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Friday, July 14, 2006

Why We Homeschool

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Back in the early years of the homeschooling phenomenon, its advocates were largely tie-dyed, granola-munching, back-to-nature, hippie types whose primary goal was to disassociate from just about everything manmade, and certainly from Establishment institutions like the public schools. They fought running battles with local and state governments for the right to teach their children themselves, and—to give them credit where it is due—they had patchy success, especially in more progressive states like California. It is no wonder that homeschooling has the reputation, even today in some quarters, as being a far-out, counter-cultural movement.

However, somewhere about the time of the Reagan Revolution, homeschooling dramatically switched its poles, shifting from a leftist movement to a rightist one. A growing number of religious and social conservatives, frustrated with both the iron grip of liberals (read: teachers' unions and school district administrations) on the country's educational system and the cultural mayhem rising in the public schools, opted to take on the additional burden of teaching their children at home. The movement has grown far beyond anything its pioneers ever imagined.

And a burden it can be. Homeschool parents pay the same taxes for the public schools as everyone else, plus they take on the additional expenses of books, fees, supplies, and miscellaneous costs associated with education. This amounts to hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year, depending on how ambitious they decide to be. A math, science, or history textbook may cost upwards of $50, and the family must still buy teacher's guides and answer keys, and for science, microscopes, test tubes, specimens, etc. There are further outlays of cash if the child desires to participate in any extracurricular activities: art, music, or sports, activities that are usually subsidized in public schools. In addition, foreign language classes—or for that matter, any outside instruction beyond the abilities of the parents—can cost the proverbial arm and/or leg. It must also be factored in that homeschool families must function on only one salary, since one of the parents must stay at home to teach.

Beyond these expenses, it is a burden of time and energy. Homeschooling is a full-time occupation in itself. Not only is there one-on-one instruction, but there are additional activities like lesson-planning, reviewing, testing, grading, experimenting (science again), reading (lots of reading—to stay ahead of the kids!), and taking the students to this, that, and the other class. It is a blessing that, as the student ages, he is able to do a great deal more on his own and with only minimal oversight. Otherwise, the homeschool parent would simply burn out.

At this point, many a reader is probably saying to himself, "Why do it, then?" Despite the fact that homeschooling is not for the faint of heart, its rewards far outweigh the efforts.

Homeschoolers benefit both by what they avoid and by what they receive. Because they are able to assemble their own curriculum, they can steer clear of distasteful and objectionable subjects. For instance, they can (or not) study the theory of evolution in a more balanced way, comparing it with biblical creation and Intelligent Design and emphasizing their preferred understanding. Further, they can replace the oftentimes horribly inappropriate sex-education teaching with a better alternative. They can also avoid humanistic, socialistic, multicultural, and postmodern ideas that have been integrated into textbooks, teaching aids, and lesson plans by teachers, teachers' unions, and school districts. Besides these, they do not have to deal with power-obsessed administrators, holier-than-thou counselors, know-it-all teachers, and scores of undisciplined, Ritalin-candidate students—not to mention a load of perverse cultural influences.

On the flipside, those who homeschool are compensated, though not monetarily, far more than most people who have never tried it realize:

  • For starters, the family becomes very close. This may seem paradoxical to those who think spending several hours each day in the near vicinity of their children would drive them to drink. Yet, the time and the shared activities and understanding bind parents and children tightly together, bridging the "generation gap" to a great degree.
  • Done well, homeschooling teaches children more thoroughly than public schools do. This comes as a result of more one-on-one instruction and the ability to study a subject in depth. Public school children waste a great deal of time in meaningless activities during school hours (and in their commute to and from school), but at home, a well-organized, disciplined child uses this extra time to read or to pursue an interest spurred by his study. What is more, he still usually finishes his school day earlier than his neighbor who attends a local school!
  • A homeschooled child also has a wider variety of subject fields to study than his public-school counterpart. While the public school has a set curriculum and a handful of elective courses, homeschoolers are limited only by time, money, and their communities' offerings. However, with the Internet and easy, fast transportation, they can pursue even exotic topics relatively effortlessly. Whether it is learning Sanskrit, investigating Central American archeology, or studying Australia's marsupials, homeschoolers have the freedom to explore these individual interests.

Nevertheless, homeschooling is not for everyone. Some parents just do not have the inclination or the patience required to do it well. However, it is worth serious consideration for all Christians who desire to minimize the world's influence on their children. God gives to parents the primary responsibility for educating their children, not to worldly schools: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6), and ". . . bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Homeschooling is a way to be far more involved in our children's growth into godly, mature adults.