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Flaws of home-schooling




December 13, 2003








In 2002, more than 850,000 parents nationwide opted to remove their children from local public school systems for  what is known as home-schooling.


The reasons for such decisions are multiple. Some parents feel that contemporary curricula have minimized the basics, while others hesitate to send their children into environments that in their judgment are unsafe. Still others consider the public school approach to education overly humanistic and thus keep their children home for religious reasons.


Yet, while those who favor home-schooling quite reasonably point to the successes of such programs and to the geniuses who have emerged from them,  the fact is that parental guidance is not always what it should be and that laxity has, in many cases, produced less than spectacular results.    


Like most states, Virginia has rather loosely codified the parameters for parents who choose to do their own teaching. They may do so if they 1) have a BA degree; 2) are teachers; or 3) provide a program of study which includes SOL objectives for language arts and math.  Furthermore, they must provide evidence that their child has attained a composite score above the 40th percentile on a battery of achievement tests approved by the Board of Education, or (and this is a big “or”) an evaluation or assessment which indicates that the child is achieving an “adequate level of educational growth.” 


Obviously the burden of home-schooling is on the shoulders of the parents, and it is they who must establish a rigorous course of study for their children. In many cases, however - and this seems to be especially true of students on the high school level - pupils are left to their own devices with rather catastrophic results.


Matthew, a James City student, went through his high school years as a home-schooler. Virtually self-taught and without much parental guidance, he managed to get through his first three years with a minimal amount of work. In what would have been his senior year, however, his educational fabric started to unravel completely when he decided he wanted a car, and so got a job. That year he studied only sporadically, took no tests, and hence had no grades.


So weak was his knowledge of history that he had no idea who Franklin D. Roosevelt was, nor had he heard of the war in Vietnam. In addition, he failed miserably at algebra, had severe writing and reading problems and studied no foreign language.


As a result, he got no home-school diploma from the WJC school system and is now taking remedial courses in history, English and math at a community college in order to get his GED. 


For Lori, another local student, the decision to try home-schooling was based on religious grounds. In her case , the state is not nearly so rigorous in its requirements, but rather will excuse from attendance at school any student who “by reason of bona fide religious training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school.” Once parents signify their conscientious objection, they are left completely on their own and are beholden to no School Board regulations or guidelines.


Unlike Matthew, Lori turned out to be a brilliant student. Not only were her math and language skills highly developed, but she even delved into such esoterica as ancient Greek and Latin. As a result, she was admitted to William & Mary with no difficulty and thought she that she would sail on to a degree with no problem. Yet, there were problems.


To begin with, Lori was bereft of social skills and found it extremely difficult to function within the classroom structure. Since she was used to being the only student in her class at home, she found herself constantly interrupting the class, demanding attention by asking rather inane questions and breaking into tears when she made mistakes in front of her peers or received grades that were less than perfect. In the end, she spent more time with the psychological counseling service than she did in class. In her sophomore year, she had a nervous breakdown and was forced to leave school for a semester.


According to the Virginia Home Education Association, an advocate for home-schooling, the ease with which parents may remove their children from school on religious grounds is the greatest threat to home-schooling. Home-schoolers, says the VHEA, are not becoming more religious, just more opportunistic. As a result, they endanger the special legal avenue for those who really need it.


Clearly there are loopholes in the law that need to be tightened both in the cases of regular home-schoolers and religious exemptions. Students like Matthew should not be permitted to slip through the cracks. If parents cannot or will not provide the proper guidance, local school boards should have some mechanism whereby they can intercede and require the student to return to the public school classroom. Simply refusing to grant a diploma doesn’t solve the problem. 


And certainly in the case of religious exemptions, local school boards or certified educational psychologists should have the ability to ensure that students are making reasonable academic progress and that the socialization process is not being detrimentally suppressed.


Both Matthew and Lori are fine young people who deserved better from what is now, at least, the wobbly world of home-schooling.   

















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