The Why of Homeschool
by Isabel Lyman
[Posted on Monday, February 17, 2003]
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It was only a matter of time before Hollywood "discovered" homeschoolers.
Ponder the promo from The O'Keefes, a sitcom, which will premiere this summer on the Warner Brothers network.
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 increasingly curious about what lies beyond the walls of their school/dining
room." (Translation: The children are kept under house arrest.)
can speak six languages, but are unable to converse with kids their own age.
The answer lies in their father's worst nightmare—public school." (Translation:
Kids who don't attend government schools become misfits.)
infuriating, but not surprising, that homeschoolers—the largest group in
the so-called school choice movement—still elicit scorn. The National Education
Association, for instance, regularly passes an anti-homeschooling resolution
at its annual convention. The resolution states that homeschooling "cannot
provide the student with a comprehensive 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 uncomfortable, but important, questions about government regulation
of private choices. What follows are the seven most frequently asked questions
about home education. Hopefully, the answers will explain the benefits of
this educational endeavor and dispel common misperceptions.
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.
on homeschooling and the media, my own doctoral dissertation analysis of
over 300 newspaper and magazine articles revealed that the top four reasons
to bypass conventional schooling were dissatisfaction with the public schools,
the desire to freely impart religious values, academic excellence, and the
building of stronger family bonds.
What Types of Families Choose Homeschooling?
Associated Press reported the findings of a U.S. Department of Education
report about the "average" homeschooler 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 parents—a greater
percentage have college degrees—though 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 $25,000."
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 minorities, such as African-Americans,
Asians, Hispanics, Jews, Native Americans, and Anglos with adopted minority
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 sensation.
Are There Different Methods of Homeschooling?
may choose to purchase a prepackaged curriculum 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.
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 college.
How Do Homeschooled Children Interact With Others?
question stems from a caricature of kids isolated and holed up in a house.
Defining socialization is an arbitrary 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 undersocialized.
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-concept or assertiveness, which was measured by social development
tests. But the videotapes showed that youngsters taught at home by their
parents had fewer behavior problems.
home schoolers engage in a variety of activities outside the home—athletics
(homeschool sports teams are plentiful), scouting programs, church, community
service, or part-time employment. Richard G. Medlin of Stetson University
notes that homeschoolers rely heavily on support groups as a a means of maintaining
contact with like-minded families.
Is Homeschooling Legal?
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 skirmishes 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.
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 psychological 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
How Does the Education a Homeschooled Child Receives Compare with That of Conventionally Schooled Children?
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 Institute notes, "Repeatedly, across the nation, the home educated
score as well as or better than those in conventional schools."
National Merit Scholarship Corporation selected more than 70 homeschooled
high school students as semifinalists in its 1998 competition. There were
137 homeschooled semifinalists chosen in 1999, and 150 in 2000.
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
homeschooler from Maryland Heights, Missouri, won the National Spelling Bee
in 2000. Calvin McCarter, a 10-year-old homeschooler 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?
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 Association 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
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, homeschooling 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 Homeschooling Revolution. Send her MAIL.
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