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Homeschooling (In Less than 1000 Words)

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By Linda Dobson

HOMESCHOOLING – the act of families accepting legal, financial, and educational responsibility for their own children in a family environment; an education that is individually configured and parent- or child-led; also known as home education. Homeschooling may be accomplished in the home with a parent as primary instructor, or at various locations utilizing a variety of community members as additional teachers, even though they may not be certified teachers such as are found in the public school institution.

EducationWhile it is difficult to precisely identify the beginning of a grassroots movement such as homeschooling, journalists and education critics of the 1960s and 1970s provided parents with reason to question the efficacy of public schooling. These included Charles E. Silberman, Fortune editor; Jonathan Kozol, a privileged physician’s son turned teacher, then education reformer; Vienna born Ivan Illich, a Catholic priest who advocated self-directed, informal learning; and Dr. Raymond Moore, a researcher and former teacher, principal and school superintendent. In the 1970s John Holt, a seasoned teacher who concluded schools could not be reformed, began advocating that parents teach their own children. Widely regarded as the grandfather of modern homeschooling, Holt authored many books on home education and founded Growing Without Schooling magazine in 1977. While Silberman, Kozol, and Illich sought to expose the existing school system’s problems to the general public for systemic reform, and Moore and Holt advocated that families act individually and remove their children from irreparable problems, the collective writing of these critics and others served to inspire parents who chose not to wait for broad educational reform as their children grew up.

Subject to tax law revisions in the 1980’s, hundreds of private Christian schools closed and created a second wave of homeschooling families. By the turn of the 21st century, researchers declared a third wave they termed “mainstream,” recognizing that while the first wave was composed of families inclined toward an alternative lifestyle, and the second wave consisted of religiously motivated families, the grassroots movement had grown sufficiently in size and societal acceptance so families representative of the spectrum of the American population engaged in the practice.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated homeschoolers represent 2.9% of the school-aged population. Public education policy, however, is regulated at the state level, and states’ definitions of homeschooling and notification requirements vary. Coupled with some states not requiring reporting, ascertaining a true percentage of practitioners is problematic.

Homeschooling is most popular in English-speaking countries such as the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. It is practiced around the world with varying degrees of regulation. It is considered illegal in Germany; families have been prosecuted in Brazil.

A legal practice in all of the United States, each state governs the practice through specific statutes and regulations directly related to parents teaching their own children in their own home. Data produced by the U. S. Department of Education suggests the largest numbers of homeschoolers reside in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. However, with the variation in state reporting requirements, a portion of the remaining states could contain more home educators.

As the homeschooling movement grew, practitioners followed different educational theories and methods. Some families engaged in traditional school at home, using age appropriate text books and following a state curriculum. Another popular, highly structured method revived in whole or in part the trivium, a three-part process to train a child’s mind outlined by writer and theologian Dorothy Sayers, also referred to as classical education.

Homeschoolers embraced the teachings of Charlotte Mason and her 20 Principles outlined in a six volume Original Home Schooling Series. The approach combines nature studies, classical literature instead of textbooks, and narrative summaries instead of tests. Still other home educators employed Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf education in which lessons are based on a child’s development stages.

Other families enjoyed unit studies based on a theme or topic. In this way they cover typical school “subjects” while studying a topic, such as trains or the medieval age.

Some families labeled their method as eclectic, relaxed, or unschooling. These households utilized homeschooling’s freedom from public school curriculum and used elements of various methods – or no method at all – depending on the needs or desires of the students. A student may determine how s/he learns what s/he needs or wants to know, much as adults obtain desired knowledge. Traditional educational methods may be incorporated when needed or desired.

Homeschoolers formed cooperatives where families learn together for short or extended periods of time, engaging in a variety of academic, art, and sporting pursuits.

The introduction of charter schools, virtual schooling courses, and publicly funded homeschool programs, all of which offer courses for students to complete at home, are home-based programs, but do not meet the criterion of parent- or student-led as the sponsoring schools require families to comply with associated laws and regulations, attendance and curriculum requirements. Some of these practitioners do eventually move to homeschooling.

Criticism of homeschooling often stems from the educational establishment. For instance, the National Education Association (NEA) maintains an annual resolution stating that “homeschooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.” A vocal critic employed as a political scientist at Stanford University fears that homeschooling shelters children from diverse ideas, preventing their knowledge of pluralistic democracy.

Many homeschool families face questions about their children’s socialization and ability to get along in the greater world. Critics question if they are prepared to cooperate, tolerate, get a job, or otherwise acquire skills needed to cope as adults.

Homeschooling families cited concern about public school environment, dissatisfaction with academic instruction, and desire to provide religious and moral instruction as top reasons for choosing this alternative.

Readily available educational materials, communication technology, dual enrollment when children take college courses while in high school, and myriad online and face-to-face support options continue to contribute to the growth of homeschooling.

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