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Homeschooling is a hot and controversial topic these days. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 children are homeschooled today — about one percent of the total school-age population. In 1918 public education became compulsory in every state and just about every able-minded child went to school. As recently as three decades ago only a very few children were homeschooled.

What happened? What led to the homeschooling movement?

In my opinion the major reason parents turned to homeschooling was their dissatisfaction with public education. Many parents were worried that their children would be exposed to immoral behavior by their peers at school. Parents also wanted to avoid busing, some for racial reasons but most because their kids spent so much time on a bus. Some did not feel the schools paid attention to their child’s learning styles and wanted their children to accomplish more academically.

Today some parents have religious or political reasons to keep their children out of public schools. Others feel they can offer their children higher quality education at home, can personalize the education according to the child’s interests, and can provide closer parent/child interaction. Technology also played a role as homeschoolers can be linked through the internet and parents have access to both information and curricula.

Is home schooling effective? Sure, any method of teaching that provides lots of loving and caring contact between teacher and pupil will work. Homeschooled students perform as well or better than pupils in school at both elementary and secondary levels in many studies.

Would I have wanted to homeschool my children or want my grandchildren to be homeschooled? The answer is no.

My major concern is that children learn so much from peers that I would never take this experience away from my children. I am not just referring to socializing with other children although that is important. Children learn a good deal about how to learn from other kids. They may notice another child holding a pencil differently and find that position makes it easier to write. Listening to other children’s answers brings different perspectives to the material. Interacting with other children in a project is a wonderful learning tool.

I also feel it is important for children to spend time with other adults, ones outside their family. These are the learning years and I believe it is vital for children to be exposed to many different adults during this time. Children must learn to adapt to others with different personalities and backgrounds. Children must learn that adults have different ways of asking them to do things, different expectations, different ways of talking. Adapting to different teachers in school is in itself a good learning experience.

Perhaps most controversial is my opinion that children should not spend all their time at home with their mother. Believe me, I have nothing against mothers or mothering! But I think spending most of an entire childhood with one person, no matter how educated or devoted is, is not the way to go.

I have spoken to many mothers who homeschool. They are extraordinarily conscientious and totally committed to their child’s education. As you might expect they disagree with all of my objections. They are careful to tell me how much exposure to peers they provide their children in extracurricular activities like scouting and sports. One mother recently told me she was terrified that her children would be led astray at school and that the values of their home would be forgotten when her children were exposed to those peers.

My children were at school in the 60s and 70s when the drug culture was at a high, pun intended. Worried? Sure I was. But I had a crazy optimism that my children had been exposed to solid values at home, they knew they were loved and that we expected them to make wise choices, they knew they could talk to us when anything troubling came up. I also knew my children loved and respected themselves. I specifically told the children that we trusted them to do the right thing and stay away from drugs. They did.

Were we lucky parents? Sure but love, respect, and high expectations are powerful talismans. All parents should make sure no child leaves home without them.

I am convinced that both parents who homeschool and parents who believe in and support public education all want the same thing for their children: a quality education. They have different ideas about how to achieve their objective but diversity of opinions is healthy. It is important for all of us to ponder what sort of nation we would be without public education.

Commercial message: support your local schools whether or not you have children there or not. Yes there are flaws in our schools but democracy cannot exist without public education; democracy will not thrive without QUALITY public education.