Say the word “homeschool” and it conjures images of right wing fundamentalists clinging to their guns and Bibles while teaching their kids in a bunker, surrounded by end-times rations of dried foods and ammunition….
I’ve accidentally gotten close to this topic as my wife Chelle decided to homeschool after her youngest daughter continued to express an interest in doing so for over two years. She’d previously homeschooled her oldest daughter through 3rd grade then transitioned her to public school. And as soon as the decision was announced to the kids, her two sons decided they wanted to homeschool as well.
Me? I was immediately opposed to the idea.
My thinking being that this is going to take way too much time from a full time artist’s schedule, turning my wife into a full time teacher and part time artist. And I was concerned about the kids as well. Bear in mind these are 4.0 students, advanced well beyond their ages in music, drama, sciences and math.
In a casual bromance conversation with my editor about the topic he suggested it would make a great story, kind of a homeschooling then and now since the new school year is upon us. Not being a subject matter expert myself, I began to dig into the history of our school system. Not only is it interesting, but the genesis of public school and homeschool are the polar opposites of what I originally thought.
Public school was started in the 1800’s by religious groups as a loosely knit, semi-organized process and remained so well into the 19th century. Groups that were primarily Puritans, Calvinists and Reformers who wanted their kids taught math and reading, mostly so they could read the Bible. Vocational training was on the fringes, but mainly relating to housework or following Dad’s footsteps into a trade.
That’s roughly how public school started.
Homeschooling started to gain traction in the early 1970’s led by secular education reformers John Holt and Raymond Moore, not religious nut jobs. They decided public schools were not conducive to their children’s learning any longer and wanted to take control of it, thinking public schools were damaging their kids.
This decline, in the mind of the secularists, goes all the way back to the inclusion of kindergarten, age segregation in the classroom and compulsory attendance.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s and 80’s that evangelical Christians became discontent with what they saw as the over secularization of the public school system and started to infiltrate the previously secular homeschool movement.
Homeschooling wasn’t even legal is all 50 States until the 90’s, if it was taught by a parent with no teaching certificate.
So, religious groups started public schooling as we know it. It became too confining for the secularists, who bailed and started homeschooling. And the non-secular religious groups who started public school found it getting too secular and abandoned it like rats from a ship in the 80’s and invaded the secular homeschool world for the same reason the secularists left public schools; perceived damage to their kids.
Confused yet? I was.
Today, roughly 85% of homeschool kids come from evangelical Christian families but that number is starting to decline as more secular parents think, once again, it’s a better choice for their kids as well. However this time around, they are leaving public school systems for reasons of quality and wanting to more finely tailor the curriculum.
There are traditional, religious homeschool curriculums still available from hundreds of sources, on the Internet or locally at stores like Mardells, a division of Hobby Lobby. You can buy curriculum new or used on eBay as well and local support groups are plentiful.
Big on the secular homeschool scene is GVS, Global Village School, stating they understand that families are interested in teaching their children lessons about ethics and responsibility without basing it all on religious doctrine.
Their mission statement declares an interest in peace, compassion, justice, sustainability, community, integrity, and appreciation of diversity, caring for the Earth and our fellow beings, creativity, living an authentic and meaningful life and offering religious studies in a non-dogmatic way.
Sounds like a decent set of values to me, with or without the religious component.
Maybe these secularists guys are secretly Methodists?
Which brings me to today; homeschooling is all grown up.
My wife’s kids are actually enrolled in the Lawrence Public School system, but living in Olathe. It’s a form of charter school, but they take all their classes online, using lap tops provided by the school district. They have two teachers available for each subject, by chat or phone. My wife’s role is that of “learning coach,” more or less to simply monitor what they do and keep them on track. She’s not the teacher anymore like she had been before.
The laptop, desktop and classes are first rate.
They have scheduled class times, live running conversation online and automated ways to “raise your hand” and ask a question, wearing headsets and boom mics, or in the chat panel to the side of the screen. If you don’t want to ask something open in the class, you can call your teacher aside and chat in private.
Can’t make class time? No problem, it’s all recorded; you can pick it up later.
And it’s all way high tech and way cool.
Socialization issues? Coming alongside from the community are a myriad of programs designed for the homeschool student. Top of the line, professional drama and music programs are provided by places ranging from The Culture House, Greenleaf to Church of the Resurrection’s Music Academy. Sports teams are also out there for the same purpose, to provide additional community for the students. Homeschool interest groups cover every possible topic you could imagine and have regular meet up dates in the community.
The Washington Times looked at five areas of academic pursuit. “In reading, the average home-schooler scored at the 89th percentile; language, 84th percentile; math, 84th percentile; science, 86th percentile; and social studies, 84th percentile. In the core studies (reading, language and math), the average home-schooler scored at the 88th percentile.
“The average public school student taking these standardized tests scored at the 50th percentile in each subject area.”
Typical homeschoolers remain 15-35 percentage points ahead of the public school student across the board.
It’s not a “soldier of fortune,” end of days, homeschool world anymore.
I can’t remember when I was so off base on a single topic just going from what culture and word of mouth has said a situation was rather than what the facts dictated.
It’s not the total religious nut jobs, hedonistic secularists, Bible thumpers or atheists.
Check it out; it may surprise you as much as it did me.