Home Schooling! This topic seems to be a hot one in the news, lately. The headlines either laud the praises of home education or vilify it.
Articles appear in the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Ladies’ Home Journal, major newspapers across the country, and special segments on CBS news. Even so, there are many people who still have questions about what it is and how it works.
After homeschooling my daughters for 13 years, and being deeply involved in the home schooling community the past 17 years, I have a bit of perspective to share on some of the issues. First, a little history.
Arizona recognized home education from the start, and provides for it in the state constitution. In 1982, the law was clarified, and at that time, several things were required of home educators.
- The Teacher Proficiency Exam was mandatory for the main teaching parent. This was the same tests that public school teachers still have to pass to receive certification, except for the classroom management portion. We had 6 months to pass this exam to be allowed to home educate. Teachers had 2 years, and could still teach while in the re-testing stage.
- An affidavit needed to be filed for each child 8-16 years old.
- Students had to take the IOWA Test of Basic Skills every year, and demonstrate “academic
progress” to be able to continue at home.
Over the next few years, home schoolers demonstrated very high scores on the IOWA test—averaging in the 70-85th percentile without regard to parental background such as educational level or income. Independent studies have consistently shown that the longer a child is in home schooling, the farther above grade level he will score.
As the state changed its public school testing requirements, ours were changed as well, usually for the better. The current state laws include these provisions:
- An affidavit must be filed for each child 6-16 years.
- No testing is required of students (say goodbye to research papers for sale!)
- No testing is required of parents.
- Parents may choose any type of curriculum or method they desire.
- Students may participate in public school extra-curricular activities.
- Home Schoolers scoring in the 90th percentile on the college entrance tests are eligible for full
tuition waivers (Regents’ Scholarships) at the state universities.
Partly due to this great statute (and the openness in the charter school law), Arizona is ranked Number One in Educational Freedom.
When I began home schooling in the mid-1980’s, there were very few choices regarding curriculum, support groups and activities. Three major companies offered instructional materials, and one of those would not release teacher books to us. There were only three support groups of significant size—one in the east valley, one in Scottsdale, and one covering the rest of Phoenix and the West Valley. Our groups pioneered and tested out everything from new teaching materials (developed by creative parents) to various classes and teen activities.
Today, there are support groups abounding—in every region of the valley, and statewide as well. They can be focused on a certain philosophy of education or religion, or a curriculum, or group co-op classes, or relationships for moms and kids.
Publishers and suppliers of textbooks, educational games and supplementary services have proliferated. One major home school magazine has over 5000 company names in its database, with more contacting them weekly. Now, the dilemma a newcomer faces is more related to being overwhelmed with all the choices.
Home school students are involved in an average of 5-6 community activities outside of the schooling. These are as far ranging as Spelling and Geography Bee competitions on the national level (and winning!), chess clubs, competitive athletic teams, swing dance clubs, junior symphony and city choral groups, leadership camps, tutoring, community service, and even a home school prom.
In Maricopa county, over 9000 students ages 6-16 are registered home schoolers, with several hundred more who are younger or older than the mandatory reporting age. Statewide, the numbers run close to 20,000 registered, and the national census estimates are at least 1.5 – 2 million across the country.
In a study conducted last year by Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, former home educated students who are now adults were surveyed on longer term effects. With nearly 80% of the 10,000 contacts responding, the results are dynamic. Questions were posed regarding adjustment into the “real world” as measured by college attendance and completion, types of jobs, satisfaction with life, citizenship responsibilities such as voting, and thoughts about their own home school experience. For each question, the respondents indicated a high level of social adjustment and comfort with their roles as adults, and a strong sense of well-being in their respective endeavors.
For me on a personal level, home schooling my daughters was a grand adventure. They are wonderful people to be around, and I am very confident of their abilities to make sound decisions in all areas. We had a lot of fun learning together, and we have a rich treasure of incredible memories. I would do it all again in a heartbeat! (When the time comes, they may let me help home school my grandchildren, which would be a real blast!)
What about socialization
I haven’t yet found a home schooler who hasn’t been asked this question. The asking of it implies that the only acceptable way for children to learn “proper behavior for group settings” is to be immersed in learning situations with 30 other age-mates. It also assumes that teaching one’s children and being social recluses are the same thing.
Being involved with other people (socializing) is one of the strengths of the home schoolers. There are support group activities and classes to meet every kind of interest, plus scads of community programs and activities.
Most home school children are in an average of 4-5 outside activities (compared to 1-2 for public schoolers), and many moms find their time is divided between the instructional part and the driving of kids to activities.
You can be as involved as you want–scouts, sports, theater, classes, music, hobby clubs, parks and recreation, church activities, voluntarism, being mentored by key people in similar areas of interest, inviting families to your home for meals or activities.
Socialization means being able to behave properly in all social situations. (i.e. with older or younger people, on the playground, at church or a formal event or wherever). Properly for most of us includes: treating others with respect, integrity, compassion; having a strong moral code, honesty, grace, ability to think for oneself and not give in to peer pressure, to understand the needs of others, willingness to serve others, good manners, and religious and family values.
Because the family is the basis for interaction with home schooling, the parents are able to see and work with character qualities and instruct the children in proper behavior.
They will relate to people of all ages, in many social settings, all under the eyes of the loving adults who are mature enough to model desirable attitudes and actions. That modeling is unlikely to occur among a group of other children who also need to learn these things.
If you were new at a job, and needed to learn many new skills, are you likely to spend the bulk of your time trying to learn from the new recruits?
Or would you seek out the most experienced and wise person there and sit at his feet? I know for myself, I would do the latter. We learn and grow from interacting with those who are more mature than we are, who can give us their wisdom.
Children, especially, need elders, (not a room full of 30 peers who are at the same or lower social, emotional and intellectual level), to raise the caliber of their application of life principles. In other words, we are most strongly influenced by those with whom we spend the most time.
We, as parents, have the wonderful privilege of importing into the lives of our children the qualities of character and godliness that we desire them to have.
Research demonstrates that children wantthis from their parents. Research also shows that home schooled students are stronger in social skills of all types than the public school counterparts, due to the strong one-on-one training from family members.