that my son, who scored in the 90th percentile of the PSAT, is both bright and athletic. Never mind that the resolution that was offered by an Oklahoma legislator to change this policy was thwarted by homeschooling activists who felt that "families should be willing to sacrifice the privilege of access to public school activities rather than risk losing their own freedoms." (24)
The Homeschooling Revolution /106
Regardless of the policies and ideologies of others, my husband and I concluded that our son should not have to renounce his sports-centered dreams.
Consequently, Dan elected to attend public school for the fall semester. We lived in the district of what is considered by some to be the best public high school in Oklahoma. It is small and relatively strict, and graduates many academic high achievers. But to my husband and me, a public school is a public school is a public school. It was with many misgivings that we watched him plunge into factory-style learning. Fortunately, a semester of school was plenty for Dan, and he quickly tired of the regimented schedule. He complained about an English teacher who mispronounced vocabulary words and how his classmates ridiculed an inexperienced student teacher. He mocked the Abercrombie and Fitch clothes and Camaros that were de rigeur among the Stepfordlike student body. Used to playing on sports teams with Latinos and African-Americans in multicultural Amherst, Massachusetts, our son thought it odd that he never met the Oklahoma counterpart of a "Miguel Jimenez" or "James Ihedigbo." That experiment concluded, we moved on to new homeschooling challenges.
Some homeschooling parents have decided to waste no time agonizing over how to educate their teenagers themselves and have decided to send their children to school sometimes public, sometimes private.
For the aforementioned Ken Robinson (see Chapter 1), the decision to send his elder daughter, Morgan, at age 14, to a private high school seemed a logical one. Dubbed by her father as "shy and reserved," the Robinsons felt that Morgan needed to leave her homeschooling comfort zone. Says Ken, "The primary reason that we sent Morgan to school was that
we believed that she would benefit from being taught by other teachers in an environment that bore some similarity to what she would encounter in college -classroom interaction with peers." Robinson also wanted Morgan to have a more competent adult than himself teach her higher math and science. (25)
The decision was a good one. Morgan's math prowess rose considerably, and she was selected as a National Merit Scholarship finalist. She was awarded a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts where she studies computer science and animation.
Barb, 41, and Rob, 43, Schulze are Dartmouth College graduates and the homeschooling parents of four children. They run two home-based businesses -a travel agency and a mail order furniture company. This family-centered lifestyle has allowed the Schulzes the freedom to pursue fun, offbeat activities. (Like the time the Schulze children played extras in a low-budget Hollywood movie which starred Jerry Stiller, George's father on the television show "Seinfeld.")
The Schulzes have slowly begun deviating from their school-at-home model. Only the two youngest children, Emily, 13, and Will, 9, are full-time homeschoolers. Rachel, 16, takes two courses at the University of Massachusetts and attends a physics class with other homeschoolers, which is taught by a former physics professor and homeschooling father. Barb teaches Rachel math and history.
Chris, 14, is a ninth grader at the venerable Northfield Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Massachusetts. Barb explains that the decision to send her energetic son to a private school was not a casual one. "The main reason we sent Chris to a conventional school was because the friction we
The Homeschooling Revolution /108
were having at home was making homeschooling a negative. At the high school level, a lot is demanded of students, and we knew his resistance would only increase," she says. (26)
How has the Schulze family fared after enrolling their son in school? "Having outside authorities telling Chris what he has to do has proved to be a very good move. Now when he is home we can enjoy him more," she says. Chris also made the honor roll in his maiden semester at the private school, and Rachel's PSAT scores placed her in the 97th percentile. Certainly the Schulzes' accomplishments, as well as those of Morgan Robinson, could not have been achieved without the solid, academic foundation that their home-schooling parents labored to give them, but attending private schools has also been an advantage.
If there is anything to be learned by analyzing these growing pains, it is that parents who choose this educational route are opting for a tremendous amount of responsibility and must be ready to face challenges along the way. There are some who appear to be outstanding homeschooling parents, some who seem inadequate, some who are practical, some who are driven by ideology, and some who have very independently-minded students of their own. How American! No doubt the movement will continue to struggle with these issues. Growing pains, however, are a natural part of maturing.
Profiling Homeschoolers /109
Chapter 9 Profiling Homeschoolers
Three decades have passed since one of the founding fathers of the modern-day homeschooling movement Raymond Moore -began the research in which he concluded that institutionalizing young children is a mistake. Twenty years have elapsed since Joyce Swann took the step to home-school her first-born child, Alexandra. Fifteen years have gone by since homeschoolers Sam and Marquita Shippy were sentenced to jail for keeping their school-aged children at home. Much has transpired, and much positive educational reform has been effected.
The rise of homeschooling has paralleled the disillusionment of American families with public schools. To many homeschoolers, public education is a massive experiment in failure. Some policy makers have come to agree that it is a crisis of government that can only be rehabilitated with private-sector solutions. But to remove a bored or bullied child from a public school to begin a homeschool is still a strain for many parents. Even more radical is the decision to never have one's child board a yellow school bus or learn his multiplication tables at a blackboard.
Journalists, as previously noted, have done a competent job of giving homeschoolers a face. An intriguing article in the San Jose Mercury News by Dana Hull reports that the latest wave of homeschoolers are "tech-savvy, upper-income families who span a broad political spectrum." (1) This new guard of homeschoolers expresses the same worries about unsafe and cash-strapped schools as did the old guard. And when these parents express their dissatisfaction with the status quo, they manage to sound both concerned and hip.
The Homeschooling Revolution /110
Carol Rast, a parent who was featured in the Mercury News article, explains why she is sold on homeschooling "For us, it was knowing that girls lose their souls when they hit junior high. They start to dumb themselves down and express themselves in ways that girls shouldn't. Our daughter Tamiko was ready to join a girl gang so she wouldn't get picked on. We had to pull her away from that." (2)
But the homeschooling movement attracts many traditional, equally articulate women, like former nurse Nancy Mansour. The homeschooling mother of four, whose children successfully compete on academic homeschool teams, finds greater satisfaction being a full-time mother than being in the work force. "The job of homeschooling is emotionally satisfying, intellectually stimulating, and spiritually challenging. The rewards are not monetary and are rarely immediate," says Mansour. (3)
All of which makes the curious wonder: Has there emerged a prototype American family who is daring enough to embark on this educational voyage? A homeschooling version of the Swiss Family Robinson? What, if any, generalities can be drawn about families that homeschool? Are there common threads? Do philosophies, techniques, motivations overlap?
Jane Van Galen has categorized the two primary types of families who choose homeschooling as ideologues and pedagogues. She notes that ideologues want "their children to learn fundamentalist religious doctrine and a conservative political and social perspective," and they establish home-schools to communicate to their offspring "that the family is the most important institution in society." (4)
Van Galen defines the pedagogues as those who teach their children themselves, primarily because they dislike the professionalization and bureaucratization of modern education. They are parents who "come to their decision to home school with a broader interest in learning -they have professional training in education, they have close friends or relatives who are educators, they have read about education or child development, or they are involved with organizations that speak to the issue of childrearing." (5)
Both types of families share a common characteristic they have enormous confidence in their ability to do a competent job of educating their children with minimal institutional support.
In general, this is what we researchers also know: We know from the high test scores of homeschoolers that many parents are very serious about their academic responsibilities. We know that most have strong religious or philosophical beliefs about homeschooling. We know that the leaders in the homeschool movement are respected authorities, whose advice is sought by parents via how-to books or speaking engagements at conferences. We also know that home-schooled students are social creatures, given the high numbers who go on to college, join support groups, are involved in community activities, and invest long hours bonding with their parents, siblings, and other peers.
But what about specifics? Homeschoolers, as a rule, have been a hard group to study, since they value their privacy, and they account for only about one to two percent of the school-aged population. Perhaps too much information about them dims their mystique -a mystique which shuns being categorized or legislated. There is also the problem of trying to track down homeschoolers. Does the researcher go
The Homeschooling Revolution /112
to a conference and hand out questionnaires to participants? Buy mailing lists from homeschooling magazines? Roam the country visiting support groups? Call them like a pesky telemarketer? Perhaps all of the above. Perhaps none.
As homeschoolers have become less publicity-shy and more confident about their successes, professional researchers and graduate students have begun to glean information about them, information that can sound both ridiculous and useful. Back issues of the Home School Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of homeschooling, present such articles as "A Qualitative Study of the Characteristics of Home Schooling Families in South Carolina and the Perceptions of School District Personnel Toward Home Schooling." (Phew!) Or, "Academic Achievement: Its Relationship to Selected Variables Among Pennsylvania Homeschoolers." Certainly a far cry from the days of Michigan v. DeJonge (the Michigan family who challenged the Wolverine State's mandates that homeschooling parents possess teaching certificates to home-school).
Representative surveys about homeschoolers are one way to procure sociological profiles. Surveys are useful in that they allow outsiders to gain insight into the mindset of a fraternity of like-minded people. What follows is a synopsis of four such surveys -the attitudes of homeschooling fathers; the largest study of homeschoolers to date; a small study about New Age homeschooling families; and a study of other research about homeschoolers.
Study Number One
In the summer of 1999, HomeSchool Dad magazine released the results of a brief survey examining the attitudes of homeschooling fathers, an understudied group. Publisher Jaren Green, who is a Mormon and an unschooler, sent out a questionnaire which 200 families answered. His primary goal was to learn what fathers had to say about home education. (6) Here is a synopsis of some of what Green learned ...
Describe Dad's involvement in homeschooling on a regular basis.
46% -described themselves as minimally involved
40% -said they were moderately involved 7% -said they were not involved at all 7% -were largely, or equally involved
Describe the amount of time Dad spends with the children during an average day.
54% -1 to 3 hours 30% -more than 3 hours 16% -less than one hour
Breakdown of how many dads were initially resistant to homeschooling.
39 -did not want the children socially isolated 28 -did not want the children sheltered from the 'real world' 25 -did not believe the parents had the ability to educate adequately 22 -did not want the children to grow up "weird" 14 -did not want to leave the mainstream The Homeschooling Revolution /114
If Dad was resistant, why did he agree to it?
43 -concerned about public school situation 39 -concerned about child's academic needs 25 -concerned about child's spiritual needs
What are the current ages of the children in your home-school?
ages 0 to 7 -50% ages 8 tol2 -34% ages 13-18 -16%
Dads, do you wish to continue home education?
Yes -90% Not sure -9%
From this survey, one learns that fathers of home-schooled children are hardly deadbeats, but neither are most very involved in the homeschool. This confirms the opinion of Michael P. Farris, Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) president and author of The Homeschooling Father. He writes, "When the truant officer comes to a family's door, we usually get a call from Mom. If officials send a letter threatening legal action, normally we hear from Mom. We recognize that Dad is often at work during the hours when it is necessary to contact an HSLDA lawyer. But there have been dozens and dozens of times that I have experienced the following scenario: I return a phone call to a family needing legal assistance. Even though the father answers the phone, he immediately turns the call over to the mother, since she is 'handling the home schooling.' " (7)
One also learns that, in time, fathers become more committed to the idea of homeschooling, and that these men have been willing to give this educational choice a try because of their discontent with public schools. Finally, a significantly lower number of older children are being home-schooled than younger children, which agrees with research estimates that the teen-age homeschooling population is smaller than that of elementary school age.
There is a caveat to this survey. The homeschooling story is also one about fathers who have transformed their lives by starting home businesses or have chosen to bypass the corporate ladder to have a hands-on involvement in the homeschool. Like Jaren Green, himself. Green, who lives in Colorado, quit his day job to publish HomeSchool Dad magazine and help his wife teach their four children. Or attorney Ken Robinson (see Chapter 1), who is married to an award-winning illustrator, Ruth Sanderson. He keeps his law practice to a part-time endeavor and homeschools his daughter. Wid, my husband, devoted an entire school year to teaching our youngest son and volunteering in a homeschool learning cooperative. A survey of those who are reinventing the father-as-breadwinner paradigm would be welcome.
Study Number Two
Lawrence Rudner, a researcher affiliated with the University of Maryland, College Park, surveyed 20,760 homeschooled students in 11,930 families in the spring of 1998. To date, this has been the survey of the broadest scope done about homeschoolers. The families were solicited through Bob Jones University Press Testing Services, and Were contracted to take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills or the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency. According to Rudner,
The Homeschooling Revolution /116
"Students were given an achievement test, and their parents were asked to complete a questionnaire entitled 'Voluntary Home School Demographic Survey.'" (8) This survey offers a window into the world of white, overwhelmingly Christian, middle-class homeschoolers -a majority of the homeschooling movement. The results of this study were published in Education Policy Analysis, a peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Arizona.
Some of the results of the survey follow.
Academics. The achievement test scores of these homeschoolers were solid. Median scores ranged in the 70th to 80th percentile. Twenty-five percent of these students were enrolled a grade or two above their conventionally-schooled peers.
Parents' Education. Homeschooling parents have more education than the general population. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they continued their education beyond high school. One in four homeschool students has one parent who is a certified teacher.
Income. Homeschooling families have a higher median income ($52,000 in 1997) than the median income of all American families with children ($36,000 in 1995).
Large families. The majority (62.1%) have three or more children. Most American families with school-aged children have only one or two children.
Marital status. The overwhelming majority of home-schooling parents are married couples (97.3%), compared to only 72% of families with school-age children nationwide. In addition, 76.9% of homeschooling mothers do not work for
Profiling Homeschoolers /117
pay, while 86.3% of those who do work, work only part-time. In 1996, only 30% of married women in the general population with children under 18 did not participate in the labor force.
Age of homeschoolers. In this survey, only 11.4% of homeschooled students were in grades 9 through 12, compared to 30.3% nationwide.
Racial minorities. A small percentage of racial minorities (only 6% of those surveyed) participated in the study. The percent of minorities in public schools nationally is 32.8%.
Religious preferences. The religious preferences of the mother and father were Independent Fundamental (25.1%), Baptist (24.4%), Independent Charismatic (8.2%), Roman Catholic (5.4%), Assembly of God (4.1%), Presbyterian (3.8%), or Reformed (3.4%). In 93.1% of the families, the religious preference of the father was the same as that of the mother.
Television viewing. Homeschooled children tend to watch significantly less television than the average American child. Only 1.6% of homeschoolers in the 4th grade watched more than three hours of television per day, compared to 40% of 4th graders nationwide.
One might conclude that a formula for being a successful homeschooling family is this: have a good income, live in a religious and educated two-parent family, limit outside entertainments, and have a mother who is willing to make this her daily work.
The Homeschooling Revolution / 118
This is not to say that there are not heroic success stories involving single mothers and inner-city families (who may have fewer professional or material resources). No doubt, however, amenities, shared values, and family cohesiveness make the task markedly easier.
Study Number Three
'New Age Families Who Educate Their Children At Home' is a study by Maralee Mayberry of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Mayberry offers a fascinating look at families who homeschool for a particular ideological reason -the parents are involved in the so-called New Age movement. The research focuses on only eight families in Oregon, but Mayberry posits that they "supplied ample data to produce an exploratory case study of New Age parents who teach their children at home." (9) Here is a brief summary of the characteristics of these families.
Occupational -While these are highly educated individuals, the fathers are largely self-employed as craftsmen musicians, photographers, agriculturalists. While some of the women are not in the labor force, the majority are pursuing flexible careers, like art, holistic healing, or freelance writing.
Political -While New Age homeschoolers' political affiliations are outside the traditional framework, they are fervent supporters of social change. They often incorporate their activism into their curriculum. One mother describes her children's pursuits: "Our interests [the parents'] have actually become part of the curriculum. Our children have spontaneously taken part in Peace House projects ... participated in an anti-war play sponsored by the Educators for
Social Responsibility ... written letters for peace to politicians .. and protested the treatment of Native Americans at Big Mountain." (10)
Religious -Organized or institutionalized religion is not a strong influence in the lives of these New Age families, because it is viewed as a distraction from more avant-garde spiritual pursuits. Consequently, they see little value in pursuing Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish expressions of faith. Rather, they participate in less conventional activities like Sufi dancing or full moon celebrations, and are sympathetic to the tenets of Buddhism or Pantheism.
Educational -When it comes to academics, New Age parents rarely express their philosophies of education in commonplace terms of teaching their children to read and write well. Instead, they believe that education should encompass the emotional, spiritual, intuitive, creative, aesthetic, and rational. They believe public schools are bureaucratic institutions that should do away with such traditions as attendance-taking and numerical grades. But they are not opposed to public school educators teaching sex education classes and evolution.
These New Age families, whose lifestyle sounds more exotic than that of more conventional homeschoolers, have concluded that their children should not attend public schools as a way to avoid weakening their deeply-held beliefs. As Mayberry writes, "Modern social institutions, including public education, are often seen as embodying secular science's rationalized world view which devalues the very concepts that are the cornerstones of New Age thought -individual potential, spirituality, and holism. Home schooling provides the opportunity for some New Age adherents to provide their children educational experiences which nurture these ideals." (11)
The Homeschooling Revolution / 120
Study Number Four
Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, has authored a booklet titled "Homeschooling on the Threshold: A Survey of Research at the Dawn of the New Millennium." In the publication, Ray says that his goal is "to review important and representative research on home schooling to date." (12) To that end, he analyzed over 150 pieces of research. What follows are generalizations about homeschoolers, from the available body of scholarly research, that were especially noteworthy.
*In the fall of 1998, about 25,000 single-parent families were homeschooling.
*Male and female students are equally represented in home schools.
*Children are taught at home, on average, for a period of 4 to 5 years. Most homeschooling parents say that they plan to keep their children at home through their high school years.
*Homeschoolers do not use public school services very much. Only a minority join public school interscholastic sports teams and bands.
*Homeschooled students are formally schooled at home approximately 3 to 4 hours per day.
The learning programs that homeschooling parents create are highly individualized and flexible. Families favor using both home-made materials and pre-packaged curricula.
The Homeschooling Revolution / 121
*The amount of money that families spend per child per year averages $450. This money usually goes toward textbooks, field trips, and outside classes.
*The average homeschooling parent has attended or graduated from college. However, a consequential number of parents only have high school educations.
*Homeschooling is pursued by parents for an assortment of reasons, including teaching a particular worldview, avoiding negative peer influence, increasing the parent-child contact, and creating the opportunity to make greater academic gains.
In the coming months and years, as homeschooling becomes more and more mainstream, many additional studies will be conducted. Some will focus on academic achievement, others on socialization, and, as the numbers escalate, still others on the effects homeschooling has on taxpayer-funded public education. Advocates will seek to demonstrate the favorable results of the movement, while opponents will use findings to discredit their growing nemesis. These studies will assist parents and policy makers who are looking to make informed choices about this educational option.
Chapter 10 Conclusion
If you, the reader, have waded through this book and are still undecided about the homeschooling adventure, whether it's right for you, try to think of it in terms of what's right for your children. You love them most; you know them best. The first step can be the toughest, but it ought to be taken. Many other families are already down the road a ways, and they will be there to help you and encourage you. May God bless you with wisdom in your decision-making process.
If you, the reader, are a fellow traveler on the teach-thine-own road to educational excellence, I congratulate you for your commitment and urge you to keep fighting the good fight. As you may have already discovered, there are bumps, curves, and even detours encountered along the way. But they are outweighed by the joys, blessings, and successes we experience in this calling.
In a speech concluding his two-day "school reform tour," given during the spring of 2000, President Bill Clinton offered his opinions about homeschooling. To the chagrin of home education advocates, the President suggested that even successful private endeavors, like homeschooling, should not go unhampered by government impositions.
"If you're going to [operate a home school]," Clinton remarked, "your children have to prove that they're learning on a regular basis, and if they don't prove that they're learning then they have to go into a school -either a parochial or private school or a public school." (1) In his speech, President Clinton also stated, "The best thing to do is to get the home
The Homeschooling Revolution /124
schoolers organized." (2) Of course, the President really means, organized by government, because, in actuality, large homeschool organizations -that offer a wide range of services to families, from newsletters to e-mail networks to conferences to field trips to classes -already exist in every one of the fifty states.
This is clearly a case of government, at the federal level, attempting to create a remedy for a problem that does not exist. And of a public official, who is completely ignorant about the enormous gains made by homeschoolers.
As has been argued throughout this book, parents who assume the extraordinary burden of schooling their children are by definition parents uncommonly dedicated to their children's education. Indeed, the modern homeschooling story is fundamentally one of a grassroots movement of maverick parent-educators, from Miami to Des Moines to Fairbanks, who are teaching their children how to read and write at kitchen tables. Many have even graduated from these make-shift classrooms. Dedicated parents have succeeded in making a countercultural idea acceptable, and they have achieved their goals without much applause and without a dime of government funding. They have also advanced the role of parental rights in education, as well as offered an exciting model of reform for future generations. Homeschooling parents have triumphed when they have assumed the responsibility of teaching, training, and socializing their children.
The reality, verifiable by anecdote and standardized test data alike, is that in every academic area homeschooled students are surpassing students enrolled in government schools. Homeschooled students have graduated from prestigious colleges, served in the armed forces, managed small
businesses, run for public office, written books, played competitive sports, and sold millions of CDs. Some are beginning to homeschool their own children. There is no shortage of homeschoolers whose quality of life far exceeds that of conventionally-schooled students.
It is likely that the population of homeschoolers will only increase if the current public school system continues to be viewed by a growing number of Americans as an irrelevant, unsafe institution that can hinder a child's ability to learn. As Chris Cardiff, writing in the Education Liberator has stated, "The dichotomy between homeschooling and government schooling is the difference between a moral and immoral system. Homeschooling respects the rights of individual families to choose for themselves, while government schooling imposes its ideology on all children through predatory financing and its monopoly of force." (3)
Families who homeschool believe they are using their liberties well and wisely by teaching what they want, when they want, and how they want, and they are not harming other families' children in the process. The American can-do spirit is evident in the homeschools and households which parents manage simultaneously. Homeschoolers have offered many Americans hope -hope that a good education can still be obtained, and they are giving new meaning to the old maxim "there's no place like home."
While their attainments are quite impressive, given that they account for only approximately one percent of the school-aged population, some people will continue to be suspicious and intolerant of this private education practice. Homeschooling will not, if political leaders like Bill Clinton get their way, be spared from the reflexive desires of some to claim the need for government supervision, regardless of
The Homeschooling Revolution /126
whether the object of that endeavor wants, needs, or will be improved by the intrusion. The only "assistance" the government can offer to homeschoolers to simplify their task is further deregulation, be it through homeschool tax credits or a loosening of compulsory school attendance laws.
Meanwhile, the lesson for reformers -conservative, liberal, or libertarian -bent on promoting educational models, such as Goals 2000, School-to-Work, charter schools, or any other scheme that involves the State, is this: Less is best. Homeschooling has produced literate students with minimal government interference at a fraction of the cost of any government program.
Policymakers who are anxious for good news from the educational front lines should be heartened by the words of Martin Luther King III. At a homeschooling convention in New England, King, the son of the celebrated social reformer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., observed, "The kind of things homeschoolers are doing may be the saving grace of our nation." (4)
1. Information about school entrance age from Raymond Moore, "Homegrown and Homeschooled," Mothering, Summer 1990,
The Homeschooling Revolution /'130
Endnotes / 133
The Homeschooling Revolution /134
The Homeschooling Revolution /135
The Homeschooling Revolution /136
1. Author attends Hanson concert at the Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, Connecticut, August 30,1999; and Isabel Lyman, "Looks, not sound, behind Hanson rage," Weekend Gazette, October 10-11,1998, p.8.
The Homeschooling Revolution /138
The Homeschooling Revolution /139
The Homeschooling Revolution /140
The Homeschooling Revolution /142