Another Good Word for Home Schooling


April 17, 1994|By MIKE BURNS

Unlike a lot of kids in Harford's "development envelope," at least this group of students doesn't have to worry about being redistricted to a new school every other year. Or about three weeks of canceled winter school days that have to be made up in good weather. Or about schoolyard intimidation and hallway violence.

What they do worry about is the assault on the integrity and value of their education by ivory-tower "standards-setters" and by "thought police" seeking to impose their own cultural values on others and by the professional teachers' unions.

These are the children in home schooling, an increasingly popular pedagogical system under attack by people who want to force every child into a cookie-cutter education regardless of abilities, needs or culture.

Nearly 5,000 children are registered in Maryland for home schooling, about 10 percent of them in Harford County.

Federal estimates show the number of children in home schooling nationwide has increased 2,400 percent over the last decade.

Letters to the Editor appearing on this page recently have joined the debate over home schooling, arguing whether it provides adequate education and social opportunities for children.

Nationally, attention also was focused on home schools in the congressional discussion of national education standards -- the "Goals 2000" legislation enacted last month.

Advocates of home-based instruction saw the imperious measure as a potential threat by the federal government to force states and localities, which have traditionally regulated education, to crack down on home schooling. Congress rejected the controversial section, much to the dismay of lobbyists for higher public-schools spending and for "politically correct" monolithic instruction.

In fact, some states already make it very difficult to hold school at home, setting certification standards unlikely to be met even by most well-educated parents, rather than academic achievement standards.

But Maryland is a more liberal state, especially since 1987, when it loosened the home schooling rules.

Parents can meet twice a year with county education staffers to review a portfolio of the child's work or they can follow the curriculum of a bona fide church-affiliated education program or a registered non-public correspondence school. The private Calvert School, whose program is touted as the best new hope for Baltimore City public schools, has provided a correspondence plan for home-schoolers for years.

There's certainly no economic advantage to teaching the kids at home.

Home school parents pay the same local taxes we all do, the majority of those tax revenues going to public schools they do not use. Like parents whose children attend private schools, they buy their own books and pay their own way.

They're not asking for public tax money to subsidize their cultural separatism or foreign language, which some ethnic communities have been given. Nor are they demanding that their individual view of the world be imposed on all children.

Most parent-teachers work hard, day after day, to educate their children. There's no substitute teacher or aide, no in-service training days, no official holidays. It's a wonder that so many home teachers manage to keep at it as long as they do.

The challenge is not for every parent. But the growing number of home-teacher parents reflects a strong concern about the type of education offered in public (and private) schools and a commitment to providing better for their children.

As for academic achievement, study after study of children who have been home-schooled has shown that they are not less educated or less able than the average public-schooler at their age level.

This despite the wailing of the professional pedagogues that home teachers don't teach the same subjects in the same way at the same pace as public schools.

(The massive casualties of "new math" and "whole word" reading fads in public schools afford ample testimony against their institutional infallibility.)

On the contrary, the evidence shows that home schooling can address individual talents and shortcomings of a child, and match instruction to that purpose, much better than the homogenized instruction dispensed to 35 or 40 kids stuffed into a classroom on a rigid class-period schedule.

Parent-teachers have more flexibility on field trips and projects and even "after-school" instruction periods that can greatly enhance the learning experience.

They may also have training and experiences that are missing in the certified public school instructors.

The Sun's Angela Ney wrote recently of one home-school teacher with a degree in Latin, a fundamental foreign language that isn't even offered in Harford public schools.

Opponents of home schooling argue that it denies children "socialization" with other kids. Given the extensive opportunities for sports, social and creative activities in the community, that's unlikely.

And home schoolers have demonstrated higher levels of leadership and self-esteem on standardized tests than their peers in public schools.

Home schoolers can't shirk their learning responsibilities, either.

They certainly can't play hooky and there's no way for them to lose an unsatisfactory report card.

Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.

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