Home Schooling—Is It for You?
“AN ECCENTRICITY that has become a national movement.” That is how Time magazine recently described home schooling in the United States—a growing trend championed by parents who believe that the best education a child can receive is available in his or her own living room, not in the traditional classroom.
Still viewed by some as eccentric or even revolutionary, home schooling is, nevertheless, winning more advocates every year. Researchers say the home-schooling ranks have swelled from about 15,000 in 1970 to 500,000 in 1990. Some home-schooling advocates claim that more than a million families in the United States are now schooling their children at home.
Support groups for home schoolers have also sprouted up in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand, indicating that interest in home schooling is spreading around the globe.
Why are so many parents making the decision to teach their children at home? How effective is home schooling? Is it a choice worth considering for your family?
In its basic concept, home schooling is not as radical as it may seem. “Home, not the school, was the original educational system,” suggest Raymond and Dorothy Moore in their book Home-Spun Schools. “Until the last century, most children who went to school started at twelve or later.”
Notable persons, such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein, were schooled at home. In fact, compulsory-school-attendance laws were not introduced in the United States until late in the 19th century. So, according to author and home-school parent Kerri Bennett Williamson, home schooling is, not just a recent fad, but “an old educational standard.” Indeed, home schooling was the standard for most people in Bible times.
Why They Do It
Interestingly, the National Catholic Reporter estimates that from 50 to 90 percent of U.S. parents who practice home schooling do so for religious reasons. These parents are generally concerned about protecting their children from what they perceive as atheistic influences in the schools. “The backbone of the home-school movement is the Christian Fundamentalist community, which believes that religion is either abused or ignored in the classroom,” said Time magazine.
Other parents have pulled their children from public schools to safeguard them from exposure to damaging immoral influences at an early age. “Things were getting pretty out of hand with immorality in the schools,” said one Christian man who decided several years ago that he and his wife would school their children at home. “We were concerned about our children and about the sad state of affairs in the school.”
Sometimes, parents choose home schooling for educational rather than ideological reasons. They are fed up with overcrowded classrooms, low academic standards, and safety problems prevalent in many public schools. Disappointed by the often lackluster results of institutional teaching, they believe that they can help their children more by giving the one-on-one attention that home schooling makes possible.
Explaining why some prefer home schooling, the book Home Schools: An Alternative states: “Parents [who school at home] have 100% involvement with their children . . . They can devote their attention to their own child’s education.”
Does It Work?
Those who advocate home schooling say that children learn more effectively at home because lessons are woven into every aspect of the family’s daily activity. “Many families begin with a mathematics textbook, but then discover that lessons can be learned through everyday experiences,” writes Jane A. Avner in School Library Journal. “Shopping and checkbook balancing, for example, can help their students comprehend money management, while home repairs make for an excellent primer in measurement.”
How effective has home schooling proved to be? Some studies have shown that home schoolers generally earn scores at or above the national average on standardized achievement tests. But such results do not necessarily prove that home schoolers are better off than conventionally schooled children.
“The present evidence is inconclusive,” says the book The Home School Manual. “The primary problem with all of these studies is that test scores from a significant proportion of homeschoolers are not available to the researcher.”
There is “virtually no empirical evidence available” to prove conclusively that home schooling is an academically superior educational method, The Home School Manual explains. “While homeschoolers commonly do well, the proper research design would need to show that any difference is not due to other factors.”
Many Still Skeptical
Home schooling is not without its critics. Many school officials have expressed concern over the inconsistent quality of education being offered through home-school efforts. Time magazine put it this way: “Good intentions do not automatically translate into solid education.”
For that reason school districts are sometimes uncooperative, or even antagonistic, when parents announce plans to teach their own children. While some school districts in recent years have made an effort to work more closely with those who do home schooling, other educational authorities remain skeptical. Both the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Education Association (NEA) have taken a stance against home schooling, fearing that some parents may not be capable of providing adequate home education. According to the NEA’s official position statement, “home-schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive educational experience.”
Home-schooling advocates say that parents don’t need college credentials to be good teachers. “Parents need not know all the answers in order to encourage their children to seek after answers to their own questions,” says the book Home Schooling—Answering Questions. Children can be directed to appropriate source materials. Parents and children can learn together. And where advanced training or expertise is required, private tutors can be hired on a part-time basis.
Critics also claim that home-schooled children are too isolated and are deprived of normal interaction with other children their own age. Again, this is a judgment that advocates soundly reject. “These children are not socially isolated,” said Brian Ray, director of the National Home Education Research Institute. “Home schoolers usually take field trips to the zoo or to the art museum. They play in the neighborhood just like other children. The idea that they’re locked up in a closet from eight in the morning until ten at night just isn’t right.”
Is It for You?
Home schooling takes, “not just courage, but stamina, inventiveness, and steady nerves,” says Christianity Today. So if you are contemplating home schooling, think realistically about the commitment involved. Diligent effort and good organization will be needed to keep up with chores and other family responsibilities in addition to providing a daily academic program for the children. “You might be working so hard you’ll feel like quitting,” Ray said. “It’s very demanding.”
Next, find out the home-schooling laws in your area. For example, in the United States, home schooling is legal in all 50 states, but the levels of regulation vary considerably. In some places, teaching your child at home simply means notifying the local school superintendent and filling out a one-page form. In other states, a parent must be a certified teacher to qualify for home schooling. Determine what local policy is so that you can comply with all the legal requirements.
Then, consider the cost. Shopping for teaching materials presents one of the greatest challenges in home schooling—especially if funds are limited. “You are a sitting duck for educational suppliers,” warns A Survivor’s Guide to Home Schooling.
While some suppliers charge a modest tuition fee, other home-teaching programs cost hundreds of dollars. Standardized tests, which home schoolers are required to take annually in some states, can cost up to $50 each. New textbooks, work booklets, and other materials will be needed year after year, so a carefully planned home-school budget is a must.
Of course, not all parents are willing or able to expend the time, effort, and money that experts say are required to make home schooling a success. “Home schooling is not for everyone,” said one 14-year-old girl who began home schooling when she was 7. “It takes the right circumstances, the right attitudes, and the right parents.” Self-discipline—by parent and child—can be added to the list too. The man quoted earlier said that to make home schooling work, “it takes a strong commitment.” He continued: “The real challenge is being able to devote the time to doing it and following through with it.”
Even ardent supporters of home education admit that home schooling is sometimes done in an ineffective or even irresponsible manner. Indeed, every year there are some home-school efforts that fail, leaving children ill-prepared to face future academic challenges.
Further, parents should not deceive themselves into thinking that home schooling alone will protect their children from the immoral influences found in the public schools. There is no way for anyone to be completely shielded from contact with the world. Many factors beyond formal schooling shape a child’s thinking, including parental example, associations, entertainment, and both personal and family Bible study. Without diligent training in all these areas, no educational system will prove successful in raising Christian children.
True, some parents have felt that home schooling has contributed to the spiritual progress of their children. But it should not be forgotten that many Christian youths who are attending public schools are making fine spiritual progress as well. In many cases, parents have had good results in working closely with their local school district to ensure that their children get a quality education.
Parents, who are ultimately responsible for the proper education and training of their own children, need to decide for themselves the type of schooling they feel will most benefit their family. So weigh all the factors carefully before deciding if you are ready to take on the challenge of teaching your children at home.
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“Children should be on a time schedule just as if they were in school.”—C. F. L., parent who taught daughter at home
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Only you can decide which is best for your child —public schooling or home schooling