WS>>The Why of Homeschool

carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Thu May 1 17:02:16 MDT 2003

          By Isabel Lyman

          It was only a matter of time before Hollywood  "discov-
     ered" homeschoolers.

          Ponder  the  promo from The O'Keefes, a  sitcom,  which
     will premiere this summer on the Warner Brothers network.

          "Harry  and  Ellie  O'Keefe are  loving  but  eccentric
     parents who've homeschooled their three children to  protect
     them  from the loud and libidinal world." (Translation:  The
     parents are losers.)

          "Despite  a  ban on all things pop  culture,  teenagers
     Danny  and Lauren and younger brother Mark are  growing  in-
     creasingly curious about what lies beyond the walls of their
     school/dining  room."  (Translation: The children  are  kept
     under house arrest.)

          "They  can speak six languages, but are unable to  con-
     verse  with  kids their own age. The answer  lies  in  their
     father's  worst nightmarepublic school." (Translation:  Kids
     who don't attend government schools become misfits.)

          It's infuriating, but not surprising, that  homeschool-
     ersthe  largest group in the so-called school  choice  move-
     mentstill elicit scorn. The National Education  Association,
     for instance, regularly passes an anti-homeschooling resolu-
     tion  at its annual convention. The resolution  states  that
     homeschooling "cannot provide the student with a  comprehen-
     sive education experience." Now it's apparently Tinseltown's
     turn to bash the estimated 1.5 million homeschooled children
     in the United States.

          Even in a nation that applauds innovation and  liberty,
     the act of homeschooling continues to raise many  uncomfort-
     able,  but important, questions about government  regulation
     of  private  choices. What follows are the seven  most  fre-
     quently asked questions about home education. Hopefully, the
     answers  will explain the benefits of this  educational  en-
     deavor and dispel common misperceptions.

          Why Homeschool?

          Homeschooling  is simply the education  of  school-aged
     children  at  home rather than at a school.  Why  do  people
     choose  this  option?  In 1996, the  Florida  Department  of
     Education  surveyed 2,245 homeschoolers, and 31  percent  of
     that  number returned the survey. Of that group, 42  percent
     said that dissatisfaction with the public school environment
     (safety, drugs, adverse peer pressure) was their reason  for
     launching a home-education program.

          Focusing on homeschooling and the media, my own doctor-
     al dissertation analysis of over 300 newspaper and  magazine
     articles  revealed that the top four reasons to bypass  con-
     ventional  schooling  were dissatisfaction with  the  public
     schools,  the  desire  to freely  impart  religious  values,
     academic  excellence,  and the building of  stronger  family

          What Types of Families Choose Homeschooling?

          The  Associated Press reported the findings of  a  U.S.
     Department  of  Education report about the  "average"  home-
     schooler in 2001. The AP story noted, "They are more  likely
     than  other students to live with two or more siblings in  a
     two-parent family, with one parent working outside the home.
     Parents  of homeschoolers are, on average,  better  educated
     than  other  parentsa greater percentage  have  college  de-
     greesthough  their  incomes are about the same.   Like  most
     parents,  the  vast majority of those who  homeschool  their
     children  earn  less than $50,000, and many earn  less  than

          Given many Americans' penchant for associations,  there
     are  national  homeschooling groups for  the  disabled,  the
     religious, and the athletically-minded. Johnson  Obamehinti,
     for  instance, founded the Minority Homeschoolers of  Texas.
     His organization promotes home education among ethnic minor-
     ities,  such as African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics,  Jews,
     Native Americans, and Anglos with adopted minority children.

          Homeschooling has also attracted the "high-profiled" to
     its  ranks, such as Jason Taylor, who plays in the  National
     Football  League, and LeAnn Rimes, the country music  sensa-

          Are There Different Methods of Homeschooling?

          Families may choose to purchase a prepackaged  curricu-
     lum  from companies that specifically target  homeschoolers,
     such  as A Beka Home School or Saxon Publishers. Others  may
     choose to enroll their children in correspondence  programs,
     like  the Calvert School of Maryland, the Christian  Liberty
     Academy  Satellite  Schools  of Illinois,  or  the  Clonlara
     School of Michigan. Cyber schools, like K-12 Inc., offer  an
     online curriculum for homeschoolers.

          As  families  gain confidence  in  their  homeschooling
     abilities,  they  may opt for a  less  structured  approach.
     Tutors  may be sought to teach particular skills, such as  a
     foreign  language,  a musical instrument, or  a  high-school
     science  class.  Homeschooled children also  participate  in
     field  trips  and learning co-ops  with  other  homeschooled
     students  or  even  take courses at a day  school  or  local

          How Do Homeschooled Children Interact With Others?

          This question stems from a caricature of kids  isolated
     and holed up in a house. Defining socialization is an  arbi-
     trary  exercise.  The burden, however, still seems  to  fall
     upon the parents of the homeschooled to make their case.  To
     that end, one study debunked the myth that homeschoolers are

          In  1992,  Larry Shyers of the  University  of  Florida
     defended a doctoral dissertation in which he challenged  the

     notion that youngsters at home "lag" in social  development.
     In his study, 8- to 10-year-old children were videotaped  at
     play. Their behavior was observed by trained counselors  who
     did  not know which children attended  conventional  schools
     and which were homeschooled. The study found no  significant
     difference  between the two groups of children in  self-con-
     cept or assertiveness, which was measured by social develop-
     ment tests. But the videotapes showed that youngsters taught
     at home by their parents had fewer behavior problems.

          Typically, home schoolers engage in a variety of activ-
     ities outside the homeathletics (homeschool sports teams are
     plentiful), scouting programs, church, community service, or
     part-time employment. Richard G. Medlin of Stetson Universi-
     ty  notes that homeschoolers rely heavily on support  groups
     as  a  a means of maintaining contact with  like-minded  fa-

          Is Homeschooling Legal?

          The  National  Homeschool Association  has  noted  that
     "homeschooling is legally permitted in all fifty states, but
     laws and regulations are much more favorable in some  states
     than  others." For example, Oklahoma is considered  friendly
     toward  homeschooling  in that parents are not  required  to
     initiate  contact with state authorities to  begin  teaching
     their  children at home. The Commonwealth of  Massachusetts,
     however,  is  heavily  regulated  (approval  of  curriculum,
     submission  of  students'  work,  etc.).  Seasoned  veterans
     encourage  homeschooling  parents to  become  familiar  with
     their state's laws before creating a homeschool.

          The  favorable legal climate does not mean  that  skir-
     mishes don't occur. Dean Tong, author of Elusive  Innocence:
     Survival  Guide for the Falsely Accused (2002), says that  a
     smattering of homeschoolers have had to fight false  charges
     of child abuse.

          "Based on the phone consultations I've had with (these)
     homeschoolers, most have been charged in Juvenile-Dependency
     court  with neglect, failure to protect, emotional and  psy-
     chological  abuse,  and failure to  thrive,"  reports  Tong.
     Relative  to  homeschoolers, he says  that  these  unfounded
     charges  are  usually  made by nosy  neighbors  who  believe
     children should receive a more formal classroom education.

          How  Does the Education a Homeschooled  Child  Receives
     Compare with That of Conventionally Schooled Children?

          One  measure is how well they perform  on  standardized
     tests,  like the Stanford Achievement Test or the Iowa  Test
     of Basic Skills. The National Home Education Research Insti-
     tute notes, "Repeatedly, across the nation, the home educat-
     ed  score  as well as or better than those  in  conventional

          The  National  Merit Scholarship  Corporation  selected
     more than 70 homeschooled high school students as semifinal-
     ists  in its 1998 competition.  There were 137  homeschooled
     semifinalists  chosen  in 1999, and 150  in  2000.   Rebecca
     Sealfon, a 13-year-old homeschooler from Brooklyn, New York,
     won  the  1997 Scripps Howard National Spelling  Bee.  David
     Beihl,  also  13, of Saluda, South Carolina,  won  the  1999
     National Geographic Bee. George Thampy, a 12-year-old  home-
     schooler  from Maryland Heights, Missouri, won the  National
     Spelling  Bee in 2000. Calvin McCarter, a 10-year-old  home-

     schooler  from  near Grand Rapids, Michigan,  won  the  2002
     National  Geographic Bee and became the youngest  competitor
     to do so.

          Homeschoolers  have  graduated  from  such  prestigious
     institutions  as  Yale  University Law  School,  the  United
     States  Naval  Academy, and Mount Holyoke  College.  Barnaby
     Marsh, who was homeschooled in the Alaskan wilderness,  went
     on  to  graduate from Cornell University and was one  of  32
     Rhodes Scholars selected in 1996.

          What Type of Young Adults Does Homeschooling Produce?

          J.  Gary Knowles of the University of Michigan  studied
     53 adults to see the long-term effects of being educated  at
     home.  In 1991, he presented a paper of his findings at  the
     Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Associa-
     tion  in Chicago. Notes Knowles: "I have found  no  evidence
     that these adults were even moderately disadvantaged. . .  .
     Two  thirds of them were married, the norm for adults  their
     age, and none were unemployed or any on any form of  welfare
     assistance. More than three quarters felt that being  taught
     at  home  had actually helped them to interact  with  people
     from different levels of society

          Small business owner Tim Martin, 29, and his wife, Amy,
     28,  live  in Whitehall, Montana with their  four  children.
     Both the Martins have a homeschooling background and are now
     teaching their brood at home.  "Education just works  better
     one-on-one,"  says Tim. "Why do we think the 'right' way  to
     do education is to put 20 or 30 children in a classroom with
     one  teacher. That model is more fit for manufacturing  than

          No  kidding.  By using their  liberties  wisely,  home-
     schooling  parents  have  graduated scores  upon  scores  of
     literate,  well-adjusted  students with  minimal  government
     interference and at a fraction of the cost of any government
     program.  Now  a  second generation is  following  in  those
     footsteps.   It's  the kind of story  worthy  of  thoughtful
     documentary, not a silly sitcom.

          Isabel  Lyman, Ph.D., is the author of  The  Home-
          schooling Revolution.  Send her MAIL.

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