By Jennifer Marvin
Acclaimed anthropologist Margaret Mead once commented “My grandmother wanted me to have an education, so she kept me out of school.”
Several years ago, my niece announced her intention to homeschool. Annie and her husband were traveling the country from one renaissance fair to another, performing Celtic music for a living, so it made some kind of sense for them to plan to educate their daughter outside the geographical constraints of a single county public school district. They also had a concern about guarding their daughter from bullying and values discordant with their shared faith…they were Wiccans.
Since all the other homeschoolers I knew were Bible believers, this perspective was jarring to me. What kind of support groups for homeschooling witches had my niece found? What kind of world view were they so committed to perpetuating in their offspring that they were concerned would be threatened by public school’s secular bias? I mean, they would have plenty of support for Halloween observance, reading Harry Potter, and concerns about the ecological protection of Planet Gaia, so what were they worried about?
Even though a professor of education quoted in Penn State News observes that “Most people who choose homeschooling for religious reasons are Christian fundamentalists” who “typically want more control over their children’s curriculum and socialization,” the homeschooling movement attracts families from all religions, races, and socioeconomic classes, as my unusual niece illustrates. Like Margaret Mead’s grandmother, some people choose to teach their children at home because they feel that the public school “dumbs kids down” by pitching to the lowest common denominator, using a cookie-cutter or assembly line approach, despite college teacher preparation programs that stress “individualizing instruction” (as if somebody with a classroom of thirty children can individualize anything!) Teaching at home allows parents to tailor curriculum and pedagogical approaches to suit their children’s temperament, interests, and abilities.
Others want a stronger family unit, want to spend their days involved with and growing close to their progeny. Some parents choose home instruction in order to address special mental or physical needs, while many do so out of concern about the safety of the school environment, with its widespread drugs, violence, or negative peer pressure.
Although homeschooling is a trend that has been on the rise for the last 30 years, and is legal in all 50 states with varying standards and requirements, every state has some form of compulsory attendance law requiring children in a certain age range to spend a specific amount of time being educated. There are still widespread notions that children educated at home are academically and socially handicapped, despite statistics showing the superiority of homeschooled students’ results on various measures of achievement, from spelling bees to college entrance exams. As for socialization, when I first attended a Garden School function and met students who looked me in the eye and spoke articulately and engagingly, that issue was laid to rest for me, at least.
Yet homeschooling does take a commitment of resources, time, and energy way beyond volunteering in a public school room. Is it worth it? Are homeschooling spouses still losing custody battles to a divorcing parent who will place the children in public school? What about Infowars.com’s account of purported police training exercises in some states where an anti-terrorist scenario is acted out against ‘fanatical homeschoolers” rather than, say, right-wing political or radical Muslim extremists? Is parent-directed education a practice whose days are numbered? Is it a choice for which you are prepared to suffer? Has your family experienced benefits from parent-directed education? Are there also legitimate benefits from public school exposure? Are there students for whom, or circumstances in which homeschooling is not structured enough, or is inappropriate for some reason? What are your reasons for choosing the conventional, or the unconventional, learning path?
With a degree in Modern Languages and Bilingual Education, Jennifer has taught Spanish, Russian, Latin, and Bible, coordinated weekly chapel, and tutored Hebrew at The Garden School. She homeschooled her son before sending him to Sarasota Christian School, and is an avid advocate of home cooking, home remedies, home birth, and home death as well.