Home-Schooling an Educational Choice
I want to share the results of two interviews done with two fine homeschool moms. The names of the two moms I chose to interview are Cathy Arrick and Joan Buller. I chose them because I know each one personally and admire them as Christians and as models of the courage, convictions, commitment and consistency which homeschooling requires.
Our first subject for discussion concerned the primary responsibility for a child's education. Both moms were emphatic in their insistence that God gives children to parents, not to the state, not to the church. Cathy felt that government could insist that a child begin school at a certain age. She pointed out that some states say, "Show me that your child has been in school x amount of hours, show me what they have studied and demonstrate the progress they have made." Cathy could live with that kind of information exchange, but would not tolerate any government prescribed curriculum or programs. Joan pointed out that any parents today that have a real concern for their children, are going to think twice about public education. Even though there may be Christian teachers in public schools, by law they are not allowed to articulate their perspectives. Christians begin the educational process with God and continue to build on that premise. This the public schools cannot do. Joan also stated that the primary opposition to homeschooling has not come from teachers in the public schools but from their powerful union which has attempted to "put their fingers into many pies."
Joan also acknowledged that the government has a right to want a literate and productive citizen to come out of the educational process. They want citizens that are able "to make their own way and be discerning." But that's where government involvement has to stop. Final responsibility for the option chosen to educate lies with the parents.
On the subject of legal threats today, both moms indicated that there appeared to be none at the moment. Cathy was happy for the new representation in Congress but expressed fear that that could change. She sees a Democrat majority as wanting to take control of education away from parents. But she also feels that the initial battles are over and the outlook for homeschooling looks good. She indicated that even a member of the present United States Supreme Court is homeschooled, so she finds a certain favorability to homeschooling built into that final court of appeal. Joan indicated that their family is a member of the Home School Legal Defense Association and that furnishes some security for them. She was very pleased with the fact that at the onset of the H R 6 crisis, early in 1994, the office of Vern Ehlers (R-MI) called their home to alert them to the threat contained in its provisions.
In answer to the question of the government's right to expect certain subject matter to be taught and level of achievement to be demonstrated, Cathy asserted that this is not the responsibility of government. Joan felt that some level of achievement ought to be demonstrated.
Both moms see to it that their children are tested at regular intervals but they also indicated that this is not true of many homeschool families. Joan and her husband have the Stanford Achievement Test administered to their children every other year. The provider of the testing service requires that the test be administered by a certified teacher and the testing service also sets up the other rules. Joan said that there are standardized tests available which are geared to homeschool children, but Joan and her husband want the same kind of standardized test that is administered to other school children in this country. They have found that the results of the testing confirm what they observe at home — one child tests far above the average, another is average, and these same characteristics are demonstrated at home. Joan also pointed out that many homeschoolers do not administer standardized testing. But she and her husband want to know what and where the strengths and weaknesses of their children and their programs are.
Cathy tests her children yearly by administering the California Achievement Test. She is also exploring other standardized tests at the present time.
The charge is often made that homeschooled children are socially deprived. Both moms indicated that this criticism is rarely heard anymore because studies have shown that this charge is not true. Cathy pointed out that too many times social contacts in the school are negative influences creating an undesirable peer pressure. Joan described herself and her husband as very social people and that impacts their children.
The criticism is also often made that homeschooled children do not have the opportunities to develop their leadership qualities. Both moms stated that to a certain extent, leadership qualities are or are not part of each child's natural endowments by God. But Cathy indicated that they make each child responsible for family devotions on a regular basis. Children recite poetry and do other leadership things in front of each other, in front of grandparents and in church and other networking situations.
Joan, on the same subject, indicated that there is a season of protection and nurturing needed before children are ready to assert leadership, and their home is providing that. As the children grow older, they are demonstrating leadership in other contexts such as church, and other networking situations. Joan also feels that her primary objective is that her children be good discerners and discerning thinkers. She also made the point that parents who model leadership at home and outside the home will impact their children greatly.
When asked whether they feel that homeschooling is the solution for all families, both moms answered "No" emphatically. Cathy said it has to be a calling from God. It is very time consuming. Joan offered four criteria for parents who are considering the homeschooling option for their families.
Homeschooling should only be chosen after much prayer.
Ask the question, do both parents want to do this? This is very important. Homeschooling is a tremendous time sacrifice for a mom, and the result is that sometimes other things in the house do not get done. The husband must be very understanding of this. The husband should also be willing to shoulder some of the educational responsibility. Joan noted that the ones who are putting their children back into regular school are often the ones where the husband is not supportive or involved. Also, Joan and her husband talk every evening about where each child is in his/her program, what difficulties and successes there are, what materials to use and/ or buy and discipline.
Homeschool homes must be structured homes. Routines for meals and duties should be well established so children are in the habit of knowing what to expect. That produces a well-ordered, secure environment for learning to take place.
Obedience must be an ingrained response from children who are to be homeschooled. If a child does not obey simple household rules, the child certainly is not going to respond obediently to the rigors of home administered education.
On the matter of style in education — structured, unstructured or both, the moms both indicated a structured style, and basically one patterned after the organization of the textbooks.
Cathy explained that they are actually part of a satellite school and thus they have deadlines for getting yearly work completed and monetary fines if the work is not completed on time. Joan explained that, whereas the textbook is their curriculum, she is now launching out and doing independent units as offshoots of the curriculum. She cited Indians as one unit in which they networked with another homeschool family, playing some Indian games, doing projects and writing reports.
Both families do some networking. Cathy's children are enrolled in a new homeschool network program being offered through Grace Homeschool at Seventh Reformed Church facilities on Leonard Street in Grand Rapids, MI. Here the Rev. Charles Krahe offers a course in Latin and one in Church History. I visited his Latin class composed of five seventh graders. Not only is Rev. Krahe an excellent linguist, but he integrates a good deal of history (both the secular mythology and the Christian influence on the world of that day) into his language study work. The students seemed very motivated the day I was there. Mrs. Krahe, a former supervisor for English and American Literature Studies in a public school district in New Jersey, and framer of a program called "Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages," teaches Spanish in the Grace Homeschool. Cathy also told me of networking classes in science, language arts and band being offered at Lowell Baptist Church. She also mentioned sporting events in which her children participate. From December — March, families get together for skiing; other activities include softball, a Michigan state tournament for different age groups in basketball and a girls' volleyball league to begin next school year. Joan's children have been networking on science for three years and she is thinking about enrolling her children in the courses offered by Grace Homeschool.
Both mothers indicated educational experiences they provide for their children outside the home — day excursions to the nature center, the museum, and others.
When asked about things they had learned about the educational process, both moms referred to the frustration of teaching a concept, testing on it, having the children do well on the test, and then forgetting it and failing to transfer it to applied areas. They also experience frustration at the varying abilities of children, some learning at a faster rate than others. As a teacher I assured them that these problems were universally true in regular classrooms around the world, a fact they already knew but seemed pleased to hear.
For curriculum, the moms use a variety of choices: Christian Liberty, A Beka, Saxon math and others. These materials are very good at developing higher thinking skills and providing for writing activities across curriculum, even though the moms do add a number of their own questions and writing projects.
Both moms indicated that the biggest advantage of homeschool training is the opportunity to integrate Christian knowledge, experience and values into the education of their children. Both warmly testified to the closeness of family ties which the experience engenders. Joan mentioned that because father works until six each evening, some of the education in which he is involved, particularly the spiritual training in the Bible, is saved for early evening hours. For this reason, the children go to bed a little later, but sleep later in the morning. Dad takes the day off on all the children's birthdays and they spend the day doing something special together as a family. Thursday noons they meet Dad at a Burger King as a family and Friday is library day.
My visits with Cathy and Joan confirmed my "hunches" that both were committed competent moms whose children are only thriving under their tutelage. It was not surprising to me how parallel their answers were to the questions I asked. Both believe strongly, as I do, that children are given to parents and not the government. Both take very seriously the task of integrating faith, education and life. Both are structured and follow a curriculum, but are also creative in supplemental ways. Both are committed to accountability and pursue a program of testing. Both are sensitive to differences in children in learning styles, rates and abilities. Neither mom recommends homeschooling to every family and each tries hard to provide a home environment which is conducive to learning. Both have caring and cooperative husbands, committed to the academic, social and spiritual wellbeing of their families. My conclusion is that there will likely be no negative results from the homeschooling received by their children; rather the children will become strong trees "planted in the house of the Lord" (Psalm 92:12-14).
There remain areas of concern which need to be handled. As both moms indicated, there are homeschoolers who are not covering the academics and are not building accountability into their programs. Some may even be examples of truancy violations. In this day of "kids having kids" and demonstrated parental irresponsibility on a rather large scale, a way needs to be found to guarantee highest degree of literacy possible to tomorrow's leaders and voters. Romans 13 does grant to government the right to curb evil, and inasmuch as ignorance breeds evil — laziness, contempt and even violence — the government may take measures to ensure that every child of school age is in fact, getting an education of whatever option the parent will choose.
I also feel that networking for homeschoolers could be expanded in specialty areas such as music (skills, appreciation, theory literacy), science, foreign languages, art, and for Christians — subjects like Church History and Bible studies.
Developing leadership potential would also be a concern of mine if I were a homeschooler parent. Although I agree that, to a certain extent, leadership ability is a natural, God-given ability I often see latent talents brought out in specially designed activities; I also see that success in communication motivates students to cultivate new and sometimes unexpected avenues of leadership.
Homeschooling is undoubtedly a wave of the future, especially in view of the rapid decline in public schools as academic institutions and seedbeds for moral degeneration. Even Christian schools need to be constantly vigilant to ensure that their teaching is distinctively Christian, and the environment teaches and re-enforces the truth of Scripture.
Regardless of the educational choice parents make for their children, the obligation to "train up a child in the way he should go" is still intact. And the promise remains: "When he is old, he will not depart from it."