Up Close with Homeschoolers

Homeschooling has been on the rise across the country for some time. And with conventional schools engaging in the likes of providing free condoms to elementary school students, asking students to turn their American flag T-shirts inside-out, and preaching about barrier methods of contraception to fifth-graders, homeschooling is likely to become even more prevalent.

In December of 2008, The Heritage Foundation disclosed that, according to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, “approximately 1.5 million children (2.9% of school-age children) were being homeschooled in the spring of 2007, representing a 36% relative increase since 2003 and a 74% relative increase since 1999.”

According to Christopher J. Klicka, senior counsel for the Home School Legal Defense Association, “Standardized test results for 16,000 home-educated children, grades K-12, were analyzed in 1994 by researcher Dr. Brian Ray.… Nearly 80% of homeschooled children achieved individual scores above the national average and 54.7% of the 16,000 homeschoolers achieved individual scores in the top quarter of the population, more than double the number of conventional school students who score in the top quarter.”

There’s no question that statistics provide great insight into trends and success vs. failure rates. However, as someone who has taught at the middle school, high school, and college levels, I’ve found that sometimes being up close and personal provides an awareness that no statistic could ever dream of eliciting.

With that in mind, I set out to speak to parents who home-school their children, most of whom transitioned them from the public school system. Why did they make the switch? How has the performance of their child/children changed since?

Sven Larson, who home-schooled his son in New York, said the public middle school his son attended “was big, bureaucratic, and failed to stimulate his academic curiosity.” He continued, “There was also an unacceptable level of violence at the school. The principal and the school administrators were uninterested in either issue.”

Larson added, “Getting the right to home-school was not easy. I had to fight the public school bureaucracy, who obviously fought back—in their own interest, of course. They raised hell about the very idea when I first notified them. They regularly sent arrogant letters to homeschoolers who did not submit their quarterly progress report to the school district on the minute, threatening to send child protective services after them.”

“He was already a top student, and he excelled even more,” Larson said with respect to his son’s homeschooling. “We put together a tough history course that, according to my son, was the most in-depth learning experience he has had thus far in school.”

Paul (last name omitted at his request) and his wife just began the fourth year of homeschooling their two children, ages seven and ten. Paul’s wife is certified in the Texas to teach general education K-12 and taught in public school for ten years. They became concerned when their kindergartener—then in public school—was bored in class.

Paul said, “One of her unsolicited comments about school was, ‘I don’t want to color during math, I want to learn math. I don’t want to color during science, I want to learn science.’”
“The time spent learning in school seemed to be shrinking. Too much time in public schools is wasted on disciplining other students, getting organized and getting in line, or on other tasks deemed important by local school officials,” Paul added.

“The main benefit homeschooling provides is that you can teach to the learning styles of your children,” Paul said. “By understanding how your children learn best, you can craft an educational environment that will help them flourish. They can move at their own skill levels, not an arbitrary state-defined timeline that holds them back.”

Lennie Jarratt and his wife currently home-school their two children in Illinois. They made the decision to home-school when their oldest was in public school and they “met a lot of resistance when we asked questions about why things were done a certain way,” and had “bad experiences with long-term tenured teachers.”

Since homeschooling, Jarratt said “Their performance has improved greatly. They understand the basic processes—foundation—so whatever is given to them, they can figure it out methodically instead of guessing as taught in public schools.”

Laurie (last name omitted at her request), a former public high school teacher, currently home-schools her four children in Virginia. Three of her children formerly spent one year in public school.

“My fifth-grade son came home one day asking—of his social studies lesson—‘Which political party is the one that doesn’t care about the environment, again?’” she said. “He also ended up, after his public school study of American ‘history’, saying things like, ‘I’m ashamed to be an American’.”

Laurie said homeschooling is effective because of “the one-on-one attention” and because “it allows each child to progress at his or her own academic pace.”

“We are homeschooling because homeschooling works so much more effectively to produce well-rounded, intelligent students who can think, reason, and express coherent thoughts, because said students understand ethics, morality, and integrity to be important issues,” said Laurie. “Because they are able to learn—really learn—the material, instead of just cramming SOL [Standards of Learning] facts into their brains for tests, only to forget them as soon as the tests are over.”

Homeschooling is undoubtedly a tough job. It involves a great sense of commitment, discipline, and diligence on the part of parents. Many parents are nonetheless embracing it, believing that it is a step in the right direction for their children’s education.

Of course, there are many wonderful public and private schools—and a number of great teachers in those schools who create a healthy learning environment for America’s children.

But as someone who has witnessed plenty of indoctrination in education firsthand, plenty of revisionist history and brainwashing as kids are not-so-subtly encouraged to think one way over another, I can’t help but empathize with the instinct by parents to take matters into their own hands.