More pupils learning at home Number taught outside classroom increasing in county

March 16, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

On school days since November, Shelley and Michael Mager of Pasadena have headed to the living room, where their mother teaches them geology, anatomy and division, runs them through spelling bees and quizzes them every Friday on the week's lessons.

They are among a growing population, now about 5,200 of the Baltimore metropolitan area's 400,000 students, who are "home-schooled" -- taught anything from reading, spelling and math to art, Egyptology and skiing on field trips or at home -- by their parents.

In Anne Arundel County, where 71,000 students are enrolled in public schools, the number of students taught at home grew from 1,003 in the 1994-1995 school year to 1,137 in 1995-1996.

Home-schooling parents laud the practice, saying it allows them to spend more time with their children and to manage what and how they learn while keeping them from wasting time, catching colds, being pestered by peers and learning bad habits from them.

But critics say home-schooled children miss out on the educational resources and social experiences available only in school buildings. The Anne Arundel County school board spends only about a half-hour reviewing each home-schooled student's work twice a year, school administrators say.

The state school board in 1984 adopted a regulation allowing parents to school their children at home, according to Richard D. Scott, a guidance specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Although many parents home-school to ensure the quality of their children's curriculum, initially most home-schoolers were Christians who wanted religion to be part of their children's instruction or wanted to shield them from teachings that conflicted with their religious beliefs, according to area home-schoolers.

'Disgusted with system'

That's what got Sharon Mager interested. "I just got really disgusted with the school system," said Mager, 35, a part-time correspondent for the Maryland Gazette. Her instruction includes Bible study, because "there's a real push [in the school system] to stay away from anything remotely Christian."

She said Shelley, 9, and Michael, 12, were wasting time at school between class periods and being exposed to profanity in the hallways and talk about popular television situation comedies and music she does not allow them to sample.

One child hit her son in school, she said, and another called her daughter "ugly," and teachers give instruction on manners and sex education -- and that's a parent's domain, Mager said.

Their normal home-school day begins at 9 a.m. and ends around noon, and the children sometimes read and work on projects during the afternoon. They don't use desks.

"We're not structured right now," Mager said.

On a recent afternoon, sixth-grader Michael sat on the couch writing a summary of a book he read, "Shadows of the Empire," a "Star Wars" book; while his sister, Shelley, a third-grader, tried to figure out how many times three goes into 27. Leaning back on the couch, she said, "Um, 10? Nine?" After figuring out the answer, she dug into a book, "My Babysitter's a Vampire."

Her mother, who said they will soon be reading C. S. Lewis classics, acknowledged that she is not familiar with all the material she wants her children to learn but is considering purchasing a fixed educational curriculum from a home-schooling umbrella organization to ensure that her children are learning at grade level.

Appreciates flexibility

"I like it a lot," said Michael of home-schooling. "We get to get up later, you can spread out work more, like if you're getting really tired, you can put it down and do it again later."

Shelley misses school and friends with whom she has lost touch, but she likes staying home and making occasional midweek trips to her grandparents' Middle River home.

Billy L. Greer, 38, of Pasadena is a home-schooling father who has never sent his children to public school. He belongs to home-schooling parent-support groups that provide his children with opportunities for group learning.

His 9-year-old son, Glen, took an interest in what's printed on dollar bills, and that turned into a lesson on Egypt that brought them to the library and computer stores for videos and CD-ROMs.

"We really did a lot of in-depth material and a lot of work in that area," Greer said. "Rather than being forced on him, he was eager, he was very interested in finding out more."

Field trips include outings to strawberry-picking farms and visits to the Renaissance Festival in Crownsville.

"For the field trips, it's just incredible how excited they are for days afterward," he said.

Lori Brennan, 38, of Sunset Beach was another home-schooling parent -- until the endeavor exhausted her. She preferred phonics training to whole language, wanted to enforce manners and she thought her sons would be neglected at school.

"Children that are disadvantaged or have learning disabilities get all the attention," she said. "Children who are bright get nothing."

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