Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Home Schooling Is Quality Education

February 27, 1995

What do you think about parents who educate their children at home? Are they kooky, right wing religious nuts who spend their time indoctrinating their children and ignoring basic education? Are these parents so unhappy with the school system that they are willing to risk their children's education to prove a point? Are their children bookworms with large coke-bottle glasses who can't relate to their peers? Get ready for a surprise!

In the past few weeks, I've met and interviewed several home schooling families. It is a positive movement of healthy families who place their children’s education at the top of their personal priorities. By being structured, consistent and dedicated, they produce disciplined, high achieving students who are socially prepared to compete and mix in society.

More than 500,000 children are taught at home and the movement is growing dramatically. Home school parents are typically two parent families with one income. In almost all cases, mother is the primary teacher while father earns the income. Rural families are overly represented and most families worship at fundamentalist, evangelical churches.

Why do parents do it? Many parents were dissatisfied with their child’s public education and believe they are doing a better job. They feel they are protecting their children from disintegrating society values, poor peer influences and violence in the schools. They want character education to be a part of their children's curricula. They believe they have a closer family life and their children will be better prepared for life.

What does it take to succeed? As with public education, the key to effective home schooling is parental involvement. Parents truly take responsibility for educating their own children. One home schooling mother expressed it this way, "Nobody loves your child like you do. No one will be willing to give so much as you do."

One-on-one attention and monitoring of the child's learning is highly efficient and geared to the child's needs, pace and temperament. Public school teachers gear their teaching to a large group. The brightest and slowest students suffer as a result. Today’s trend in public education is toward integrated curricula, hands on learning, and community involvement - exactly the strengths of home schools.

Parents have to have extraordinary dedication and commitment. There are major financial commitments. There is little time for self. Social life is limited. Home schooling has to be handled just like outside employment that can't be interrupted.

Educating children becomes the parents' main career. The teacher has to be extremely organized and disciplined to carry out the strict scheduling and structure needed. Children have to respond to authority and cooperate. Parents should be united in a marriage that is strong and relatively conflict-free.

Parents who start home schooling out of frustration with the public schools but lack dedication, commitment and organizational skills will not do well.

Where do they get their curriculum materials? There is a huge industry of excellent home study materials for all age groups - including high school and college. Some high school youth make significant progress toward college degrees through home schooling. The average cost is about $500 per year compared to $3,000 per student in the public school system. Computer-assisted education and Internet information access are new tools that can make home education even more feasible and powerful.

Local home school associations offer opportunities for parents to share their expertise and experiences with each other. Networks and support groups provide extracurricular activities, field trips, contests and other social opportunities for students to share talents. Some events are statewide.

What about socialization? Parents realize this is an important issue and provide a strong extracurricular peer involvement program. Social skills are also developed in the family with siblings, parents and with other adults. Children also mix with public school children, attend games and activities, have church associations and have neighborhood friends. Teens have normal interests and activities.

They are different though - in ways that their own parents applaud. Studies show that home schooled children are more grounded in values, less peer dependent, mix with all ages, are have more discipline and self-esteem.

Are they successful? In a nationwide random sample of 3,096 home schooled children, home schooled children performed at the 80th percentile and above on standardized math, reading and basic language tests when compared to their public school counterparts.

When the success of home schooling is more widely known and concerns over public education mount, more parents may consider this as a viable option.