- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2000

This school year, our family has made some changes in our educational activities.

We now are using a correspondence school, so our children are working with an off-site teacher. Although we still have the primary responsibility for making sure they understand their work, they mail their assignments to the school for grading. This process gives them structure and an incentive to buckle down to their studies.

Also, my husband and I are sharing teaching duties this year. Previously, I was the sole teacher. I help the children with literature, history and some math while he teaches Japanese language, physical education, math and science.

This division of instruction has created a different type of home-school experience. The children are a lot more active, with Dad pushing them to do Tae-Bo, cycling, yoga and some extracurricular sports. Our two older daughters are taking courses at a community college, and my husband is teaching the oldest one to drive. He is studying in college as well, so the atmosphere is a lot more dynamic.

Meanwhile, our children seem to be taking control of their learning experiences. For example, several of the textbooks from the correspondence school were much less challenging than what the children have come to expect. They protested, requesting courses of greater difficulty. This isn't something I imagine happens often in public or private schools.

When I compare the experiences my children and their home-schooling friends have with the experiences of friends in public and private schools, I see some marked differences. The home-schoolers seem to have a real sense of their own power. They seek challenges, set high goals and work hard to meet them. They evaluate their progress continually and look for better ways to learn the material. During non-study time, they are active in youth groups, with friendships and in community efforts.

In comparison, many children in public and private schools seem dispirited. They bemoan the demands of teachers and the wasteful elements of the school day. They spend an inordinate amount of time concerned with schedules and clothing. They seem tired and listless. If I speak with them about their schooling, they respond politely but without any enthusiasm for learning.

In short, they act as if schooling is something to be endured and finally escaped rather than something helpful and enriching. They are far more enthusiastic about extracurricular activities the sports or music or clubs. There, at least, they seem to feel they have some choice and some personal development.

What is the home-schooling X-factor that results in enthusiastic learners rather than bored, indifferent students? Some believe it is something tangible, such as a low teacher-student ratio or more discipline.

On a recent broadcast of "The McLaughlin Group," one home-schooling critic said home-schoolers do better because of racial, economic and parental-education factors. By painting home-schooling as a movement of rich, college-educated whites, this man indicated his belief that home-schoolers do well because they are not a diverse population. Not only is this thinking racist and unscientific, but it is just plain wrong.

But on the same program, a supporter of home-schooling said all children, of all ethnicities and economic strata, learn more through home-schooling than in the schools. In comparison with scores of all students nationwide, the supporter said, the average scores of home-schoolers on standardized tests were in the 82nd percentile and higher some 32 to 37 points higher than the national average.

I think home-schooling works because it is in the nature of human beings to thrive where there is freedom and love. No one likes to be controlled or forced, yet society depends on an educational system based on control.

Meanwhile, parents are so concerned about the problems their children face that all the political parties are coming up with proposals to improve the system. Will any of them have the courage to ask, "Since home-schooling seems to work, why don't we find out what home-schoolers are doing right?"

The last time the nation's educational system got a major shock was when the Russians sent the first Sputnik into orbit in 1957 and we suddenly realized America's youths were not being educated as well as Russia's. Math and science curricula were boosted, and teachers and students took on far more challenging goals. That generation of students became the engineers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the computer whizzes and the inventors of the microchip and superconductor.

America needs a new educational revolution, and it's already happening. It's led by moms and dads armed with nothing more powerful than their love for their children.

Here is the message we can take from the overwhelming success of home-schoolers. Families need to take back the reins of education from bureaucrats. Where there is freedom and love, there is human development. Until the schools are ready and willing to accept family-centered values rather than those dictated by government decree or academic whim, they will continue to turn out uninspired, undereducated students. Who loses? We all do.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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